“The car of the perpetual future” — The Economist agrees with Climate Progress on hydrogen

econh2.jpgWhen the world’s uber-centrist magazine of choice runs a headline almost identical to mine (see “The Last Car You Would Ever Buy — Literally“), you know it’s all over. Especially when one of that magazine’s leading energy columnists, Vijay Vaitheeswaran, used to sing that technology’s praises (here). Here’s the bottom line:

But the promise of hydrogen-powered personal transport seems as elusive as ever. The non-emergence of hydrogen cars over the past decade is particularly notable since hydrogen power has been a darling of governments worldwide, which have spent billions of dollars in subsidies and incentives to make hydrogen cars a reality….

Here’s the fatal flaw in the H2 economy:

…the logistical, technological and economic problems facing hydrogen fuel-cell cars mean that they are very unlikely to make it to market any time soon. One thing holding back hydrogen vehicles is a chicken-and-egg problem: why build cars if there is nowhere to fill them up, or hydrogen filling-stations if there are no cars to use them? Just around the corner, honest.

But wait, here’s another fatal flaw in the H2 economy:

How much more investment is needed to make mass-produced hydrogen cars a reality? According to a recent study by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, sponsored by America’s Department of Energy (DoE), public funding of $10 billion would be required to get 2m hydrogen fuel-cell cars onto America’s roads by 2025, rising to $45 billion for 10m cars. A report issued by America’s National Academy of Sciences in July was less optimistic, estimating that $55 billion of government investment would be needed to put just 2m hydrogen cars on the road by 2023. And both reports assume that the technology will get a lot cheaper: the Oak Ridge study assumes it will be possible to make fuel-cell vehicle systems in quantity at a cost of $45 per kilowatt of output by 2010, and $30 per kilowatt by 2015.

This is ambitious. Although fuel-cell costs have dropped by 65% since 2002, according to the CaFCP, today’s fuel cells cost around $107 per kilowatt. Are sudden cost reductions around the corner? Not according to one of the pioneers of fuel-cell technology, Ballard Power Systems, a Canadian supplier of fuel-cell systems to a range of carmakers. In November 2007 it sold its automotive fuel-cell division to Ford and Daimler after a decade of losses, citing the “realities of the high cost and long timeline for automotive fuel-cell commercialisation” for its exit from the business.

Actually, the CaFCP’s cost claim is laughable. You can’t buy a warranteeable fuel cell for a car for $107 per kw today. Try more than 10 times that, over $1000/kw. The CaFCP number is a projection based on the assumption of mass production, hundreds of thousands of units a year, with no explanation of how you’re ever going to get to those sales levels for cars whose best current generation models cost hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece.

As I wrote in Technology Review, one of the only car companies in the world still seriously pushing hydrogen cars, Honda, hopes that in a decade or so, production volume would drop the car cost to “below $100,000.” As if that price would make it attractive to anybody but the super-rich. But in any case, why would production volumes increase for a car that delivers no real value to the consumer and has no significant societal benefit to motivate government support? Answer: They wouldn’t, so prices may never drop below $100,000. That’s why Ballard left the business.

Hydrogen cars have no future, or, as The Economist‘s headline puts it, hydrogen cars, like fusion energy, have the same future they always had.

And here’s another bunch of fatal flaws:

Even if the network of hydrogen filling-stations can be built, and the technological advances needed to reduce the cost of fuel-cell vehicles can be made, a huge problem still remains: the production and delivery of hydrogen in large quantities. The Oak Ridge study says the two most promising ways to produce hydrogen cheaply in the near term are to make it from natural gas (through a process called “steam reforming”) at the filling stations themselves, or to make it from gas derived from biomass or coal at large, centralised plants, and then deliver it by lorry or pipeline.

