Why Haven’t Hydrogen Vehicles Taken Over the World Yet?

We were expecting hydrogen cars to take over the world years ago, but so far, we’ve got more Prius’s and Teslas. What happened to the fanfare for the car that runs on water, man? It’s been a while since we’ve heard anything about hydrogen cars, seemingly because the market wasn’t ready to look past it’s disadvantages yet. Back in 2014, we saw the very first commercial hydrogen fuel cell vehicle debut with the Toyota Mirai. It was a promising alternative, and cost about sixty thousand dollars to own. But the sticker price isn’t the only drawback for the average driver. The infrastructure for hydrogen cars just isn’t there yet. Fuel stations are still few and far between and the cost to build more is a challenge when very few are buying the cars in the first place Plus, competition is steep.

Why pay for a hydrogen car when you can get an all electric one for less. Saving money AND helping the environment. Ultimately, this is a classic chicken or the egg situation. Without infrastructure, the auto industry won’t push hydrogen-fuel cars. But without consumers asking for hydrogen vehicles, there’s less demand to build the infrastructure. It doesn’t help that building a new hydrogen distribution infrastructure, like the fueling stations and the hydrogen gas itself, is expensive and complicated. The most common way we get hydrogen gas is to separate it from natural gas, but that split still causes CO2 emissions.

8.And the alternative? Ideally we’d use electricity from solar and winds farms to split hydrogen from water, a process called electrolysis, but we don’t have the infrastructure for that either. Right now, we’d have to use the electricity that currently comes from power plants, where they still emit CO2. Both of our current processes defeat the purpose of this whole carbon-free endeavor and are, ultimately, another roadblock for the hydrogen car. On top of the infrastructure challenges, hydrogen fuel cells are costly and complex to make.

One fuel cell stack alone can cost Toyota up to eleven thousand dollars. The heart of a hydrogen fuel cell is composed of an anode and cathode, usually mixed with small particles of platinum, a thin material called the polymer electrolyte membrane, and a gas diffusion layer. Platinum is a special catalyst for chemical reactions in the fuel cell. When hydrogen is pumped through the anode side, the platinum separates the hydrogen into protons and electrons. Since the negatively charged electrons can’t transfer through the special membrane like the hydrogen ions, they get shuffled out through a circuit, and that flow of electrons creates an electrical current that powers the car (cool). The electrons then come around the other side, meet their hydrogen partners, throw a little oxygen into the mix and all that is expelled as H20. (even cooler). For their hydrogen car, Toyota stacks cells three hundred seventy layers thick in order to get the energy output they’re looking for. All these materials, especially the platinum, amount to a pretty penny, and that’s not even even including the materials used for the storage of hydrogen itself, which can also be super pricey.

But we’re getting better at this. Since 2014 fuels cells have become lighter, and the platinum catalysts are engineered more efficiently, which means they cost less. Scientists are working on electrolysis systems to make that carbon emission-free hydrogen we need AND there are initiatives globally to get hydrogen vehicles like taxis, buses, and trucks, on the roads. See for the average person, hydrogen cars might be impractical, but for long distance travel with large vehicles; they seem to be a great fit. Electric vehicles need multiple hours of charge time whereas hydrogen vehicles can be fueled within minutes and have a range of about 500 kilometers; more than fossil fuel and electric cars.

That might be the reason why Japan has ordered 100 hydrogen buses for the 2020 games, South Korea has commissioned 1,000 buses, and companies in the U.S. pre-ordered 11,000 commercial trucks. Infrastructure to build hydrogen fueling stations still has a long way to go. The California Fuel Cell Partnership has made it a goal to put 1,000 hydrogen gas stations in California by 2030. And Japan has similar ambitions. While they currently have 90 hydrogen fueling stations, the country aims to have 900 stations to service some 800,000 FCVs, buses and forklifts by 2030 So, hydrogen cars may not take over the world yet. Realistically, in the future there will probably be a split between electric, gas, and hydrogen cars. If the industry succeeds, maybe we can make a bigger difference in our carbon footprint and could possibly maybe sort of help us live here past 2100. Which is something I would like. Like more science in your day? Subscribe! And Hydrogen fuel isn’t the only way we want to power our public transit, Julian explains how supercapacitors are being in used in buses too, check it out here.

