Archive for August, 2008

As reported by Ken Thomas of the Associated Press (AP), the Chevrolet Equinox has been delivered to people participating in a trial program that involves free loans of the innovative vehicles to a small group of consumers. In addition to General Motors, Honda and BMW are supplying hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars for initial trials in real-life driving conditions. The AP report is summarized here, with additional information provided (links to sources are given).

The Chevy Equinox carries up to 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds) of hydrogen gas in pressurized tanks. In the fuel cell, hydrogen reacts with oxygen to generate electricity and the byproduct, water. Although explosive under some conditions, hydrogen is considered safe in these cars because a leak in the system would simply cause the hydrogen to become diluted by air, reaching concentrations that aren’t flammable. Equinox driver Tom Albert has covered 2300 miles in two months, and is enthusiastic about the car, citing only the lack of filling stations and the 200 mile range as real limitations (there are only two filling stations in the Washington, D.C. area where he lives).

Reportedly, the performance of the Equinox is equivalent to approximately 43 miles per gallon with conventional gasoline. The cars themselves are considered to be zero emission vehicles, though the source of hydrogen affects the ultimate environmental impact of this technology. Currently, most hydrogen comes from fossil fuels in a process that does generate CO2. However, the goal is to generate hydrogen from renewable sources. One approach to sustainable hydrogen was recently described here and republished here with additional discussion. In addition, as reported by Thomas, extracting hydrogen from natural gas results in about half the CO2 production associated with equivalent gasoline use by a vehicle. This information comes from Patrick Serfass, director of technology for the National Hydrogen Association.

There is a Federal Government target of producing hydrogen at a cost equivalent to $1.50/gallon of gasoline by 2010; current costs are estimated to be $3.00/gallon.

The Chevy Equinox is joined by the Honda FCX Clarity, which is being leased for $600/month to about 200 people in California. There were 50,000 web-based requests for leases, but the program was limited in part by the location of filling stations. Of the 61 hydrogen fueling stations in the U.S., about half are in California. A press release from Air Products, a major supplier of hydrogen, provides more information about present and future health of hydrogen as fuel.

The FCX Clarity travels about 270 miles on one tank of hydrogen, and Jon Spallino is one happy driver:

You’re not sacrificing anything, and actually for me it’s an enhanced driving experience… I think that’s a misconception people have, that you’re puttering around in an underpowered cramped little soapbox

BMW’s Hydrogen 7 runs on gasoline or hydrogen, with separate tanks to take you about 130 miles on hydrogen and 300 miles on gas.

So far, the production of fuel cell cars requires custom manufacturing, so the real costs per car are very high and undisclosed, but things are certainly being driven in the right direction.

Original text Copyright © 2008, James K. Bashkin

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Green issues are sometimes complex.  We need to recycle many things, like electronics, but we certainly don’t want to poison others in the process.  Efforts to protect the environment and conserve valuable resources must be coupled with proper health and safety procedures.  Unfortunately, just saying this doesn’t make it happen.  Developing countries are becoming a dumping ground for much toxic waste and proper environmental health and safety is being ignored, both by local opportunists and suppliers of e-Waste from developed nations.  From Greenpeace:

This shocking documentary from Greenpeace shows how “second hand goods” exported to Ghana for reuse are actually causing horrendous pollution. “People in the developed countries bring them here to bridge the digital gap but in actual fact they are creating a digital dump.”

Ghana — The latest place where we have discovered high tech toxic trash causing horrendous pollution is in Ghana. Our analysis of samples taken from two electronic waste (e-waste) scrap yards in Ghana has revealed severe contamination with hazardous chemicals.

Similar problems occur in China and, surprisingly, even in developed countries.  See related information about toxic waste dumps all over the world here.

However, you can also read good news about environmental protection in Europe and the effect it is having on US companies.

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Original text copyright © 2008 James K. Bashkin

Originally published in a somewhat different form on my Squidoo solar power lens and Sustainability group. Please note that Sam Carana has written a lot about the hydrogen economy, and he covered this same story, but with more technical information about the new science and catalysts, here.

Hydrogen and oxygen gases can be used in fuel cell technology to provide energy to a home, and these gases can be produced by the action of electricity on water. Hydrolysis can also be carried out by the action of sunlight on water, with the help of certain types of solar cells, or photovoltaics. Electrolysis often requires caustic conditions, or high pH (or a lot of electricity is wasted), but the caustic requirements, and most wasted electricity, can be overcome with the use of additional components known as catalysts. The result is that solar energy can be used to power a home during the day by generating electricity, and consumers would have a variety of options to store excess electricity:

Batteries are typically thought of for storage of electricity, but another option is offered by the power of sunlight: energy storage through generation of hydrogen and oxygen by electrolysis. Gernation of hydrogen and oxygen under acceptable and convenient conditions has become just more possible with the discovery of a new, breakthrough catalyst for electrolysis:

As described by Mariella Moon of ExtremeTech, “… one catalyst would be responsible for producing oxygen gas from water, while another would produce hydrogen. The hydrogen and oxygen could be recombined in a fuel cell to power the home at night where solar energy isn’t readily available…”

Hydrogen and oxygen would accumulate during the day from excess electricity generating capacity of a solar cell system, and then these gases would serve as the fuel for a fuel cell that would power a house overnight. The byproduct of the fuel cell, water, could then be re-used for water splitting (electrolysis) the next day.

Illustrations of the idea and video from principle scientist D. Nocera of MIT is shown at the GoodCleanTech site, the Green Blog of, as posted by Mariella Moon.

The key to the new catalyst for electrolysis is that, unlike the catalytic converter in your car, it does not require expensive metals like platinum or rhodium, yet it works at atmospheric pressure, room temperature and moderate pH, thus providing hydrogen and oxygen that can feed a fuel cell with minimal environmental impact.

Original text copyright © 2008 James K. Bashkin