You may have noticed a small change in the title. That adjustment might allows search engines to lead additional readers to one of our favorite subjects. A little known headline evaluation tool made all the difference. Certain words have ‘Emotional Marketing Value’, which so-called web crawlers pick up. The words in front of the ‘dash’ (-) in the title –separated from the last part– have little or no EMV. We will try to improve the combination of words with EMV in upcoming articles. The ‘First Impression’ you get when using the headline evaluation tool for a report at work, or helping someone with a school essay might surprise you. Give it a try.
Now back to our history; please be aware that it is nearly impossible to draw a straight time-line through the infancy of two closely related activities of combining various fuels and the machines which make use of it. Repeating and overlapping experiments, discouraging failures and promising successes, different personalities in various countries doing similar tasks almost simultaneously, just as it happened with Daimler and Benz, make writing about the history of this particular topic a daunting venture.
Who would have thought that it would require almost another century of research and development, interrupted by troubles times, before fuel cells and hydrogen would come close to being ‘ready for market’?
During the decade before World War II, Rudolph Erren and Franz Lawaczeck were very influential in hydrogen research in Germany. ‘Frank L.’ was a turbine designer, and he had been sketching and endorsing hydrogen fuelled turbine cars for more than ten years. He collaborated with the American J.E. Noeggerath and the German Hermann Oberth on work leading to the use of liquefied H2 (switching from H2 hereafter for ease of formatting) as a rocket fuel.
With regard to Hermann Oberth: I do remember the excitement at my parents’ house as a youngster when my father had arranged a meeting between ‘Herr Oberth’ and other influential people shortly after WW II, and Herr Oberth gave a speech in our small town that evening. However, that is another story.
Meanwhile, Rudolph Erren had been researching internal combustion in Germany since the 1920s, much as Sir Harry Ricardo did in England. Erren experimented by adding hydrogen to common air-fuel mixtures to increase output. Before World War II, Erren converted vans, buses, and railway engines to run with different combinations of hydrogen and regular fuels. He worked together with British and Australian groups, but the troubled times of the 1930s and 1940s put an end to this peaceful collaboration between nations.
In Russia, Boris Shelishch and the GAZ automobile manufacturer ran a truck with hydrogen as a fuel in 1941. It was wartime, though, and other priorities prevailed. The GAZ company is still in existence, and is producing contemporary vehicles in Gorky as we are writing this; the town’s name has now been changed to Nizhny Novgorod.
Germany, lacking petroleum resources, experimented extensively with synthetic fuels, (dubbed Leuna after that town’s refinery,) as well as hydrogen as a petroleum replacement. A little-known piece of information is that the Allied Forces captured a ‘trackless’ (Under-sea) U-boat during the War. Conventional fuels leave a trail, or track, of exhaust bubbles, but in the engines of this ‘silent killer’ only hydrogen and oxygen were combusted, leaving no track of revealing bubbles. This combustion process left no other emission than water vapor, very difficult to detect in the ocean, to be sure.
When running on the surface, the submarine’s diesel engines powered an electrolyser to generate H2 for storage when running submerged. This eliminated the need for heavy batteries and the additional electric motor(s) of other submarines of the time. The weight and space savings resulting from this gave an additional 15,000 miles of operating range and the possibility of faster and deeper dives.
What a waste of effort and money for a needless war; and the world still has not learned the lessons from this, literally and figuratively. Will the hydrogen economy end this? We can only hope so.