Fun Fact: The first hydrogen fuel cell ever invented was actually in 1839 by Sir William Robert Grove, but that one didn’t produce enough energy to be useful. Thanks for watching everyone and see you next time on Seeker. .

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Hydrogen – the Fuel of the Future?

I think we can all agree: … …the sooner we decrease our reliance on fossil fuels,… …and develop new energy sources, the better. Whether you believe in climate change or not,… …the benefits extend beyond just the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions,… …and the supply of oil and gas will inevitably dry. Tesla pioneered our greatest hope in this space to date,… …with the development and popularization of battery technology. But, as we’ve seen, they are struggling to meet… …the enormous half a million pre-orders for the Model 3. Elon Musk’s self-proclaimed production hell has resulted in delay after delay. Bloomberg estimates that Tesla have produced around 12,000 Model 3s to date,… …with the current production rate of 1,000 per week,… …which will gradually grow to a target output of 5,000 per week. But those at the tail end of the pre-order line could be waiting until 2020 to get their Model 3.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Last year, 72 million passenger cars were built. That’s nearly million vehicles a week. No matter how successful the Internet wants Tesla to become,… …they will never solve this issue alone,… …and the industry as a whole… …likely won’t be able to solve it with a battery-only approach. The demand for lithium-ion battery technology… …is simply growing faster than the supply of lithium can satisfy.

So, it seems clear: … …we need a multi-faceted approach to solve this problem. Another solution, which was the industry favorite to take over from fossil fuels, not so long ago,… …is hydrogen fuel technology,… …and companies like Toyota and Shell are working to develop this industry. It won’t be an easy race. But hydrogen may well prove to be the tortoise that beats the hare. Hydrogen has three primary obstacles it needs to overcome… …to become a viable energy source for any industry. Safety, infrastructure, and cost. Let’s get the big elephant in the room out of the way first. I know it’s on your mind. If hydrogen fuel cells are ever going to make it to public roads at scale,… …the hydrogen needs not only to be safe,… …but to be perceived as safe. And yes, filling a gigantic, incredibly flammable balloon with hydrogen is a pretty bad idea. Hydrogen has a relatively low ignition temperature,… …and a very wide ignition range for air to fuel mixture percentages.

The fact that it’s pressurized makes explosions a worry,… …but it has one massive advantage over oil-derived fuels. It’s lighter than air: it can be purged using emergency valves in the event of a fire,… …and if it does ignite, it won’t pool around the vehicle,… …engulfing it and its passengers in flames. Toyota even tested their carbon fiber tank by shooting it with a .50 caliber round. The tank didn’t explode. It simply let the lighter-than-air gas to escape and vent to the atmosphere. Hydrogen is arguably safer than gasoline,… …so safety isn’t a huge concern for hydrogen. But the lack of infrastructure is. Battery-operated vehicles have had a huge head start in this space: … …the electric grid is a pre-built transportation and generation network… …for the fuel the battery-operated vehicles require,… and installing a charger in your driveway or garage isn’t a huge challenge. Hydrogen doesn’t have such luxuries to kick-start the hydrogen economy. There are a few large scale production facilities in the world,…

…with the largest being Shell’s Rhineland oil refinement facility. It uses its own hydrogen production in the oil refinement process,… …but the lessons learned from these efforts have allowed Shell and its partner, ITM,… …to make hydrogen a viable option for uses in energy storage. Last month, I was invited to London,… …to witness the opening of the UK’s first ever hydrogen fuel pump… …to be included under a fuel station canopy,…

…a pivotal step in making the public see hydrogen… …as an integral part of the transport ecosystem. What fascinated me about this site was, how the hydrogen got there? Transporting hydrogen in pressurized trucks would be too expensive,… …as there are no large-scale production facilities nearby,… …and although hydrogen can be transported… …within the already established natural gas pipelines around the world,… …for use in vehicles, we need pure hydrogen. So Shell and ITM took the next logical step to keep cost down: … …they built a hydrogen production and storage facility on site. The production facility is placed just behind the main station,… …and is capable of producing 80 kilograms of hydrogen a day. The Toyota Mirai on sight has a range of 480 kilometers… …with a full 5 kilogram tank of hydrogen. Vastly more than a full charge for a Tesla,… …but you must consider the huge upfront cost of batteries,…