Hydrogen sceptics point out not only the large capital costs associated with the production, transportation and storage of hydrogen, but also the availability of far more viable alternatives. Hydrogen is “just about the worst possible vehicle fuel”, says Robert Zubrin, a rocket scientist and the author of Energy Victory, a book on the post-petroleum future. Even if the requisite gains in fuel-cell technology are achieved, he says, the fuel-cell cars of the future should run instead on methanol, which has a higher energy-density than hydrogen and can be stored and transported much more easily.

Furthermore, steam reformation of natural gas is far from a zero-emissions solution, undermining the whole rationale of hydrogen cars in the first place. According to America’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, producing a kilogram of hydrogen by steam reformation generates emissions equivalent to 11.9kg of CO2. Given that the Chevy Equinox fuel-cell vehicle can travel 39 miles on a kilogram of hydrogen, and the FCX Clarity can travel 68 miles, powering these cars using hydrogen produced by steam reformation would result in emissions of 305 and 175 grams of CO2 per mile respectively. By comparison, today’s petrol-electric Toyota Prius hybrid produces tailpipe emissions of around 167 grams per mile, and many small petrol cars achieve similar results.

Seriously — how many fatal flaws does the technology need? Hydrogen cars were apparently killed in the drawing room by the knife, revolver, lead pipe, rope and candlestick.

The magazine includes as an afterthought yet another major fatal flaw, one that I have written a lot about. While some say “the solution to large-scale hydrogen production lies in using renewable electricity to extract hydrogen from water via electrolysis” or using “nuclear power. But it would surely be easier simply to use this energy to charge the batteries of all-electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles.” Easier, hundreds of billions of dollars cheaper, and you don’t throw away 75% of the valuable carbon free electricity in the process!

Some people cling to the notion that hydrogen can be reanimated like Frankenstein’s monster (see here). But the Economist article ends more realistically:

In other words, claims that hydrogen will be the automotive fuel of the future are as true today as they ever have been.

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44 Responses to “The car of the perpetual future” — The Economist agrees with Climate Progress on hydrogen

  1. red says:

    “Hydrogen is “just about the worst possible vehicle fuel”, says Robert Zubrin, a rocket scientist and the author of Energy Victory, a book on the post-petroleum future. Even if the requisite gains in fuel-cell technology are achieved, he says, the fuel-cell cars of the future should run instead on methanol, which has a higher energy-density than hydrogen and can be stored and transported much more easily.”

    I’m familiar with Zubrin’s points, simply because I’m from the space field, and he’s mainly an aerospace engineer with certain policy interests. Hydrogen boil-off is a well-known issue in space systems. It would just seep right out of traditional pipelines – wasteful and dangerous. Energy Victory (a fairly non-technical, easy-to-read advocacy book written for the general public) has a heck of a lot of points against hydrogen cars.

    “why build cars if there is nowhere to fill them up, or hydrogen filling-stations if there are no cars to use them?”

    The solution that Zubrin advocates for energy independence – methanol and ethanol car fuels – has a similar chicken-and-egg problem. Only a small percentage (compared to what’s needed) of cars and gas stations support them, so the economic incentive isn’t there to introduce the gas stations or cars. However, according to Zubrin, it’s a lot easier to solve, since making methanol/ethanol/gas flex-fuel cars (omnivores, as he calls them) adds only about $100 per car. Zubrin advocates a mandate that all U.S. gas-style cars support methanol, ethanol, and gas. This would give the gas stations the incentive to install the pumps, and industry to do the R&D to develop the businesses. He goes through a lot of sources for ethanol and methanol. One, natural gas for methanol, makes the Pickens natural gas car effort sound a bit pointless, too – why not just convert the natural gas to methanol and use that as 1 of many sources?

    Zubrin is mainly looking for energy independence rather than climate help, but he presents the plan as being a good setup move in that direction, too. Methanol seems to be centerpiece of his plan, with ethanol as a big secondary contributer. The plan seems to be compatible with other efforts like higher fuel-efficiency standards, PHEVs, etc. FFV mandates have made their way into different political proposals, although often they just mention ethanol.

