back to article Scientists find safer way to store hydrogen

Australian scientists have come up with a clever way of storing hydrogen that they feel could make it a viable portable fuel source. Hydrogen is abundant: pass a current through water and you'll make some. Hydrogen-powered fuel cells have therefore been advanced as a potential replacement for the internal combustion engine and …

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  1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Hydrides have *always* been the dark horse in the H2 storage race.

    40atm is c 600psi. This is *very* reasonable compared to the 5000psi of normal GH2 tanks and +50c - +350c is also a *lot* easier to handle IRL than the -250c needed for LH2 (unless you are used to fueling launch vehicles).

    Let's not forget that the cooling or compressing can use 3x the amount of energy needed to *make* the H2 in the first place.

    Bringing the storage temp and pressure more into a range most people are comfortable would make Hydrogen more acceptable but probably cheaper.

    Thumbs up for them pursuing a smart rather than simple solution to a very difficult problem.

    1. Nuke
      Mushroom

      @John Smith 19 - Re: Hydrides have *always* been the dark horse

      "Thumbs up for them pursuing a smart rather than simple solution to a very difficult problem."

      I think any solution to this difficult problem would do nicely.

      H2 Bomb Icon

      1. Danny 14

        Re: @John Smith 19 - Hydrides have *always* been the dark horse

        3x the energy wont be a problem in some areas where power is cheap and water is plenty. Iceland, coastal solar areas etc. Power plants could be modified to release H2 as part of their cooling cycles, especially some nuke plants.

  2. Spender
    Thumb Down

    "can soak up so much of the stuff ..."

    "can soak up so much of the stuff that a fuel tank stuffed full of the compound could match a conventionally-sized fuel tank for energy potential"

    Can you define the difference between a "tank" and a "conventionally-sized tank"?

    1. Yobgod Ababua
      Flame

      Re: "can soak up so much of the stuff ..."

      What they are trying to say is that the energy density is roughly equivalent, which is a big, big deal.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: "can soak up so much of the stuff ..."

        But unlikely, even liquid hydrogen is only 1/4 the density of petrol and i can't see how you can adsorb a material to a higher density than a bulk liquid.

        ps Explosiveness of the gas isn't a big deal. It's a lot less explosive than LPG and only risky over a very small range of concentrations. A bigger problem is that keeping it under high pressure needs lots of metal and hydrogen under pressure does nasty stuff to metal, keeping it as a liquid is even worse.

        1. squizzar
          FAIL

          Re: "can soak up so much of the stuff ..."

          Energy density, not mass-over-volume density. The density of the hydrogen in the storage medium may well be less than that of petrol.

        2. Nigel 11

          Re: "can soak up so much of the stuff ..."

          i can't see how you can adsorb a material to a higher density than a bulk liquid.

          By rearranging things chemically so that the density of hydrogen atoms loosely bound to some carrier compound is greater than the density of hydrogen molecules in liquid hydrogen. It's akin to the old party trick of pouring a pint of water into a pint glass already full of sawdust. It all goes in! (Water packs more tightly around just about anything, than the dynamicall changing open structures in liquid water).

          The density of liquid hydrogen is an extraordinarily low 0.07 (water is 1.0) so there's a lot of scope for it to pack down into the interstices of open crystal structures. That's the problem with storing hydrogen at high pressure in metal tanks. It does pack down into the interstices in the metal crystals, and as this happens, the metal becomes progressively embrittled.

          (Source for 0.07 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquid_hydrogen corroborated elsewhere by Google. That's quite a lot less than 1/4 the density of petrol. More like 1/12 working from memory)

          1. Graham Bartlett

            Re: "can soak up so much of the stuff ..."

            This is why I'm on here. Not only did I not know about liquid hydrogen's density before, I also now have a nifty party trick which AFAIK no-one I know is aware of. :)

            1. Danny 14

              Re: "can soak up so much of the stuff ..."

              efficiency of the resultant will also play a point too. Even energy dense petrol may well be married to an inefficient engine. Ford quoted fuel cell efficiencies 2-3 times greater than a petrol engine. I certainly wouldnt mind a car with half the range if it cost half as much to run.

              1. NukEvil
                WTF?

                What?

                "I certainly wouldnt mind a car with half the range if it cost half as much to run."

                Wouldn't that mean it costs the exact same amount, then?

                1. Ammaross Danan
                  Boffin

                  Re: What?

                  "I certainly wouldnt mind a car with half the range if it cost half as much to run."

                  "Wouldn't that mean it costs the exact same amount, then?"

                  @NukEvil: Nope. Half as much to run, at half the distance, is still half as much to run, you just get less range per fill-up. If it was half as much to run over half the range (note the change in word order and the use of "over"), then you're just saying it costs less due to reducing the distance driven.

            2. Al Jones

              @Graham Bartlett "I also now have a nifty party trick"

              Now try explaining why you're walking around with a back of sawdust......

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Mushroom

          Re: "can soak up so much of the stuff ..."

          Actually the flamable range of hydrogen - is actually VERY large, I don't have the exact figures in front of me, but kind of making this up to illustrate the point, it sort of ranges from about 5% hydrogen in 95% of air, to something like 87% hydrogen to 13% of air.

          It's alarmingly bad....

          Wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy worse than any other fuel / air ratios.

          Speaking of genius moves...... I'd like to get a pipe say 1 meter in diameter, and 100Km long... and keep a stricometric mixture of swirling oxygen and hydrogen inside it, and to spark ignite one end of the gas mix, at one end of the pipe.

          I am wondering... IF given the ferociously nasty high speed of combustion in hydrogen and oxygen, mixed at the ideal ratio - if the pressure wave could get high enough in compression and speed, to transition from combustion to detonation by the preceeding shockwave?

          Just wondering...

          Any geniuses have an answer to this?

  3. jungle_jim
    Flame

    Exhaust temperature?

    I wonder what the exhaust temperature of a hydrogen cobustion engine is? would be an easy way to get it up to temperature if it is anything near current exhaust temps.

    I want my hydrogen fuelled V8!

    1. Ru
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Exhaust temperature?

      I vaguely assumed that a hydrogen car would be using a fuel cell and electric motors. Fuel cells are a pretty useful bit of kit; the principle problem is the sort of fuel they accept. Hydrogen fuelled cells are well understood. Ergo, the exhaust temperature will be moderate as you don't want to toast your proton exchange membrane.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Exhaust temperature?

        "Hydrogen fuelled cells are well understood"

        Hydrogen Fuel cells aren't fully understood.

        No one has managed to mass produce a cheap, reliable and very efficient fuel cell at this time.

        It's not impossible, just the tech still needs R&D to get a viable production solution.

        1. Danny 14

          Re: Exhaust temperature?

          you mean apart from say the Merc F-Cell? Or the honda clarity? Without mass produced hydrogen they are running at "about" 30-40 mpg equivalent in cost of fuel. That is cost of fuel as they H2 consumption is about 60miles per KG.

