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A Glimpse at Tomorrow’s Hydrogen Infrastructure

Tomorrow’s hydrogen infrastructure will not be the same as today’s gasoline infrastructure. The naysayers of hydrogen technology point out how overwhelming it will be to set up a hydrogen infrastructure that models the current gasoline infrastructure and they may be right.

Producing hydrogen gas in centralized facilities and then piping, trucking or sending it by train to remote locations would be difficult indeed. Momentous breakthroughs in hydrogen gas storage technology would be needed to make this scenario happen. On the other hand, centralized production and transportation of hydrogen-rich chemical compounds, solid or liquid, that may be converted to hydrogen gas may not be as daunting of a task.

What we need to make the hydrogen infrastructure work in a decentralized manner, though, is some outside-the-box thinking. For instance, if researchers can come up with economical ways to create hydrogen onsite and on-demand, then this means fueling stations across the country could have hydrogen pumps servicing vehicles. These onsite pumps could use water or another hydrogen rich gas, liquid or solid chemical compound and extract the H2 from it as needed.

Several manufactures like General Electric, General Motors and Honda are developing onsite hydrogen production stations that could be used to service cars on a smaller scale. If similar devices are scaled up to provide higher output then these can be implemented commercially. And, onsite hydrogen-on-demand pumps won’t have to be limited to fueling stations run by the oil companies either.

If created correctly, onsite hydrogen pumps could pop up at local minimarts that also serve coffee, Twinkies and lottery tickets. Onsite hydrogen pumps could show up at mall parking lots, wholesale warehouses, new car dealerships, at green supermarkets and restaurants to name a few places. Small-time entrepreneurs could set up small roadside “hydrogen islands” across the highways and byways of the nation.

Having a home hydrogen fueling station would also cut down on traveling to any facility to fill up except in the case of a road trip. Onsite, hydrogen-on-demand pumps could also be powered electricity from the grid. But, they may also be powered by solar or wind, making them very green indeed.

Another scenario is that if hydrogen-on-demand technology moves inside the car, so that the vehicles use hydrogen rich gas, liquid or solid chemical compounds to create H2 and run it through a fuel cell or internal combustion engine, this would create a different kind of infrastructure.

This chemical compound may be sold at today’s fueling stations. But, it could also be sold through the local Wal-Mart, Target or Home Depot stores as well. Internet users could buy the compound online and perhaps even one-day find it on eBay. Of course, this would depend upon the stability of the compound. If the compound turns out to be water, then this could come from the tap or bottle.

If the compound, however, turns out to be hydrogen peroxide or some other less stable compound, then this will limit how the compound is sold and handled. But, the main idea to get across is to stop thinking about building a hydrogen infrastructure that mimics the current oil infrastructure.

In order to go green with hydrogen we will need a concerted movement to develop and place onsite generators in locations one would not normally find fuel. When gasoline powered cars were first gaining popularity and there were no gas stations from which to find fuel, people went to their local drugstores to buy gasoline. The hydrogen infrastructure may develop in a similarly analogous fashion.

About Hydro Kevin Kantola

Hydro Kevin Kantola
I'm a hydrogen car blogger, editor and publisher interested in documenting the history and the progression of hydrogen cars, vehicles and infrastructure worldwide.

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8 comments

  1. Looks like electric cars are well on their way to being reality. A bit more improvement in ultra capacitors and lithium batteries and we’ll have cars with reasonable range that can be plugged into the grid and charged in a few minutes.

    Why would hydrogen powered vehicles supplant electric vehicles once the electics are established? Seems like hydrogen would need to provide some huge advantage.

    We can always burn the hydrogen and stick the power into the grid.

  2. Yes, it’s always fun to see someone calling the game over in the second quarter. When electric cars can travel 300 miles, recharge in 5 minutes and the batteries can last for 200,000 miles, then you’ll have a product to compete with gasoline-powered cars.

    Hydrogen cars can already do the first two and are working on the third component, which is lifespan of the fuel cells (providing it’s an FCV and not an internal combustion engine). Electric car people seem to think the game is already over without one product on the pavement. What up with dat?

  3. Sorry, you misread.

    I asked a fairly simple question. And I’ll repeat it.

    Given that electrics seem to be on their way to the market first, what is the advantage for hydrogen that would cause is to spend the enormous amount of money that would be required for a hydrogen infrastructure?

    Prius already warranties its batteries for 150,000 miles and UCs will far outlast any car.

    UCs are close to ‘instant’ chargers and are currently being used in conjunction with lithium batteries.

    There’s no need for a 300 mile range if we’ve got rapid charging batteries. Few people can drive more than a hundred fifty, two hundred miles without stopping to pee. Just plug in while you hit the head.

    Can’t tell you what “electric car” people think. I’m not one of them, just a curious bystander.

    Notice how my name isn’t something like “Electric Bob”?

  4. Electric Vehicles have been made, but GM and other car companies have taken them back and destroyed them. Took them out of the media and made us think they never existed. They use to be in California (Saturn EV1). Theres a documentary called “Who killed the electric car?”

