The shift is happening! Volvo announces ‘historic end’ to combustion engines – all cars will have electric engines starting in 2019 Hydrogen impractical. Lyft is committed to 100% renewably powered AV/EV rides

The Financial Times reports that every model produced by carmarker Volvo will have an electric motor from 2019. The firm is the first traditional carmaker to call time on vehicles solely power by combustion engines. Future models will include pure electric, plug-in hybrids and battery vehicles with gas petrol back-up engines on some models.  Volvo, which was bought by Chinese carmaker Geely in 2010, hopes to sell 1m electrified cars by 2025.  Meanwhile BusinessGreen reports on new figures from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), showing sales of electric vehicles “continued to outperform the wider European auto market during 2016”. The share of electric, plug-in hybrid and hybrid vehicles grew from 2.5 to 3.2% of sales, the figures show. Separately, the New York Times reports from Hamburg, where it says efforts to roll out hydrogen car refuelling infrastructure is struggling from a lack of customers. Hydrogen, the paper says, is: “still struck at the prototype stage, struggling with high costs, competition from electric vehicles, and worries, perhaps exaggerated, about the risks”.  — Patrick McGee, Financial Times

In hydrogen cars, which lack infrastructure, it takes a lot of energy to compress the hydrogen, “as much as 20 percent of the total energy stored in the hydrogen.” Compressing it generates heat, so it has to be cooled during compression, using yet more energy.  Almost all the hydrogen available today is made by steam reformation of a good old fossil fuel, natural gas. “This requires a lot of energy to do, in fact more energy than you can recover from the resulting hydrogen that’s produced.”  Further, filling stations cost about $1 million each to build and there aren’t many of them.  The overall efficiency of the whole hydrogen system is low compared to electricity transmission and battery charging in EVs. Quoted figures vary depending on who you ask, but the overall efficiency for a fuel cell vehicle, from well to wheel, is about 30 percent due to the aforementioned issues of gas compression and cooling, the relatively low efficiency of hydrogen production and the efficiency of the fuel cells themselves.  While hydrogen cars, when infrastructure can be found, fill up fast like a gasoline car, there is also no easy filling up at night at home, without having to go to a station. Those really driving the hydrogen car push are a consortium of car companies and fossil fuel companies.  This year at Davos they formed the Hydrogen Council to position “hydrogen among the key solutions of the energy transition.” They will turn their natural gas into hydrogen which they say “does not release any CO2 at the point of use” because it is released at the refinery, not the tailpipe. Electric cars require far less infrastructure investment than hydrogen and can be significantly cleaner, but they do not directly contributing to oil and gas companies’ bottom lines.  This is why we have hydrogen powered cars — to provide another market for all that natural gas, and to keep centralized control of the fuel among the big fossil fuel companies.

Meanwhile, according to a blog post from Lyft co-founders, the company is committed to using 100% renewable electricity to charge its forthcoming fleet of autonomous electric vehicles, right from the get-go, beginning with the nuTonomy self-driving vehicle pilot program launching in Boston this year.  by combining clean cars and clean energy with self-driving technology, the company expects to cut CO2 emissions for the US transportation sector by “at least 5 million tons per year by 2025,” at which point it estimates that it will be providing at least 1 billion rides each year with its autonomous EVs.

“We believe that ridesharing, combined with autonomous vehicles, will be the driving force that brings electric vehicles from a tiny portion (~0.1%) of all cars on the road today to a significant majority within 20 years. This belief is supported by leading think-tanks and research laboratories. The heart of our transportation problem is that personally-owned vehicles are underutilized. The average car is used only 4% of the time and for electric vehicles, it takes 10 years or more to recover the cost premium through fuel savings. In comparison, Lyft vehicles can be used much more efficiently – an electric, autonomous Lyft vehicle will be utilized over 50% of the time and payback its costs in just a few years through operational savings. These savings will dramatically accelerate the rollout of electric vehicles, displacing millions of gasoline-powered cars and helping the U.S. and world reach their climate goals.” – Lyft

By Lloyd Alter, 3 July 2017 

With reinforcement from Lance Turner, who writes in Australia’s wonderful Renew Magazine and asks, “Hydrogen as a fuel- Is it really viable?”

hondas

Hydrogen vehicles are not efficient, there is no infrastructure, and they are shills for the fossil fuel industry, but they have been sold to a number in leadership positions.