          Whilst not perfect they are almost direct replacements available now without mass rollout of fuel. The costs are high though at 100k each. Fuel stations appear to be the limiting factor.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Exhaust temperature?

            Potentially 500-600 F-Cells and 40 Clarity's, hardly mass production.

            Given there are about 53m cars produced each year = 0.00001%

        2. Avatar of They
          Thumb Up

          Re: Exhaust temperature?

          Didn't the japs design a home fuel cell, looked like a server rack but mounted outside the house and would provide 50000 hours to the average home.

          Pretty sure they were stable and almost ready for production a few years back, afterall in a home you won't have movement and likely bumps, jolts and crashes.

          A quick google and found this.

          http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8563928.stm

          So pretty sure they understand it enough.

          1. Red Bren
            Joke

            Re: "In a home you won't have movement..."

            I thought Japanese buildings were designed for bumps, jolts and crashes...

            Mine's the one with the map of Fukashima in the pocket. And I don't know why someone down-voted you...

  4. frank ly

    True Cost/Efficiency

    Unless someone finds a huge natural supply of hydrogen gas (unlikely), then hydrogen for use in vehicle engines can only be an intermediate energy store that is manufactured using electricity. As such, it seems to be a convoluted way of getting grid electrical energy to the drive of a vehicle, compared to using batteries.

    Does anyone know about the relative comparisons for hydrogen manufacture, distribution, storage and use in vehicles; compared to the battery charging alternative? The main meaningful comparison would be the energy finally delivered to the vehicle for a given unit of grid electricity used. Another important comparison would be the costs of the entire supply and storage processes.

    Technical and performance considerations for the vehicle would be less important since the entire reason for developing these alternative power sources is to reduce the use of fossil fuels. It's already been shown that the 'average car' can run quite well and fairly conveniently using hydrogen or batteries.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: True Cost/Efficiency

      It's probably less efficenct than battery+charging but it is a lot easier to ship long distance.

      So if you have lots of solar in the desert and lots of hydro in the north - it's an easy way of shipping Giga-Joules from their to LA.

    2. Aaron Em

      Re: True Cost/Efficiency

      Nuclear fission for the electricity to crack hydrogen from water, and the benefit of hydrogen over batteries is a) less blowing the tops off mountains to get rare earths, and b) if you can't go more than fifty miles on a charge, the only way you'll ever get people to drive battery-powered cars is at gunpoint.

      1. Steve Todd
        FAIL

        @Aaron Em

        "Can't go more than 50 miles on a charge"? So the Tesla series (with models rated at between 160 and 300 miles on a charge) are a myth then? IBM's plans for a Lithium-Air battery with a 500 mile range is all pie in the sky?

        You don't just have to electrolyse hydrogen, you need to cool it to a liquid or highly compress it for shipping, which needs lots of energy too. More than the power loss from grid transmission and charging, The moment that people can do what they want to do in en electric car for less money then you'll have to beat them off with a stick.

        1. Aaron Em

          Re: @Aaron Em

          So the overnight charging requirement for a Tesla between those 160-300 mile runs is a myth, then, too? There's at least one Reg author who'll be very surprised to hear that!

          Fission has the characteristic of producing enormous amounts of electrical power, more cheaply per KWh than any other proven reliable generating technology. (Note I say proven reliable, which pretty much disqualifies pie-in-the-sky stuff like large-scale solar and wind.) And the whole point of the article we're talking about here is that some researchers have found a hydrogen storage method which doesn't require the kind of compression and cryogenic-storage requirements to which you refer.

          1. Steve Todd
            Stop

            Re: @Aaron Em

            Apart from the fact that you're changing the subject, the current Tesla home charging rig can charge at a rate of about 60 miles range/hour. That's from a standard 240 volt domestic supply.

            It doesn't matter that fission based power is cheap, you'll still need a lot more of it to supply hydrogen as a fuel than charging batteries (the methods discussed were suitable for a fuel tank, but not bulk distribution, you'd still need tankers full of high pressure or liquid hydrogen to deliver it to fuel stations).

            1. Aaron Em

              Re: @Aaron Em

              Steve Todd, where are you getting those numbers? They smack of theoretical maxima to me, especially in light of people having apparently complained about getting as little as 50-60 miles between charges, and then having to plug the thing in for 12 hours to charge its batteries back up. I would also note that 240V isn't standard everywhere; if you're at home in the US, you'll have access to a 2-phase 240V appliance socket, probably, but if you're anywhere else, 120V is all you can count on.

              Actually, given that, just as you say, you need a lot of it to support a hydrogen-powered vehicle scheme -- yeah, it really does matter that fission-generated 'leccy is super cheap. "You need a lot of it, so it being cheap doesn't matter"? What kind of argument is that? And what's wrong with cracking water right at the filling station? I mean, we currently truck petroleum products around, sure, but you can't just pull petrol out of the ground anywhere, and you can generate hydrogen gas anywhere you've got grid power and a water main.

              1. Steve Todd
                Stop

                Re: @Aaron Em

                "Those numbers" are the official US DoT range numbers based on performance on a rolling road test, just like conventional cars get their MPG numbers.

                The charge speed is based on Tesla's latest charger, which is a 20kW unit that connects direct to your distribution unit. It assumes a charging efficiency of 80%, so well within practical capabilities, but the rate will fall back as the battery aproaches full (IIRC above 80% full).

                Like any car if you use a heavy right foot then your fuel economy will be significantly less than government figures. Charging from lower rated units will also take longer (12 hours implies a charger with only 5-6kW capacity), but doesn't mean that it has to be that slow.

            2. Greg J Preece

              Re: @Aaron Em

              Apart from the fact that you're changing the subject, the current Tesla home charging rig can charge at a rate of about 60 miles range/hour. That's from a standard 240 volt domestic supply.

              Is that not the special three-phase huge pluggy thing? So what happens when you get to the other end and they don't have a special three-phase huge pluggy thing?

          2. itzman

            Re: @Aaron Em

            Yes on the nuclear, yes on the limitations (theoretical) on batteries, no on the hydrogen. FAR better to use nuclear heat and pressure to make diesel out of water and CO2. Or just wait till batteries are good enough for reasonable range cost and longevity.

            That gives you a nuclear powered primary energy technology producing cheap electricity and expensive hydrocarbon fuels for the applications that cant realistically use anything else.

            1. Danny 14

              Re: @Aaron Em

              solar cracking would be thermal based not electrical based so the > 15% would be possible.

              1. Danny 14

                Re: @Aaron Em

                oh, also the hydrogen plant next to the windfarm idea would be perfect if it could also be reversed to supply the grid when there is no wind (and sell the excess H2 if any).

    3. Stanislaw

      Re: True Cost/Efficiency

      You need to look at it not purely from an energy efficiency standpoint, but also from one of practicality.