    Not being an energy person, you’d have to make your own judgements on his proposal. My comments are just summarizing some of his points; you’ll have to supply the critical thinking.

  2. Ronald says:

    You can put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig, doesn’t matter if you wrap a dead fish in newspaper, it’s still going to stink.

    How was it that hydrogen fuel powered vehicles ever going to make it if every part of their structure is more costly than gasoline powered vehicles? In the United States, people are having enough trouble with only one part of the transportation equation goes up by double or triple, gasoline, and it causes economic trouble.

    Part of the story is Hydrogen finally getting vetted like vice presidential candidates need to be, but what does it tell us about the system. Aren’t we faster learners than months and years of drip, drip, drip. Finally some truth about hydrogen, but when is the truth about our system of information and knowledge going to be improved? We’re stuck with sometimes incompetent, sometimes hardheaded general humans who haven’t studied Physics, Engineering and economics, but are we also stuck with that from those that have studied it?

    Our state fair had an eco-experience building of about 10 000 sq ft in size that had all sorts of exhibits of energy efficiency and renewables. 5 years ago, they had a booth on hydrogen fuels and fuel cells. They have not had that for a few years, but did have a few all electric city cars. I suppose that’s progress.

  3. Brendan says:

    When you say $1000/kw, I assume you mean $1000/kw-h ?

  4. You don’t like this site then?

    The problem with ethanol and methanol is that there simply is not enugh to cut emissions… at all… and i don’t see how it would be much easier to get then hydrogen… however we have to try.

  5. Cyril R. says:

    The inherent non-solvable problem of hydrogen fuel cell energy storage and transportation is the entropic limit imposed by the reduction of gas molecules. This puts multiplied theoretical efficiencies (electrolysis x fuel cell) at a level insuffient to compete with batteries. Even if all of the hydrogen equipement costs nothing (!!!) the inefficiency of hydrogen storage systems means overhead (ie paying) kWh’s. And that’s assuming no T&D losses (!!!) for hydrogen and no compressor and ancillary losses (!!!). Those are asurd assumptions, not in ten thousand years will we get that level of efficiency. And it still not enough. Ulf Bossels’ concerns have never been ameliated because they are inherent problems. Hydrogen transportation is, and has always been, a dead end.

    This doesn’t mean hydrogen is useless. It may be great to produce fertilizer and rocket fuel in the future, among other uses. But transportation, forget it. Hydrogen energy storage just doesn’t have any advantages, on any relevant criteria, compared to batteries. Physics and deductible economics says so, and we must all listen to physics and it’s implications.

    Hydrogen is popular for consumers because it’s sexy, and to car companies because it’s far fetched and therefore offers a partial excuse to continue business as usual. GM and others put a bunch of million in hydrogen research and pilot projects, so it can continue to sell billions in high profit ICE cars. That’s a very low price to pay to buy a green image for the public at large.

    Hydrogen is useful. But not at all in transportation.

  6. Cyril R. says:

    Apologies for the typos… and it’s not even weekend yet!

  7. Cyril R. says:

    Oh, and methanol, if it used merely as a more practical carrier for water derived hydrogen (ie electric produced) doesn’t solve the principal problem of inefficiency. We need efficiency because clean energy will be rare for many decades to come even in the most optimistic scenarios, and efficiency means leveraging that clean energy to make it useful. Ergo, inefficiency means more environmental impact, more GhG, less solutions compared to batteries (or perhaps even ultracaps). And hydrogen energy storage is inherently inefficient.

  8. paulm says:


    Joe your predictions are coming true even before the end of the current season.

    This is with a slight global cooling!
    This may be explained by Josephs analysis which indicates that there is a 2yr lag in the frequency of named storms against temp rise.

    Bigger, longer lasting storms mean high probable landfall, especially now for the US which is further west. And bigger storms also mean greater flooding over a larger region.

    I think one reason Haiti is so poor is that it always seems to get it every couple of years and does not have a chance to recover economically.