    Anyway…my reason to post a comment here was to ask for advise and some help. I’m doing a project for my thermal systems design class and was wondering if you could help me out with some questions on it. It’s about the new BMW Hydrogen 7 vehicle. Let me know if there is anyway you’d be able/want to help.

  5. Superman, sure I’ll help. Just email me through the Contact page of the main hydrogencarsnow.com website and I’ll tell you what I know and give you some additional resources for the things I don’t know.

  6. Robert, I didn’t misread it, so there’s no need to repeat it.

    And, the question isn’t simple since it starts off with a faulty premise. I reject this premise “Given that electrics seem to be on their way to the market first…” for several reasons. First, electric cars are already here and there are over 1,000 of them in California alone. Second, they don’t perform as well as gasoline-powered cars. Third, it will be a long time before they do perform as well.

    The second part of the question implies that vast infrastructure upgrades won’t be needed for electric cars. Just try plugging in a million cars into the aging electrical grid on a hot summer’s day and see what happens.

    A Prius is a hybrid that uses nickel metal hydride batteries, which are far different than lithium ion or ultacapacitors. Show me your lithium ion or UC car that has it’s battery pack guaranteed for 150,000 miles.

    The U. S. Department of Energy target for hydrogen cars is for them to have a 300-mile range to be competitive with gasoline vehicles. I can’t imagine that electric vehicles are given less of a standard. In addition, show me the “rapid charging batteries” on the market for current automobiles to which you are referring.

    I agree that if electric cars can achieve the specs I’ve already quoted in the last response and if the aging electrical grid can be shored up, especially with renewable energy resources, then it will be a really big deal. But, there is a long way from “if” to reality, whether you are a hydrogen car person or an electric car person.

    Another point that many people seem to miss is that they assume that electric cars and hydrogen cars are competing with each other. The main competition is gasoline-powered cars. The main point with going all-electric or hydrogen is to remove as many gasoline cars off the road as possible, clean up the air with zero emission vehicles and reduce dependence upon foreign oil.

    When you look at it that way, electric cars and hydrogen cars are on the same team. We just have two different ways of trying to achieve the same goal.

    By the way, I don’t buy that you’re a bystander (alliteration anyone?) as bystanders simply stand by and don’t seek out websites such as this and enter into discussion and debate. Be that as it may, that’s Okay because differing points of view are welcomed here. By debate we learn and clarify, so thanks for taking the time to write and engage in the discussion about our automotive future.

  7. UCs are not yet on the market, but they are being tested. They were used recently in a Toyota Supra Hybrid conversion to win an endurance race, so they are working at some level.

    http://edageek.com/2007/08/13/syncap-car/

    Capacitors, unlike batteries, are capable of hundreds of thousands of charge/discharge cycles without degradation.

    The problem at the moment seems to be getting storage density high enough to be the sole power source for electric cars. The first generation of large scale BEVs may be UC/lithium hybrid packs with the UCs serving for efficient absorption and lithium for dense storage.

    “(P)lugging in … on a hot summer day” is a disingenuous arguement, as you must well understand. The current grid has the capacity to charge well over 50% (I think the estimate that I’ve seen is 85%) of an totally electric fleet during night time hours.

    And the grid can be upgraded in steps, when needed, as needed.

    The large problem that I see for hydrogen is that there is zero infrastructure so we would be starting from scratch. We’d have to build transport vehicles, storage tanks, “service stations”, …. And hydrogen is a tricky little beast to contain, not like nice big gasoline molecules.

    And that was my impetus for my original post. I was looking to someone with a strong hydrogen bias to tell me why hydrogen might be a better ‘fuel’ than electricity given the immense startup cost it would require.

    As for my not being a ‘bystander’, what I am is a (retired) psychologist with an active interest in new technology, especially technology that will help us minimize the hurt we’re going to get from global warming.

    I didn’t ‘seek’ out this site. I wandered here via this article that was linked on more general “green” site.

    A bit of professional advice: monitor your paranoia and don’t let it get out of hand. ;o)

  8. I agree that lithium ion batteries and ultracapacitors both hold promise. I’ve talked about many times on this blog how I think combining technologies would be the best solution such as plug-in electric hydrogen hybrid vehicles of which a couple of prototypes have already been produced.

    The “disingenuous argument” that you speak of is not disingenuous at all. I don’t know where you live but in California every summer we are hit with blackouts, brownouts or the threat of blackouts and brownouts. This past summer the power companies were warning residents not to run the air conditioners at night during supposedly off-peak hours because they were near capacity even at night. Now, add a million electric cars charging at night and you’ll see where I’m coming from on this.

    This statement shows you haven’t spent much time here “The large problem that I see for hydrogen is that there is zero infrastructure…” since I have over 400 blog posts and a great deal is devoted to the infrastructure issue. I’m not going to add all the posts to this comment but read on and you’ll find out the zero infrastructure belief is a false one. Also, the belief that we have to build an infrastructure that mimics the oil infrastructure is also not accurate and is the point of my original post.

    No comment about the paranoia comment. 🙂

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