      It takes a couple of minutes to brim my car's fuel tank and then it has a range of about 450 miles. It takes an overnight charge of a battery car to give you a range in the region of 100 miles - so to drive from Manchester to London could easily take two or three days. If a battery-powered car could be produced that gave 450 miles from a three-minute charge, I'd be right there in the queue to buy one. I'm not convinced it's going to happen though.

      The fuel cell, whilst certainly less energy-efficient overall, appears to be a more promising line of development from a practicality point of view, offering the possibility of a high-density fuel source that might be safe enough for the likes of us to handle.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: True Cost/Efficiency

        > It takes an overnight charge of a battery car to give you a range in the region of 100 miles - so to drive from Manchester to London could easily take two or three days.

        Sigh. Such a tiring argument. Electric cars are not for everyone. They are more part of the solution, than the solution as a whole.

        Just because it doesn't fit your specific needs doesn't mean it doesn't fit other's. (Please re-read that so it sinks in, not everything in the world is designed specifically for you.)

        There are lots of people who simply commute from their house to the office every day, a journey that's well within the range of an electric car. For these people such a vehicle would be perfect.

        1. Stanislaw

          @AC 08:35

          >(Please re-read that so it sinks in, not everything in the world is designed specifically for you.)

          Sigh. Such a patronising response.

          These people who commute a short distance every day and for whom a battery car would be ideal - we never take days out? We never go on holiday? We never visit Auntie Jean in Truro for the weekend? We never, ever have an emergency while the car is charging up?

          Yes, we could hire something for extra-commuting activities but why should we? Having spent all that money on a car, isn't it reasonable to think it should be able to cope with nearly all one's transport requirements (trips to Ikea excepted maybe)?

          Battery cars are - in principle - a very, very good solution for short commutes. school runs etc. But for actual family use, they're not a practical means of transport.

          1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
            Thumb Down

            Re: @AC 08:35

            > Yes, we could hire something for extra-commuting activities

            In fact even that is unlikely to work once everyone starts to do it, since there would be huge demand at Bank Holiday weekends and Christmas, and low demand for most of the year. No rental company could afford to keep huge fleets idle just in case. And then who would buy them when the rental companies sell off the used cars?

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @AC 08:35

            > >(Please re-read that so it sinks in, not everything in the world is designed specifically for you.)

            > Sigh. Such a patronising response.

            Deliberately so. Because frankly you're not thinking it through.

            Take an average family lining outside a ordinary town. Its pretty standard to have a house with a driveway and garage. Dad would drive the 10miles into town every day and back again. Sometimes stopping at the supermarket. Mum would do whatever mums do, including taking the dogs for a walk in the woods a few miles away. So we've got a two car family with a low daily mileage. So Dad has a electric car for the 20 or so miles he does a day. Mum would have a 'normal' petrol\diesel\hybrid car as its used much less. Still can visit Gran or do whatever, but also have the cut in fuel cost from running an electric car.

            So I'll say it again, just because it doesn't fit your purpose, don't think something is useless. Things aren't designed specifically for you. In fact generally new tech is for a niche.

            Take anything and I'll wager it wouldn't have suited YOU at the time it was cutting edge. A car in the early 1900s? Why do I need that I have a horse. A mobile phone in the 1980s? I don't need to be able to call someone that instantly. A television? Why do I need that I have a wireless and a paper.

            I mean seriously, the short-sightedness makes the mind boggle at times.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: @AC 08:35

              > Its pretty standard to have a house with a driveway and garage

              American, are you?

            2. Stanislaw

              Re: @AC 08:35

              >> Sigh. Such a patronising response.

              >Deliberately so. Because frankly you're not thinking it through.

              Thought so. It smacked of green preaching. However it's my turn now - at least I'm not doing it anonymously - may I point out how muddled your thinking is?

              Your solution to the problem of a battery car's short range and long recharge time is to have a second car. Fair enough...

              ... until you realise that if you're going to have two cars anyway it would always make more sense to buy two hybrids. Same purchase price and you end up with two cars capable of long range, ie better value for your money. The running costs wouldn't be that different given the way the price of electricity is going & the frequency with which you have to recharge a battery.

              Nope, there's no good practical or economic argument for a battery car even if they are shiny and new and cutting edge and kind to the environment and everything. If you only have one car, you're stuffed for long range travel. If you have two cars, you get better value for your hard earned with a pair of hybrids (or diesels, or whatever).

            3. Vic

              Re: @AC 08:35

              > Its pretty standard to have a house with a driveway and garage

              I wouldn't make that assumption. I have neither, and nor do most people in my road or the many adjoining roads.

              Vic.

            4. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: @AC 08:35

              I live in a house with a driveway and a former 2 car garage. The vast majority of the garages in my neighborhood have been converted into living area -- the conversions of some garages are quite well done, and some look pretty shitty. Most of the garage conversions have problems with insufficient heating and cooling in the former garage.

        2. Neill Mitchell

          Re: True Cost/Efficiency

          "There are lots of people who simply commute from their house to the office every day, a journey that's well within the range of an electric car. For these people such a vehicle would be perfect."

          Unfortunately they also have relatives to visit, or drive to holiday destinations a couple of times a year. May only be a handful of journeys, but not ones you can use an electric car for. So they would either need to buy 2 cars or one that satisfies both needs. So they choose a petrol/diesel car.

          1. Andrew Alan McKenzie
            Coat

            Re: True Cost/Efficiency

            Reread the earlier posters post.!

            Just because it doesn't suit you, doesn't mean it doesn't suit anyone. Two car households are not exactly rare.

            When I go on my handful of holiday journeys, i need a car that can cross seas and travel in excess of 500 mph, but as they aren't readily available (rotten scientists failing to design my personal jet-pack) i made a compromise and bought a petrol car that handles the normal run of journeys.

        3. bill 36
          Mushroom

          Re: True Cost/Efficiency

          "There are lots of people who simply commute from their house to the office every day, a journey that's well within the range of an electric car. For these people such a vehicle would be perfect."

          How do you know that? I suppose you are talking about "semi-detached suburban man with 2.3 kids and a conservatory are you?.

          He already has the perfect solution, its called a 3 cylinder turbo diesel made by VW which is proven cheaper and cleaner than any electric car

          I have yet to see the "commute" mileage of any electric car thats been stuck on the M25 on a freeezing cold and wet January morning with the headlamps blazing, wipers going and the heater....heater? what heater? going full blast, meanwhile wondering if you can make it the office before you have to push.....misery!

          Electric cars are a solution to problem that does not exist.

          Hybrids on the other hand are more honest in that they offer a solution to the ever growing demand for fossil fuels by attempting to increase the mpg and therefore reduce the commute cost.

        4. Vic

          Re: True Cost/Efficiency

          > For these people such a vehicle would be perfect.

          Perfect *for their commute*. Useless for their holiday away.