    This is probably the fate of all communities now in the region because of the size and power of future (current) storms.

  9. Col says:

    A highly technical subject for most. The chicken-egg problems seems to be fallacious on first brush though (we did this for modern gas stations didn’t we?) and at least one suggestion as to how this could be done, not at an expense but profitably, has been made (see

    Indeed if you follow that link, there are a lot of hydrogen counterpoints.

    Joe, would you be up for addressing this document? Or Amory Lovins and the RMI?

  10. Cyril R. says:

    Methanol produced from waste biomass seems promising though. Can be turned into gasoline very efficiently and with proven technology (zeolites).

    That resource will be somewhat limited though, so only makes sense to fill up demand that can’t be fulfilled by electric transportation (big things that go and long distance transport). Or maybe as fuel in a CAES system, or hybrid AACAES/CAES diurnal/long storage system. And as chemical feedstock it could be very useful.

  11. Cyril R. says:

    Chicken and egg is a secondary argument; if hydrogen were really that worthy of pursuit, government subsidies in infrastructure and fuel cells could be justified. It’s not, mainly because of inherent problems with inefficiency (which has macro-scale implications that few understand). Fuel cell costs and electrolysers can plausibly reduced an order of magnitude, so that’s not really the problem. My experience is that few people understand what inefficiency means. They generally just dismiss it without thought.

  12. Earl Killian says:

    red, I wrote to Zubrin about problems in his essay. He wouldn’t reply to the issue raised, but just told me to read Energy Victory. I then read portions of Energy Victory using Google’s Search Inside feature, and they seemed to have further issues, especially in his understanding of climate science. I wrote to Zubrin about these problems. He wrote back addressing none of the points, but told me again to read the book. I saw no reason to buy the book after that.

    Zubrin for examples suggests that we make methanol from coal. This is so brain-dead in terms of greenhouse pollution that it pretty much marks him as part of the problem instead of part of the solution.

  13. Bob Wallace says:

    “The chicken-egg problems seems to be fallacious on first brush though (we did this for modern gas stations didn’t we?)”

    Early gas stations were no more than a drum of gas and (possibly) a hand cranked pump.

    Even today gas can be delivered and dispensed using very low tech. Here’s an example of a rural Thai gas station for motorbikes.

  14. G.R.L. Cowan says:

    If people wanted methanol-burning cars, and they do seem to want to watch them going round and round a track, hydrogen generated at nuclear power plants by non-electrical processes such as the S-I one could be reacted with atmospherically gathered CO2 in the Lurgi process, q.v.

  15. tbeard says:

    As a person who does research in Hydrogen production, I can say that Hydrogen should not be pulled off the table because of infrastructure problems, we seem to ship and run our cars on propane, hydrogen has similar problems as propane in shipping so those are easily overcome. People do not seem to understand that the DOE is not throwing money at electrolosis derived hydrogen, that is too energy intensive. Much of the DOE money is being invested in Fuel Cells and in Biohydrogen production(my area of research), if these investments pan out, and some of them are, human energy needs should be covered by solar radiation, perhaps the BEST solution to combating global warming.

  16. The problems of shipping propane and those of shipping hydrogen are not similar, and the latter are not easily overcome.

    Nevertheless, much hydrogen is shipped, for purposes that can justify a shipping bill near US$100 per kg, which is to say, US$100 per gasoline-gallon-equivalent. There are cryogenic tanker trucks that haul 3.5-tonne loads. I think there may be some larger tankers that haul a little more than four tonnes, too. In either case, the tank wall is 20 or more tonnes of steel.

    (Failure to mention these trucks causes Bossel and Eliason’s arguments, if I’m remembering those names correctly, to be taken less seriously than they might be. They talk as though only ambient-temperature high-pressure tube trailers, with much smaller hydrogen payloads, existed.)

  17. grog77 says:

    The future just isn’t what it used to be.