…which do not last forever, in this equation for cost. I’ll explore this battery vs hydrogen dilemma more in a future video. But for now, let’s see how hydrogen actually works. The production process of hydrogen is pretty simple. It uses a process called electrolysis to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen. The electrolyzer consists of two metal-coated electrodes… …and a DC power source,… …which provides a negative and positive charge. Hydrogen will appear at the cathode, the negative electrode,… …where electrons react with the water to form hydrogen and hydroxide ions. These negative ions now present in the water are attracted to the anode or positive electrode,… …where they are oxidized to form oxygen and water. The rate of production of oxygen and hydrogen depends on the electric current. But pure water is not very conductive. To achieve adequate hydrogen production,… …we would need to increase the voltage, or increase the conductivity. It’s much more efficient to increase conductivity,… …so an electrolyte, in the form of salt, is often included as a charge carrier. This is the oldest and most well-established production method for hydrogen. For reasons I won’t go into, but will include reading material in the description,…

…this method isn’t suitable for quick response times,… …with slow starter procedures and safety concerns,… …making it completely unsuitable for variable renewable energy sources,… …which has historically made hydrogen prohibitively expensive. If hydrogen has any hope of becoming a popular fuel source,… …we first need to get its price down, to be competitive with batteries and fossil fuels. This has been a major point of research for the past 50 years,… …and PEM, or Proton Exchange Membranes,… …are the primary solution now coming to market, that are facilitating a realistic hydrogen economy. PEM replaces the electrolyte rich water for a solid polymer electrolyte membrane,… …sandwiched between the anode and cathode,… …with channels to allow water and gas and solution to flow through.

As its name suggests, the PEM only allows protons to pass through. So hydrogen ions, otherwise known as protons,… …now become the charge carriers, rather than the hydroxide ions. But the overall chemical reaction is exactly the same,… …while requiring less voltage to operate efficiently,… …and, more importantly, has a rapid response time,… …making it ideal for integration to the grid as an energy storage method. And this is where it truly drives down costs. The hydrogen fuel cells and cars use this exact process in reverse… …to power their electric motors.

The cost of hydrogen production by electrolysis is completely dependent on electricity prices. If an electrolyzer cannot take advantage of cheaper intermittent surge electricity,… …or use cheaper off-peak electricity,… …then it’s losing out on real cost savings,… …and can’t provide the valuable service of energy storage for the grid. This hydrogen facility at the Shell station… …can form an important part of the renewable grid infrastructure going forward. Hydrogen’s greatest chance at success is by fueling a new economy of hydrogen,… …where natural gas pipelines are supplemented… …with hydrogen produced with cheap renewable energy,… …allowing hydrogen to gradually grow to be the Earth’s primary energy storage method,… …and facilitating renewable energy to become a larger part of our energy grid,… …without the worry of weather impacting energy supply,… …allowing nations to stop depending on the importation of fossil fuels,… …and instead grow their own fuel economy. One tiny group of isolated islands, in the bay of my home county of Galway,… …is attempting to do just this. The Aran Islands are rural Irish-speaking islands, popular with tourists for their unique landscape,… …who have historically depended completely on the mainland for fuel.

There are no trees here, no coal, no turf, no oil,… …but what they do have in plentiful supply is wave and wind energy. They are the perfect candidates to develop a mini hydrogen economy. An economy where they generate their own renewable energy,… …and create their own fuel to heat their homes and power their vehicles. Who knows? These tiny, obscure Irish islands could be the birthplace… …of the world’s first self-sustained, renewable, zero carbon, hydrogen economy. Thank you to Shell for sponsoring this video and inviting me out to London to film on location. If you’d like to learn more about the future of transport systems,… …Shell hosted a live recording of the Intelligence-squared podcast in London,… Which you can listen to with the link in the description. As always, thanks for watching, and you may have noticed,… …we crossed a little milestone this week. I’m currently in Guam, recording for some future projects… …who went over production, or Wendy as I like to call them,… …and Joseph from real-life Laura. You can get a behind-the-scenes look into our trip by following me on Instagram. It’s absolutely bizarre that this little dream I had,… …of creating a place to celebrate the work of engineers,…

…has actually become something much bigger than myself. I remember messaging individual subscribers, thanking them for subscribing,…..and marking off every 100 subs on my chalkboard at home. Thank you all for facilitating this life of mine. This milestone is just the first step. Real Engineering has just begun. .

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