          And this is the nub of the transport problem: we don't have the ability to select vehicles according to our current requirements. We have to buy something that covers all or most of the bases we can foresee. That means that, with current technology, very few people are going to buy an electric car as their primary/only vehicle, even if it does cater nicely for >90% of their motoring requirements.

          Stand on a bridge over the motorway some time. Watch the number of 4+-seater cars driving underneath with a single occupant...

          Vic.

      2. DaeDaLuS_015

        Re: True Cost/Efficiency

        I think to some extent this is also turning 2 problems into 1. The nice thing about this (and batteries for that matter) is that we remove petrol from the list of issues we need to tackle and effectively turn it into the problem with power plants (lack of coal, whatever else). We know that we have a stop-gap measure we can implement there which is nuclear so this conversion buys us time more than anything.

        Then if we crack fusion, problem entirely solved, sort of, probably...

        1. Aaron Em

          "Stop-gap" fission? No

          Because if everyone involved in it treats it as a "stop-gap", just sort of an emergency measure to tide us over until we realize the impossible -- or at least highly improbable -- dream of fusion, then there's a strong impetus to spend as little money as possible on it, because after all we'll just be tearing down all the fission plants again in fifty years, right?

          If we're going to build fission plants at all, we need to be building them to last a century apiece at least. Then, if fusion ever does manage to happen, of course we'll have a great big decommissioning party -- but if it doesn't, we don't find ourselves saddled with a bunch of half-assed BWRs which even whose lowest-bid builders won't certify for more than a decade and a half.

    4. ciaran
      Boffin

      Re: True Cost/Efficiency

      I agree, Hydrogen is a way of storing energy, and a poor one compared to petrol. What we need is an energy store that's as easy to use as petrol but that's easy to produce. I vote for Ethanol.

      1. Ru
        Boffin

        Re: "I vote for Ethanol"

        Unfortunately, votes don't work very well on the laws of physics or the complexities of engineering.

        The best source for the volumes of ethanol an industrialised nation would need to keep itself going would be something like a vast algal bioreactor; technology that's way up there in pie-in-the-sky territory. Compare with hydrogen that we could conceivably run our cars and industry on using modern day tech, were it not for the fact that petrochemicals are a wee bit more convenient.

        1. The First Dave
          WTF?

          Re: "I vote for Ethanol"

          Tell that to the Brasilians, who manage to run about half of their cars on Ethanol, and have done for decades.

          1. Ru
            Meh

            Re: "Tell that to the Brasilians"

            Half their cars, eh? That's super. How about all their heavy freight vehicles? How about their trains? Hell, how about their aircraft, whilst I'm at it? I'll bet they don't have a whole load of ethanol driven cargo ships either. I stated that running an industrial nation on ethanol was impractical. Don't cherrypick, please.

            There are also some issues involved with scaling Brazil's solution to the rest of the world. How much ethanol-brewing feedstock might one grow in the UK, for example? Now contrast with how much hydrogen cracking you could get out of a brace of modern nuclear reactors.

            Again, my point was that this is not next-gen technology, it could be done now if needs be, with existing nuclear and solar tech. Converting all of the world's arable land into biofuel generation would work too, but there may be issues with that, like being able to eat...

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: True Cost/Efficiency

      sea water + solar cell?

      supply of raw material and energy sorted, just got to get the rate of production up

      1. Aaron Em

        Re: True Cost/Efficiency

        ...which means you need to invent a solar cell that's better than 15% efficient, which means -- you guessed it -- back to the drawing board!

        Something which seems to escape the green campaigners, I think because they're by and large not actually technical people or involved in technical industries: Any plan, which depends on fifty years of inventing things which don't exist yet, is not a good plan. That's one of the major reasons I'm so hot (if you'll pardon the expression) on nuclear fission and water cracking: these are things which we already know how to do.

        1. Nigel 11

          Re: True Cost/Efficiency

          ...which means you need to invent a solar cell that's better than 15% efficient, which means -- you guessed it -- back to the drawing board!

          Completely wrong. For solar electricity, the energy source is inexhaustible in human terms and has zero cost. It beomes a matter of economics: the cost of making solar cells and the cost of the real estate on which you put them. At present the real estate cost is close to zero (no-one much wants the vast tracts of near-lifeless desert that exist) but the cost of the solar cells is rather high compared to the cost of generating the same electricity from fossil fuels.

          Raising the efficiency of the solar cells is one way to improve this. Making them much more cheaply is another. If we could make a plastic sheet that generated electricity as cheaply as we make polythene sheets, it would not need to be even 5% efficient to revolutionise the world.

          (Nature did this a long time ago. It's called a plant. Conversion efficiency of solar energy to hydrocarbons rarely better than 1%, but a very low production cost in human terms because to a large extent, they grow themselves into useful products, and make their own seeds. If only they didn't need so much water to grow! )

          1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
            FAIL

            Re: True Cost/Efficiency

            > no-one much wants the vast tracts of near-lifeless desert that exist

            You do realize what dust and sandblasting does to solar cells? Not to mention getting the power from those deserts to somewhere useful.

    6. Graham Bartlett
      Pint

      Re: True Cost/Efficiency

      "Huge natural supply of hydrogen": how's about the world's oceans?

      Yes, I know you said "hydrogen gas". Thing is though, cracking water into H2 and O2 is well understood, and the technology to do it is a *lot* less hassle than the big dangerous refineries needed to turn crude oil into kerosene, gasoline, diesel, fuel oil, etc..

      It would also be an incredibly nifty adjunct to any power station. Regular power stations assume near-constant load, and renewables have a hugely variable generating capacity. Neither of these will match the national grid's demands very well, so a hydrogen electrolysis plant would provide a perfect sink for any excess juice when the lights get turned off. Also, currently there's a lot of fun and games trying to match power demands, but if you can permanently run all your power stations at 10% (say) above the worst-case demand and instantaneously reduce/cut power to the electrolysis plant when you're hit by a peak, then life would become a lot easier for national grids.

      The problem with hydrogen has always just been storage and distribution. If they've truly sorted this (and see Nigel11's comment above about energy density), then the game is on.

      1. Red Bren

        Storage and distribution

        1. Convert the huge container ships that bring all those goods from China to use nuclear engines with water cracking plants.

        2. Allocate some of the ships' space to carry empty container sized batteries, depending on the length of the voyage.

        3. Fill the empty batteries en route.

        4. Profit.

        Can I have my Nobel prize now please?

      2. Terry Cloth
        Stop

        Hydrogen is not a fuel---it's a transmission mechanism

        See frank ly's post above. To get the hydrogen to fill up your tank, you need to obtain the hydrogen. To get it from the sea, you need to supply the energy necessary to pry the H2 loose from the O (which is all you'll get back when you burn it), plus enough to cover the inefficiencies of the process.