  18. tbeard says:

    Not sure what you mean, the hydrogen I use is shipped in the same, and usually next to, cylinders that contain propane, acetylene etc. The problem and what I assume you are talking about is shipping highly pressurized hydrogen, this is unsafe no matter what gas you ship. Nevertheless the infrastructure exists to move large amounts of any pressurized gas throughout the united states, ala natural gas, although I cannot comment on the price point of various shipping methods.

  19. Lou Grinzo says:

    The infrastructure problems are indeed daunting for hydrogen, but I think good old economics tell us why HFCs for cars are a bad idea: Wave a magic wand and make ALL the needed infrastructure appear for both hydrogen and EV’s, plus solve all the hydrogen technical hurdles and make batteries cheaper, and EVs win by a mile. To be more exact, they win by a factor of three, which is the ratio of miles/kWh for EVs vs. clean hydrogen (as in from electrolysis).

    There is no magic technological breakthrough that we can point to or hope for that will make hydrogen cost competitive on a per-mile fuel cost basis, even if the up-front cost of the hardware were equivalent (and EVs will likely have a huge advantage there, even with the high cost of batteries, for the foreseeable future).

  20. The future just isn’t what it used to be.

    Right. It never used to be this good.

  21. I feel sorry for the gas station down the street from my house that just had a Hydrogen Pump opening gala.

  22. Earl Killian says:

    tbeard wrote, “People do not seem to understand that the DOE is not throwing money at electrolosis derived hydrogen, that is too energy intensive.

    The problem is not hydrogen production, it is hydrogen consumption. NREL once wrote, “An efficiency goal for electrolyzers in the future has been reported to be in the 50 kWhe/kg range, or a system efficiency of 78%. However, this 78% includes compression of the hydrogen gas to 6000 psi.” That is 78% of the HHV, by the way. 78% efficient sounds pretty good, but wait.

    The DOE’s FreedomCar goal for fuel cells at their peak efficiency is 20kWhe of electrical output per kilogram of hydrogen fed into it. This is 60% of the LHV. That sounds pretty good, but the end to end efficiency is only 20 kWhe/kgH2 / 50 kWhe/kgH2 = 40%. The rest is the energy to boil the water, the difference between the LHV and HHV = 141.9/120.1 = 1.18. I.e. 18% is lost just from starting with liquid water and ending up with water vapor. Almost every production method has this problem.

    More importantly than the above, if you had H2 produced from some magic technique (e.g. directly from sunlight), the most efficient way to use it for transportation is to turn it into electricity in a SOFC or MCFC with micro-turbine co-generation running off the heat, and ship that electricity over the grid, and then charge batteries in cars. This is the clinching argument against hydrogen, IMO.

  23. David B. Benson says:

    Here is a plan to turn hydrogen + CO2 into useable fuel:

    Very clever.

  24. Doug says:

    It’s silly to think of hydrogen as a competitor to EVs, but — eventually — it could become competitive to the use of biofuels as the “range-extending” higher-density energy source, for demanding applications such as long-haul trucking, ocean freighters, or even airplanes.

    That, of course, is if battery densities hit a wall at some point, such that biofuels remain a necessary part of the infrastructure.

    I did some back-of-the-envelope calcs, and estimated that hydrogen from PV electricity can provide around 10x the miles driven as compared to a pretty optimistic cellulosic-ethanol scenario, per unit of land area. That is, imagine that, over a given year, an acre of land holding a PV installation supplies energy to the grid, and that energy goes to drive electrolyzers at a hydrogen-refueling site for land vehicles. That acre of land would give those vehicles some 10x more miles to drive than an acre growing plants for cellulosic ethanol.

    When we have enough solar and wind capacity built out to fully replace coal and natural gas plants, there is going to be some significant overcapacity in the system, necessary to account for the chance that the air will be sometimes be too still and/or too overcast in too many of the wrong places. But for average and above-average times, there will be extra electricity available to sink into alternative uses, and hydrogen for transportation could turn out to be a pretty useful one, if it means a large reduction in the arable or wilderness land used for biofuels.

