Driving in Circles: Hydrogen Cars Close to Production at Ford

AP breaks the news that "the relatively quick-and-easy answer to foreign oil dependence and automotive greenhouse gas emissions is circling the grounds every day at Orlando International Airport in Florida..." Great news -- oh, that's according to a "top Ford Motor Co. official." Apparently the hydrogen combustion cool-aid has been fed up the corporate food chain and subsequently has been served to AP's stringer with very little comment on the actual production of hydrogen. Ford has about 30 E-450 Hydrogen shuttle buses working across the U.S. and Canada with engineers monitoring them electronically in real time and find that they have near zero emissions and get up to 13 percent better fuel economy than their gasoline counterparts. While we're all for zero emissions et al., these vehicles rely on a 6.8 liter modified gasoline combustion engine that runs on hydrogen. While it may be easy to convert a gas engine to hydrogen and get it to market in five years, it's not so with regard to effectively generating the amounts of hydrogen necessary to make said vehicles more mobile than expensive paperweights. Granted, that's short of a breakthrough in hydrogen production which perhaps Ford is truly gunning for given the company's lackluster commitment to developing plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs).Forget for a moment that said answer to foreign (or otherwise) oil dependence circling Orlando parking lots costs $250,000. Hydrogen fuel must be extracted from somewhere, fossil fuels or water, which are both energy-consuming processes. There's some talk about getting hydrogen from woody biomass with the bump that carbon in the resulting char can be sequestered in the ground providing a further benefit of richer soil for farming. Once produced, hydrogen gas must be compressed or liquefied for distribution, and this process and the distribution itself take yet more energy. If you're talking about a fuel-cell vehicle, that's even more energy input and loss. According to MIT's Technology Review:

Along the way, you've thrown away nearly three-quarters of the electricity. No one in their right mind would do that--if your alternative is to just string a power line from zero-carbon electricity and charge a battery onboard a car...Hydrogen is the last thing you would do, only if everything else has failed.
Some call using nuclear as a bridge to create needed quantities of hydrogen a failure, and consider it essentially the turning of automobiles into proxy nuclear reactors. As for the coal burned in plants powering PHEVs, some studies have suggested that even if every car in California were to go PHEV, the result would still be a 50% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. A recent study says 25%. For the moment, using hydrogen to run those Ford buses is in indeed that, driving in circles. Time to make the electric-fueled donuts... via:: Huffingtonpost

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