        How much better just to take said energy supply and send it directly to the vehicle, cutting out the middle-hydrogen? And we don't need to spend massive amounts to build a hydrogen-distribution network and hydrogen-storage stations---we've already got a reasonably-good one for transmitting energy in the form of electricity.

        Since burning/fuel-celling H2 is better than petrol for on-street pollution prevention, we could even set up fueling stations supplied with water and electricity, and crack it there to fill a car's hydrogen tank. That way we avoid all those nasty hydrocarbons out the tailpipe, and the cost of distributing hydrogen qua hydrogen. I hope we can build a fossil-fueled electric plant with better efficiency than internal combustion.

    7. itzman

      Re: True Cost/Efficiency

      when you look at all combustion fuels the best bet is actually diesel. Its probably the most compact per unit energy, its relatively high flashpoint, and its well known.

      LIQUID hydrogen scores only on weight. Its light which is why its useful in rockets but as the odd shuttle disaster shows, its not something you want to be sitting on if it gets ignited all at once....

    8. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: True Cost/Efficiency

      I used to work for an idiot that wanted to do something similar. He was not happy to find out that the total efficiency of using electricity to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen gas and then run the stuff through a fuel cell was only about 60% efficient. And when I say "not happy" what I mean is that he thought the university perfessers were conspiring against him to keep him from making huge piles of money.

    9. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

      Re: True Cost/Efficiency = The true savings with wind farms

      Most energy generated by wind farms is made off peak. Anyone could set up a simple wind powered rotor. Just cutting a drum in half and welding the halves side to side would make a pelton wheel that could draw enough power from the wind at the corners of a building to supply hydrogen and oxygen from water.

      Presumably the oxygen could be stored in the air for later reuse whilst the hydrogen could be gathered into a replacement vehicle fuel tank.

      At the moment the idea of having a fuel tank that isn't integral to the vehicle seems to be the biggest problem. When you consider that integral tanks also mean small tanks, you have to wonder why it's taken so long to rethink that idea. (Not that petrol tanks haven't always been sufficiently large for the journeys the vehicles they are designed for.)

      But if all you require are drop tanks then all you need acquire are drop tanks. That will hurt the tax office though. And the petrol companies, so there are likely to be health and safety issues to keep the status quo.

  5. Blank Reg

    What have they done different to everyone else that has used sodium borohybride for hydrogen storage? I'm sure I heard of its use in this application at least a decade ago.

    1. Dave 126

      Dunno, but...

      the clue might be that 'the material needs to be nano-engineered"

  6. Captain DaFt

    Why Hydrogen instead of methane?

    Methane is easier to manufacture and store than hydrogen, not to mention cheaper, easier and safer.

    So why is it there's never any news about development of it as an alternative fuel for vehicles? Is it public perception (who wants to drive a "fartmobile?, or is there some major downside to its use that I'm not aware of?

    No, seriously, this puzzles me.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why Hydrogen instead of methane?

      I suspect that Methane is not exactly flavour-of-the-month among the global change/climate warming set and asking for development funds may lead to a less-than-generous response.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why Hydrogen instead of methane?

        Why not alcohol, which can be stored/shipped using pretty much the existing infrastructure?

    2. Tom 35

      Re: Why Hydrogen instead of methane?

      If your just going to burn it, might as well use Natural Gas. Natural Gas cars are available, they are not great...

      They are working on fuel cells for Methane but they are not as advanced as Hydrogen full cells.

      Methane is currently cheap because it's mostly made from Natural Gas or coal, you can make it from rotting garbage but not enough for more then some local heating.

      If you have extra electricity off peak it can be used to split water to hydrogen, when used it's back to water.

    3. roger stillick
      Happy

      Re: Why Hydrogen instead of methane?

      Fuel cell instead of internal combustion engine... the fuel cell would power electric traction motors

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why Hydrogen instead of methane?

        Methane can be used as a fuel for fuel cells.

        http://www.gizmag.com/platinum-free-methane-fueled-fuel-cells/17064/

    4. Pat 2
      Meh

      Re: Why Hydrogen instead of methane?

      Not sure if there's any one reason. When you say methane, you're basically saying natural gas (90%+ methane), which is just another limited resource that we might arguably be trying to rely less on. And, if there's any desire to curb CO2 production, that isn't it. You can cultivate methane from pig farms and such, but I don't know it that has infrastructure level prospects.

      I don't think hydrogen makes a lot of sense, but I'm glad that there's R&D effort in the background seeing what can come of it. As a fuel source with any remote chance of replacing gasoline/petrol, I can't ever see hydrogen taking lead. You lose so much energy electrolyzing or gas reforming the stuff into existence. It's only advantage over battery storage is that you could potentially "fill up the tank" much quicker than a battery recharge. I say potentially, because I don't know of any safe, standardized hydrogen deployment system ready for everyday use, with which to quote against.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why Hydrogen instead of methane?

      isnt methanethe single biggest contributer to AWG on the whole planet, ie, if we stopped eating cows and drinking Milk, then killed them all off, there would actually be a significant change in GW gasses rather than pissing about with a gas that has drastically less effect and much harder to change.

      perhaps im wrong but i could have swarn someone said cows are far more effective at warming things up then cars are.

      1. Peter Johnstone

        Re: Why Hydrogen instead of methane?

        I remember reading somewhere that we could cut CO2 emissions by switching from eating beef to eating kangaroo as apparently kangaroo's don't produce methane.

        I was never convinced by this article as the details were a bit vague; are they trying to claim that kangaroo's don't fart or that kangaroo farts don't contain methane?

        1. Tom 7

          Re: Why Hydrogen instead of methane?

          Kangaroos live where they have evolved so eat what they're used to.

          Cows are fed grass and dead cows and all sorts of shit that they're probably not used to but make economic 'sense' for us to feed to them now. This isn’t the ideal food for them and makes them fart. God knows what they're ideal diet is. My ancient local breed of cow survives in the field all year round with no additives but modern breed will point their hoofs skywards without shed loads of nutrients added to their diet.

          Kangaroos will produce 3-5 times the same amount of meat as sheep will on the same land in australia if left to there own devices - if the sheep are left to their own devices they will die, cows produce less than 1/2 the meat the sheep do.

          At the moment cows pay better than sheep and hardly anyone eats roo but if food does become scarce I can see that changing.

        2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: Why Hydrogen instead of methane? @ Peter Johnstone

          Cows release methane not by farting, but from their mouths. It is produced by the bacteria in one of their stomachs. Kangaroos are not ruminants and therefore don't have the same structured digestive system. Plus kangaroo is tastier and lower in fat.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Why Hydrogen instead of methane? @ Peter Johnstone

            harder to catch and milk though

      2. Nigel 11
        Boffin

        Methane and Global warming

        Methane is anout 15 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, true, but it has a short half-life in the atmosphere (about 10 years from memory). It gets broken down by UV and recombines with oxygen as CO2 and water. Incidentally water vapour is an even more potent greenhouse gas than methane, but the atmosphere is naturally pretty much saturated with the stuff. If it weren't for global warming caused by water vapour, the planet would mostly be too cold for life.