Lance starts with a good explanation of how hydrogen powered cars work:

In a fuel cell vehicle, hydrogen is stored in high-pressure tanks and delivered to the fuel cell at a reduced pressure, while air is passed through the fuel cell stack (the common term for a number of fuel cells in a single unit) courtesy of an electrically driven compressor system. By varying the rate of gas flow through the stack, the electrical output of the fuel cell system can be controlled.

Toyota mirai© Toyota

He then points out that hydrogen powered cars are not really that different than electric cars; they still have a battery or an ultracapacitor to store the energy that comes from the fuel cell (which does not respond quickly enough to the accelerator pedal), which then drives the motor.

The hydrogen is stored at high pressure (700 atmospheres or 10,000 PSI). The tanks are expensive, and are made from carbon fibre composites because metal would be too heavy. Even so, the weight of the hydrogen that the tank stores in the Toyota Mirai weighs 87.5 kg in total and yet hold just 5 kg of hydrogen. Some people are nervous about what happens in a crash.

It takes a lot of energy to compress the hydrogen, “as much as 20 percent of the total energy stored in the hydrogen.” Compressing it generates heat, so it has to be cooled during compression, using yet more energy.

It’s really just reformed natural gas

steam reforminghow you make hydrogen from natural gas/Screen captureAlmost all the hydrogen available today is made by steam reformation of a good old fossil fuel, natural gas. “This requires a lot of energy to do, in fact more energy than you can recover from the resulting hydrogen that’s produced.”

Filling stations are really expensive to build (and there aren’t many of them.)

Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel station© ToyotaThey cost about a million bucks each. Compare that to Sami’s electric outlet on a stick that can go anywhere.

The overall efficiency of the whole system is low.

The overall fuel cycle efficiency of hydrogen generation transport and use in vehicles is rather low compared to electricity transmission and battery charging in EVs. Quoted figures vary depending on who you ask, but the overall efficiency for a fuel cell vehicle, from well to wheel, is about 30 percent due to the aforementioned issues of gas compression and cooling, the relatively low efficiency of hydrogen production and the efficiency of the fuel cells themselves.

There are a few advantages.

They fill up fast like a gasoline car, no waiting around for a charge (but no filling up at night at home, either.) Scientists are developing better, more efficient ways of separating hydrogen from water than conventional electrolysis. There is a lot of solar capacity coming on line that might make hydrogen useful as a way of storing excess power.But electrochemical batteries are getting better all the time and are being used for storage at industrial scales now; and people are putting solar panels on their houses and can charge their cars up almost for free.

Who’s really driving the hydrogen car?

Hydrogen Council Hydrogen Council/Screen captureFor years I suggested that hydrogen cars were really just a shill for the nuclear industry, which saw them as a way of creating significant demand for their electricity. Now it’s the gas industry. At Davos this year, a consortium of car companies and fossil fuel companies formed the Hydrogen Council to position “hydrogen among the key solutions of the energy transition.” They will turn their natural gas into hydrogen which they say “does not release any CO2 at the point of use” because it is released at the refinery, not the tailpipe.

Daniel Cooper wrote in Engadget:

The reasons why these companies are teaming up around hydrogen isn’t about saving the planet, but maintaining relevancy. After all, electric cars require far less infrastructure investment than hydrogen and can be significantly cleaner. Not to mention that EVs aren’t directly contributing to oil and gas companies’ bottom lines.

This is why we have hydrogen powered cars — to provide another market for all that natural gas, and to keep centralized control of the fuel among the big fossil fuel companies. There is no other reason to even bother.