  25. Ronald says:

    A good graphic on the hydrogen fuel-fuel cell problem

    I wish someone would make one of these for all the energy/end use options.

  26. Paul Curto says:

    Ronald makes a good point, if you pick hydrogen. Methanol still releases carbon dioxide, so no go. The real choice is ammonia, the cheapest hydrogen carrier. The new MIT electrolysis process to acquire the hydrogen from water and air liquefaction to acquire the nitrogen from air are about 80% efficient combined, and the Haber process can make the ammonia at about 98% efficiency. Ammonia burns at 42% efficiency in a turbodiesel to provide power at the wheels.
    If you need fuel for anything longer than 100 km, you might want to use ammonia instead of batteries.
    Works much better in aircraft than batteries, too.
    The reason you would want ammonia is that the renewable energy ocean power plants that are needed to cool the ocean and make electricity cannot be moored from the tropics to the population centers. A fleet of OTEC plants can make billions of barrels of the stuff.

  27. Earl Killian says:

    Doug wrote, “That, of course, is if battery densities hit a wall at some point, such that biofuels remain a necessary part of the infrastructure.

    Energy density is less important than recharge time. It is already possible to recharge an EV battery pack in 10 minutes. The question is whether cost reductions on such batteries hit a wall. With fast recharge times one can travel cross country even with fairly low range per charge. Without fast recharge, even long range battery pack require range extension at some point.

    Fortunately there seems to be no shortage of interesting science being done that helps recharge time, and even more fortunately, with PHEVs we can afford to wait for that science.

  28. Cyril R. says:

    Much of the DOE money is being invested in Fuel Cells and in Biohydrogen production(my area of research), if these investments pan out, and some of them are, human energy needs should be covered by solar radiation, perhaps the BEST solution to combating global warming

    As Earl Killian points out, you get more solution faster when you turn that hydrogen into electricity and use that in EVs/SPHEVs, even if you have a good way too produce hydrogen (say a cost-effective photocatalyst or hydrogen producing algae).

    Also very importantly, this allows existing infrastructure and technology to be used, such as the electric grid and combined cycle gas turbines (to convert the hydrogen into electricity). No fancy fuel cells etc.

    Ulf Bossel has said “hydrogen cannot compete with it’s own energy source: electricity”. Well it turns out, even if you have hydrogen cheaply, it still can’t compete with electricity when it comes to powering transportation. If hydrogen can be produced cheaply, this could allow cost-effective long term storage of hydrogen (eg underground) which could be an advantage even though it cannot be as land efficient as other solar conversion (such as PV and CST).

  29. Earl Killian says:

    I should add that a very interesting point in between pure BEVs and PHEVs that makes BEV range and recharge less of a problem. It is the idea of range extension trailers: These allow you to have a BEV most of the time, but on the occasional Boston to Washington DC trip, you hitch the trailer to back of the BEV and transform it into a PHEV like the Chevy Volt. The beauty is that you don’t have to carry the trailer 97% of the time. Even at your destination you would unhitch for getting around town. Given a choice between fast recharge and a trailer, I would prefer fast recharge, but until the highway infrastructure for that exists, the trailer is a nice solution.

  30. Cyril R. says:

    Why a trailer, the genset is relatively small. Don’t need a powerful generator, just enough to meet the average vehicle use if recharging while driving is required. Trailers increase cost and reduce aerodynamical performance. And they look silly ;)

  31. Earl Killian says:

    Cyril R, you might be right, but there are advantages to BEVs compared to PHEVs: they are so much more maintenance free. Compared to a PHEV, BEVs lack
    * engines, valves, gaskets
    * radiators and associated fluids
    * spark plugs, carburetor
    * air filters
    * oil, oil filter, oil pump
    * fuel tank, fuel pump
    * transmission (replaced by a simple gear box)
    * catalytic converter
    * muffler
    * belts
    * in some EVs with hub motors, even the axle/differential are gone
    The above list is where most of my ICE repairs and maintenance has been. True, you still have to change the tires and align the wheels on an BEV. And there’s that pesky windshield washer fluid to change. But in comparison…

    Now how to trade that off with looking silly? :-)

  32. Bob Wallace says:

    PHEVs are most likely a transitional vehicle. We can build good ones right now. We don’t have to wait for less expensive, lighter, smaller batteries or for readily accessible rapid charging stations.