        Anyway: methane does not accumulate long-term in the atmosphere, whereas CO2 (probably) does. Which is why the focus is on the CO2.

        There IS a clear and present danger of a runaway warming event caused by the thawing of methane hydrates of natural orogin currently trapped in permafrost across the world's Northern tundras. If the permafrost thaws, lots of methane is released, causing increased global temperatures, causing more thawing and more methane. A positive feedback loop until all the arctic has thawed. The fossil record shows that this has happened several times in recent geological time, without human causation. A very sudden thaw, followed by a gradual cooling. To my mind, this is the key reason why we should be VERY bothered about human CO2 emissions.

        1. Rune Moberg

          Re: Methane and Global warming

          OTOH, if you reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, plants will grow much less efficient (and also require more water). Or if you reduce the temperature just a little bit and we might end up starving because food plants won't grow very well.

          Better then to figure out how to keep the temperature up when the gradual cooling sets in.

          1. Nigel 11

            Re: Methane and Global warming

            Better then to figure out how to keep the temperature up when the gradual cooling sets in.

            Methinks that's a long-term problem, after dealing with the runaway thawing of the arctic and consequent temperature and sea-level rises. (The cooling after that is inevitable, once there's no longer any supply of short-lived methane into the atmosphere from thawing permafrost. The methane converts to CO2, and plants once again start trapping the CO2, and the ice once again starts to creep down from the pole, once again locking up the methane from decomposing vegetation as methane hydrates ... repeat many times, until continental drift does away with the Arctic ocean.)

        2. Richard Gadsden

          Re: Methane and Global warming

          "Incidentally water vapour is an even more potent greenhouse gas than methane, but the atmosphere is naturally pretty much saturated with the stuff."

          The atmosphere's capacity for water vapour depends on temperature; increasing atmospheric water vapour due to warming is one of the positive feed back effects that make CO2 emissions so concerning.

          With no positive feedbacks, you can compare the mean temperatures of the moon, Mars and Venus and get 0.7C per doubling of CO2 concentration, which would mean we'd be looking at less than 2C between 1900 and 2100. But there are positive feedbacks, lots of them.

    6. Nigel 11

      Re: Why Hydrogen instead of methane?

      Actually Methane is already out there. Cars can be converted to run on CNG (compressed natural gas) as well as LPG (Liquid petroleum gas, better remembered as low pressure gas).

      The problem is that to get enough range out of a reasonably sized tank, a very high pressure is needed. The potential for explosions if the tank is badly maintained is high (far higher than for a tank of gasoline). Also refilling is not nearly as simple as pumping a liquid, or plugging in an electric cable (and not as fast as the former, though faster than recharging a battery).

      For these reasons the general public are not in general offered CNG vehicles. You'll find it used for running taxis and public transport in some cities. If oil runs out and gas (shale gas) does not, that might yet change.

  7. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge
    Boffin

    Add another one to the list

    Depending on what sort of performance one wants (optimize weight, volume, pressure, temperature, etc.) there are a number of technologies (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen_storage).

    Perhaps the best would be some sort of liquid hydrocarbon, formed with the hydrogen to be stored and carbon extracted from combustion processes or the atmosphere. At least it would be carbon neutral. And we know how to pump, store and burn hydrocarbons.

  8. Dagg Silver badge
    Headmaster

    What is the problem?

    "once the mercury hits 350 that the hydrogen really starts to flow" I have a little bottle of mercury and I can use it to hit a sign that has the number 350 on it and everything should be good!

    Or is this just a really bad example of journalism where they use mercury to mean TEMPERATURE! And if so what units, K, C or F! 350 K is easy to hit (77 C), 350 F is also easy to hit (162 C). 350 C is a bit more difficult.

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: What is the problem?

      Also good luck finding a thermometer that is filled with mercury. If you do find one it's probably an antique. A bit like Fahrenheit :)

  9. dkjd

    Safer???

    Autoignition point of Sodium borohydride is 220C, and you are proposing to run around with a big lump of it at 350C. I don't think it is safer to construct a tank that is guaranteed to catch fire if it breaks, rather than one that might catch fire if you are unlucky!

  10. nuked
    Thumb Down

    "Hydrogen is abundant: pass a current through water and you'll make some"

    How is this at all relevant to the story? - this report just seems like a mash of basic misunderstandings thrown together to sound current (non pun entendre), and interesting.

    1. GrumpyJoe
      FAIL

      Re: "Hydrogen is abundant: pass a current through water and you'll make some"

      How is that line you disagree with incorrect (unless you mean it produces hydrogen AND oxygen - in which case, pedant point awarded).

      1. AndrueC Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        Re: "Hydrogen is abundant: pass a current through water and you'll make some"

        I think it's incorrect because 'abundant' to me means lying around everywhere ready for the picking. Given that the article talks about 'fuel source' I think it's very reasonable to question the word 'abundant'.

        Hydrogen is not a fuel source on this planet. Never will be. It might be a useful energy transportation medium one day but never a source.

        1. GrumpyJoe
          Holmes

          Re: "Hydrogen is abundant: pass a current through water and you'll make some"

          Pedant point no. 2 awarded! Have a nice day.

        2. Vic

          Re: "Hydrogen is abundant: pass a current through water and you'll make some"

          > Hydrogen is not a fuel source on this planet. Never will be.

          If we achieve fusion reactors, it would be.

          Can I have pedant point 3, please?

          Vic.

          1. GrumpyJoe
            Trollface

            Re: "Hydrogen is abundant: pass a current through water and you'll make some"

            Awarded.

  11. roger stillick
    FAIL

    Acetylene Tanks = very similar idea

    Oxy-Acetylene welding kits were very dangerous to use a hundred years ago... the Acetylene was made with a water activated carbide generator can... if any pressure built up, the Acetylene exploded, messing up the shop...

    It was found that liquid acetone filled tanks would absorb a really large volume of Acetylene and be stable...

    Looks like someone did the same for Hydrogen gas... this is actually a very good thing...

    However methinks they can't get storage at a scale to work powering a 60-100 Kw fuel cell for any length of time...

    Acetylene tanks can only be pumped up to 10 atmospheres, or 150 psi before the become unstable...

    dkyd's post of the properties of the inert filler sez it all = yet again another scheme that, ultimately fails...

  12. pete the trees

    Let's leave the Hindenburg out of it, shall we? It was the heavily doped fabric skin which caught light, not the gas bags - of course they burned as a consequence but the ship would have been doomed even if filled with helium.

    Hydrogen has its own problems, but this dead granny needs burying.

    1. roger stillick
      Happy

      RE= Aluminum Paint killed the Hindenburg

      the hydrogen gas in this article is stored in a liquid medium that, when tanked, allow a large volume of gas to be stored safely... unfortunately the liquid medium is unstable itself when heated during normal vehicle operations...

