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gorillapaws's avatar

What's the holdup with hydrogen power?

Asked by gorillapaws (26739points) August 27th, 2008

What’s taking the development of hydrogen-based energy technologies so long to come around? I realize that building up the infrastructure to make hydrogen powered cars a common thing may be a while off, but even for more basic applications it seems like it’s taking forever and I’m not sure why. Here’s an example: Time magazine announced this hydrogen-powered backup generator one of the “coolest inventions of 2003.” here’s the link:

After looking around to see how that product has evolved over the past 5 years, you come to find out that it was never put into production. The fuel cells currently on the market are pretty much all for research purposes, and not really designed for implementation in products sold to the public. What’s with the holdup?

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9 Answers

lapilofu's avatar

I think a lot of it has to the do with the danger involved in hydrogen fuel cells. I don’t know that much about it, but I do seem to remember someone mentioning that they’re pretty explosive. So maybe they’re doing safety research? I’m not really certain.

Lightlyseared's avatar

I think it’s due to the fact it’s really really expensive.

I hope that not that explosive cause there are buses in London that have them stuck on the roof.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

Honda is starting to roll out a few of its H2-based FCX Clarity cars in California right now. The main problems with H2 are distribution and storage. It’s no more explosive than other flammable gasses, but it’s harder to contain, and it requires extremely high pressures. It produces no emissions, but it’s only one of several alternative technologies for vehicles that we’ll see in the coming years. I am less excited about the FCX Clarity than I am about the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in Hybrid that should be in showrooms by the end of 2010. I think it’s a much more practical technology, and much cheaper to produce. The distribution systems are already in place, too.

robmandu's avatar

Interesting conversation on Slashdot re: plug-in hybrids.

joeysefika's avatar

It takes masses of energy to compress the hydrogen into tanks. If they just had onboard electrolyzes machines this would take up too much room. Unfortunately it takes almost as much energy to produce the hydrogen, from water, than is put out. At this time its just not very efficient.

gorillapaws's avatar

I realize the efficiency isn’t there, nor the infrastructure to make hydrogen vehicles “ready” for everyone, but hydrogen fuel cells have applications beyond just powering vehicles. I’ve heard that hydrogen fuel cells can be the cheapest option for use as large-scale backup generators in certain situations (currently). Also I’ve read about the potential for use in portable electronics such as laptops/cellphones etc. It’s essentially an instantly rechargeable battery. Obviously that’s still a while off.

It just seems like there are a lot of potential applications for this technology (beyond just vehicles), but that the speed of progress seems very slow. I was just wondering if there were specifics about the fuel cells themselves that were a major limitation or some other technical hurdle (like the platinum layers in the PEM wearing out after a week and needing to be replaced often or something like that).

joeysefika's avatar

The fuel cells that i have used in small scale experiments have been platinum but you can also use carbon, which is less efficient but far cheaper

vectorul's avatar

Because Hydrogen technology does not get Goverment grants / tax breaks like Oil companies. Who do you think lobies Washington more? Hydrogen fuel cell developers or the Oil companies? You guessed it OIL companies!!!!

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

I keep waiting for methanol fuel cells to come out. They’re supposed to be the solution to crappy laptop battery life, but I never hear anything new about them either.

As to the use of H2 fuel cells for things other than motor vehicle power, we probably won’t see the technology until/unless H2 becomes a mainstay fuel source. Right now, the only distribution facilities for it are a few places in SoCal (where Honda is testing the Clarity). Think about your lawn mower or snow thrower – they’re gasoline powered because the storage and distribution facilities for gasoline are universally available. We’ll get H2 fuel cells for UPSs – and lawn mowers – when there are millions of Clarities on the road.

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