    Earl’s list tells us why we will leave the hybrid’s ICE behind once we get to the next generation of batteries and install some charging points around the country.

  33. The Lightning GT with Altairnano batteries and a 200 mile range is claimed to be able to charge up (with a high voltage charge unit) to full in 10 minutes. Yes this car is going to cost $300,000 but it is the first generation. I’ll be curious to see how well the quick charging works in the real world.

  34. Earl Killian says:

    Michael, thanks for that. I didn’t know about that car! Now I do. Here’s the link for others:

  35. Bob Wallace says:

    And the Tesla has received its new transmission which boosts its range to closer to 240 miles per charge.

    Drive 4-5 hours, stop for lunch.

    I’ll bet Burger King, McDonalds, and other fast food chains are early installers of charge posts. Earn a buck from hook up fee and sell some food.

  36. Ronald says:


    You say you don’t need the engine stuff, but you do for the full functioning vehicle which the trailer gives you. If I drive to work, am I going to be marooned there if my plans change 1)airport instead of home 2)sick relative 100 or more miles away 3) want to go downtown to the new restaurant; all of which happened to me. Do I have to go home to get the trailer/genset first. Are we going to see a bunch of BEV vehicles on the side of the road from people thinking they could make it?

    My first thought criticism of the GM volt is that it’s over propulsioned. What I read is a person can drive on only batteries for 40 miles then on only 2.2 liter engine for the rest of the trip and it cost 35 thousand.

    I think initial cost could be lowered by putting in 20 mile batteries and have the engine 1.1 liter and start running engine sooner in the trip. That might also reduce battery charge cycles. Lower initial cost would go a long way in how many would sell, even with lower fuel costs.

    My living in a northern colder state makes me want heat from the engine, even though as I understand it heat can come from an electricity driven heat pump. putting the engine on the trailer means that excess heat is wasted unless you can get the waste heat from trailer to vehicle. (not very gracefully I’m sure)

  37. red says:

    Earl: I agree that there are a number of problems with Zubrin’s book. There are more things in it that I’m sure you wouldn’t agree with. He’s mainly going after energy independence, specifically independence from OPEC oil. That’s a great goal as far as I’m concerned. However, he downplays climate change as a problem to be dealt with later, which I suppose if you accept his argument enhances the focus on flex-fuel vehicles, but which I think is an issue he didn’t even need to get into. It’s not as if we can’t take what he describes as a decisive step towards not needing OPEC oil while at the same time taking other steps to tackle climate change, or complimentary steps to get rid of oil for that matter.

    He does point out that methanol can be derived from coal, and that’s his clincher if there was any doubt that we can’t get a huge amount of the liquid fuel we need now from alcohol fuels. However, he does point out the polluting effects of coal — he’d go for it before OPEC oil which he’s totally against, but not as a first choice. His preference (in addition to ethanol from various sources) is methanol produced from biomass of all sorts, waste, and natural gas that in many cases is currently flared. In part he likes these for their environmental benefit compare to coal. He also likes the idea of methanol-inspired ‘fuel agriculture” helping us take back areas that have been claimed by desertification, and generally promoting agriculture (which would presumably lead to better global lifestyles and thus lower global population growth). (He doesn’t mention the opposite possibility – agriculture taking down rain forests and so on).

    All in all it’s a mixture that’s sure to please at times and infuriate at others, no matter where you stand on these issues.

    Anyway, he really does a job on what he calls the “Hydrogen Hoax”.