      1. Nigel 11

        Re: RE= Aluminum Paint killed the Hindenburg

        unfortunately the liquid medium is unstable itself when heated during normal vehicle operations

        You mean, like a tank full of gasoline?

    2. AndrueC Silver badge
      Joke

      >this dead granny needs burying.

      Oh! The humanity!

    3. Nigel 11

      Hindenburg

      Well worth pointing out that the Hindenburg was actually a good demonstration of the relative safety of Hydrogen! The majority of its passengers survived the disaster. Those that didn't mostly jumped from too great a height or were crushed by falling structural components. It was the aluminium-paint skin that started the disaster, and the hydrogen burned harmlessly up into the sky, being so much lighter than air.

    4. Armando 123
      Devil

      Hindenburg

      Not just zeppelins at risk ... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lf3mgmEdfwg

  13. Hawkuletz
    Trollface

    Exotics

    From an old book about rocketry (published in 1972), begining of the chapter "Exotics":

    Fifteen years ago people used to ask me "What is an exotic fuel anyway?" and I would answer "It's expensive, it's got boron in it, and it probably doesn't work."

    (the book is Ignition! by John D. Clark)

    1. Francis Vaughan

      Re: Exotics

      I loved that book!

  14. Lee Dowling Silver badge

    Yet-another technology that will save us.

    Call me back when I can a) buy a car with it, b) that car doesn't cost more than a conventional car (including long-term maintenance and, say, 10 years replacements of COMPULSORY items - e.g. batteries, fuel cells, etc.), c) that car gets me approximately the same MPG as currently, or better, d) that car has a range that means I can hit Scotland on one tank like my current 15-year-old car, and d) I can actually buy the damn fuel for it in the majority of petrol stations.

    Because I've heard a story like this every month for the last 20 years and still haven't seen a car that can do that (or even come close) without using petrol. Hell, the *only* electricity supply point I've seen in my town for electric cars is actually in a council car park to fuel their little run-around cars (so it's not for public use). It's barely used (I assume they have a depot somewhere and that one's "just for show") and when it is, the little van is basically parked there overnight in order to charge.

    I don't even need it to be a huge car, a little Smart-like thing would do. Hell, if it was single-person it would still work for commuting. But the practical problems of getting the car in the first place, and then driving it around in any reasonable amount or any reasonable distance mean that all the fancy new-age cars in the world can't cope with the average commute (who cares about replacing some old granny's car with an energy-efficient one if she tops up £10 in fuel once a month? She will NEVER make the cost of the vehicle and that vehicle's environmental impact back in her new car. The people you need to move over are the £400/month crowd and the commercial users).

    1) Car cost (for fuel components and engine for that fuel, because the rest is pretty standardised)

    2) Fuel cost

    3) Fuel capacity

    4) Fuel longevity

    5) Fuel availability

    6) Fuelling time

    Spot the problem? Yes, it's the fuel. Nothing else, just the fuel you're using. You can run a can on whisky if you want, for proof of concept, but the fact of the matter is that it will mess your car up and/or not compete with petroleum-based fuels. Until it does (or the petrol runs out), you don't really have much of a product.

    You know who've been seeing the most success in energy efficiency taken over the decades? Dairies with their milk floats. Hell, when I was a nipper, they were all-electric and it's a small step from them to make that electricity come from a renewable or cost-efficient source if you really want it to.

    Sure, I've seen a lot of "hybrid" cars around. I've also seen their repair price tags but one thing I haven't seen is their second-hand value (which I'm assuming to be almost non-existent), which is where a lot of cars end up. Not many people own, or have ever owned, a vehicle from new. Not many people will pay for a "new" car that basically needs the value of the car paid again for replacement parts and zero secondhand value.

    But an LPG conversion for my 15-year-old car costs £800 and will only take up my spare-wheel space. It might damage my valves over time but, come on, it's a 15-year-old car already so new "more resistant" valves are included in the conversion price and will probably last longer than the car anyway. And I can "save" the cost of the installation within a year of driving. That's what you're competing with, not top-end brand-new vehicles.

    By comparison, even the cheapest all-electric car, fuel-cell car or any other alternative vehicle costs more than I've ever paid for every car I've owned, every repair I've ever had + several year's-worth of fuel before I can even get it moving.

    It's all pipe-dream and fantasy until you make a viable vehicle that can do all that, and I can stroll into any petrol station and find a pump for it. Hell, I found a 4-star pump the other day so technically I've seen as many of those lately as I have electric filling points (and I've seen zero hydrogen points whatsoever).

    Progress is good, but this is like telling me that in fifty years time we'll be eating pills and flying our own cars around. It's a great fantasy, and makes a good science project, but until it's viable the petrol is going to be favoured. You need to make it viable before we are priced out of petrol, too, because if the only alternative is expensive petrol, most large fuel users will HAVE to still use the petrol anyway.

    1. Danny 14

      sure. The honda clarity sounds just for you. You cant buy one but you can lease one for $600 a month that includes fuel, taxes, servicing and insurance. Basically turn and go. Range is about 300 miles on a tank.

      The issue is that there are only 2 filling stations in europe and 2 in america at the moment though. Still it works as a concept though.

      Here is the topgear article:

      http://www.topgear.com/uk/videos/honda-clarity?SeriesNumber=12&VideoBrowserMode=tv-series

  15. Richard Gray 1
    Pint

    is it only me???

    There is all the talk of wind farms / renewable energy producing either too much electricity or not enough.

    If we can store the hydrogen safely and produce it from the electricity surely the answer is to use the wind farms to produce the hydrogen and store it for when it it required to produce electricity, on demand.

    any excess could be stored and used to provide fuel for the hydrogen for cars.

    For the people who say about wind turbines not being pretty, efficient etc.. the same principal could be used in tidal flows, wave power and so on.

    A large number of smaller plants would prevent the requirement for transporting as much fuel around the county as well as being less intrusive than a huge nuclear reactor

    Now I've sorted the World's energy problem I deserve a pint!

  16. mark l 2 Silver badge

    For all those who are saying electric cars over hydrogen ones just don't realise that the general population have got used to fuel up within minutes then go, and are unlikely to take up electric cars until this can happen, so that mean either super fast 5 -10 minute charging batteries or you go to a service station and they remove the dead battery pack and replace it with a fully charged one. Afaik no one has come up with either.

    Charging at home overnight is fine for those with nice driveways and garages to park on but i live on a road of terraced houses and sometimes have to park on a different street if there is no space at my house, so what then run a 100metre extension cable down the road to my car to charge it up?

    The only way i would consider a electric car over petrol at the moment is that they offered a significant discount for the inconveniences of the electric over petrol.

    1. annodomini2

      Fast charging

      It can be done now, there are battery systems out there that will charge in a few minutes, the problem is the infrastructure.