  38. Bob Wallace says:

    Ronald – how often do those unusual desires to drive long distances really happen? Once a week, month, year?

    Don’t you think that most people would rent a genset trailer at the edge of the city rather than own one full time?

    Are we going to see lots of dead BEVs along the road? I sort of doubt it. I think it’s very likely that we’ll have computers in our BEVs that tell us that we’re low and give us the direction to the nearest available charge point.

  39. Ronald says:


    You make good points. I’m sure these aren’t things that haven’t been asked already. I’m sure we will find a mix of full hybrids, PHEV’s and BEV’s and have to go thru these discussions again in the future.

    I suppose where I would work might also have a few of these like it has other vehicles for use. (but for company business) Or it would be easy enough to just steal one of these Gen-set trailors. (kidding, kindof)

  40. Earl Killian says:

    red, thank you for the mini-review of Energy Victory. It was helpful.

    On Ronald and Bob’s comments, let me add the following:

    FWIW, until we have fast charging stations, I see PHEVs being the primary plug-in vehicles, and BEVs sometimes being the second vehicle in a 2-vehicle family. It may be that in 20 years, instead of manual vs. automatic being the primary choice when you buy a new car, that PHEV vs. BEV is the question you get asked. I mentioned range-extending trailers because some might prefer that middle ground. I agree they are not for everyone.

    When fast charging is available on highways (and mind you this won’t be at home–it typically requires a 480V, 3-phase, 400-500A utility feed), we should see some PHEV sales convert to BEV sales.

    In case folks aren’t aware, fast charging equipment is being produced and sold today, but it is primarily targeted at the warehouse market (electric forklifts). See for more information.

  41. Bob Wallace says:

    Charging stations – a steel pipe, a big three conductor wire, an outlet, some controlling electronics – are not big capital investments, don’t require appreciable real estate, and aren’t rocket science to install.

    It’s not going to take much to rip a ditch down one lane of parking spaces and install a string of charging stations.

    Charging stations aren’t likely something that we’re going to see along highways. They’re more likely to be found at retail places where businesses will see a profit opportunity from a charging surcharge and the ability to create some foot traffic while the car is charging.

    Remember that lots of gas stations make little money from selling gas. Having pumps is a way to get people into their convenience store.

    I see PHEVs as what most of us are going to drive for a while. But not for 20 years. Bring the price of batteries down so that we can afford a 100 mile or more range and the rush will be on.

  42. Earl Killian says:

    Bob, we need to separate the analysis into PHEVs, low-range BEVs, and high-range BEVs. The highways are pretty much the only place one needs charging for high-range BEVs, since they have the range to handle anything except inter-city driving (e.g. SF to LA). With 10-minute recharge, and 150-mile range, one would probably recharge three times along the way from SF to LA, at 100 miles, at 200 miles, and 300 miles, and arrive in LA with 68 miles of range for around town (you would then get a conventional overnight charge at your destination). There would presumably be plenty of businesses at these three points, vying for your dollars while you got your 10-minute charge. Assuming you travel at 65 MPH, the total trip time is 6.4 hours, vs. 5.9 hours if you drove straight without stopping in a gasser. Most people would stop once in a gasser.

    PHEVs are different. There are people who might like the fuel cost of a PHEV but today park on the street. They are the sort of folks that Coulomb Tech is targeting. They think lightpoles are a particularly smart charging location, because they already have conduit and electrical wiring running to them (though the wiring might need upgrading).

  43. Earl Killian says:

    Of course, if SF to LA gets high-speed rail, my example above would be rather obsolete. (California voters will decide in November.) I am rather envious of what Spain is doing after reading
    Madrid–Barcelona in 2.5h today, 2h after the 2010 upgrade. 10,000 kilometers of high-speed track by 2020. Nice.

  44. shop says:

    Charging stations aren’t likely something that we’re going to see along highways. They’re more likely to be found at retail places where businesses will see a profit opportunity from a charging surcharge and the ability to create some foot traffic while the car is charging.