      Charging a 60Kwh (yes, I know its not the best representation) battery in 5 Mins requires a minimum 800Kw supply at 90% efficiency.

      The energy suppliers and grid operators don't like this as you have a lot of heavy load spikes on the system.

      It can be done, but the logistics need sorting out.

      Yes there are practicality problems with home charging.

    2. Richard Gadsden

      Betterplace

      "you go to a service station and they remove the dead battery pack and replace it with a fully charged one. Afaik no one has come up with either."

      Look up BetterPlace and you'll know that someone has come up with that one.

  17. Robin

    Testing

    "an H-Car led the women’s marathon at the Sydney Olympics"

    I didn't see cars winning gold medals during the London Olympics, so obviously they've tightened up on the drug/chemical/vehiclular testing since then.

    1. Richard Pennington 1
      Coat

      Re: Testing

      "an H-Car *led* the women's marathon at the Sydney Olympics".

      So it didn't win. Did the battery run out (after <27 miles)?

      I left my coat in the car.

  18. Mickey Finn
    Boffin

    Pedantry moment...

    Mr. Sharwood wrote: "Hydrogen is abundant: pass a current through water and you'll make some."

    I just thought that it ought to say "Hydrogen is abundant: pass a current through water and you'll EXTRACT some."

    1. Danny 14

      Re: Pedantry moment...

      I suppose the LHC could "make" some H2 for you.

  19. Stevey
    Mushroom

    Climate change

    Extending the scenario so that we have lots of hydrogen factories situated near big water sources, and each of these factories shipping the hydrogen ( via hydrogen powered transport ) to where it is needed - i.e. the big cities of the world...

    Whether we 'burn' the hydrogen, or use it in a fuel cell, it will produce water as an 'exhaust' - effectively moving water from the hydrogen factory to the middle of the city - giving us reduced oxygen and permanent cloud over each of our cities.

    Lots of grant money will then be needed for the climate boffins to figure out the new number of ways in which the world is doomed!

  20. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
    Boffin

    Sodium borohydride?

    As any fule with a chemistry degree kno... Sodium borohydride is far from a nice inert friendly compound.

    If you think hydrogen "can under some circumstances react nastily with other substances at room temperature" you ain't seen nothing yet, borohydride is a corrosive reducing agent, it can react with organic matter, and under the right conditions, with water to release hydrogen (in addition to any hydrogen it might be being used to store). Significant technical obstacles would have to be overcome for its use a a 'safe' storage medium for H2 gas.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: Sodium borohydride?

      Have a read on the MSDS* for this compound, and then tell me if you want a large amount of it, most likely in a fine powdered form, in your car:

      http://www.sciencelab.com/msds.php?msdsId=9924969

      *Material Safety Data Sheet

  21. Drew 11
    FAIL

    "(that’s NaBH4 for all you chemists out there)"

    Hopefully the chemists out there would be able to figure that out quite quickly without help.

  22. Alan Brown Silver badge

    other considerations

    I was listening to a very old audiobook the other night - Connections 1 - and James Burke made the point that if Fission/Fusion power becomes plentiful there might be issues with excess heat and effects on the ecosystem anyway.

    The average nuke plant is a steam generator that's only 30% efficient overall (ie, for every MW coming out of the pile, ~650kw goes up the cooling tower). If there was some way of increasing efficiency on a cost effective basis "we" could easily increase generation capacity overnight. Well it's that. or build nuke plants closer to populated areas and sell heat as well as electricity, in the original Edison model.

    back on cars: It's been clear since the mid 1970s that hydrides are the only practical way to handle hydrogen for automotive use but all the available ones are too expensive to be commercially viable and they all seem to suffer from rapid capacity falloffs with cycling.

    Methane tanks (CNG) suffer the same embrittlement issues too(*), but there are already well known adsorbtion systems available (not used much because they're expensive, but they drop the pressure requirements down to the 4-10 Bar range - ideally one needs to be in the 2-4 bar range to avoid major embrittlement issues with H2 or CH4

    Of course, if one could get that extra step and make methane from H2, then existing GtG technology can turn that into synthetic methanol, gasoline or even diesel. Transport problems then solved and it'd be carbon neutral if made from rewnewables.

    (*) There were a bunch of tank failures on the CNG fleet in New Zealand 20 years ago which were eventually attributed to a combination of embrittlement and weakening due to pressure cycling. That prompted major rethinks about its safety as an automotive fuel and prompted worldwide changes in storage standards.. Have you ever seen a car which has been shredded from the inside? It was just sheer luck in all cases that there was nobody sitting inside the vehicles when the tanks failed.

  23. laird cummings
    Mushroom

    Niche purpose

    Never mind the grand schemes to save ourselves from ourselves - I know of at least one immediately practical use for the NaBH4 technology: In nuclear submarines.

    Nuclear submarines create their own O2 supply via electrolytic cracking of water. The Hydrogen from that is essentialy a waste product and atmosphere contaminant - and a potential serious safety threat if the "Bomb" should vent or purge in-board (which happens often enough to give A-Gangers grey hairs).

    H2 is also a waste product of the acid reactions in the ship's storage batteries - Indeed, there is a specific piece of equipment (which is noisy and a pain to manage) on board for burning unwanted H2 out of the atmosphere in-hull.

    Most of the waste H2 is, however, simply vented overboard. The ability to store and accumulate the H2 on-board has a useful application beyond providing an alternative waste-product control: The tored H2 can be injected into the fuel stream of the boat's emergency diesel generator.

    So - Atmosphereic contaminant sorted, waste gas storage, handling, and disposal issue sorted, an annoying bit of gear (mostly) idled, and a (minor) increase in fuel efficiency for the diesel generator.

    I know - Entirely too practical a line of thinking for an el Reg commentard, but there you have it.

  24. nitsedy

    Maybe......

    ....bind it with oxygen?

    1. laird cummings

      Re: Maybe......

      The oxygen from which it was just divorced? Kinda defeats the purpose.

      1. Terry Cloth
        Facepalm

        Re: Maybe......

        Does everything have to be labeled with Joke Alert?

  25. logic

    Fuel Cell DEAD END

    A Fuel Cell is just a battery that can't be recharged, and requires the electrolyte (hydrogen) to be replaced when it goes flat.

    A waste of time unless you want to sell hydrogen, rather like selling petroleum. So guess who benefits.

    Fuel cells do have some utility where there is no reticulated electricity supply to recharge lithium air or whatever rechargeable storage, e.g. on a space craft, otherwise Fuel Cells are just a dangerous dead end.

  26. Local Group
    Devil

    Welcome Folks

    Between the light brigades of wind farms soon to be in your neighborhoods (maybe your very street) and the surface mining of oil shale, which can be seen on Earth by the naked eye from Uranus, let me take this opportunity to say:

    WELCOME TO MORDOR.

    Our welcome wagon will be calling on you shortly. :)

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