Are Hydrogen Generators The Future?
In the early 2000s, hydrogen generator was the "energy for driving" of the future. As often happens, the hype overran the practical applications.
Consumers were anxious for development of alternative and renewable energy sources. Wind towers were being built and the price of solar panels had started to drop substantially.
For legislators and car makers, the future of hydrogen generators was an energy product that had arrived. The famous gas guzzling Hummer was featured and a sleek Shelby Cobra was offered with hydrogen power.
The companies behind these new vehicles were Intergalactic Hydrogen and the Hydrogen Car Company. The main selling point emphasized the power of these vehicles. At the time, electric cars were thought of as more like golf carts than family vehicles.
The companies promised a popular model of pickup truck would soon be available with hydrogen generators that would have energy to spare.
For sports cars aficionados, a Cobra with a 351 hp engine would be powered by a hydrogen generator providing the energy of the future for transportation of all kinds. The promises were huge and exciting.
The ads were picked up by news agencies as a big news item and featured with headlines claiming hydrogen generators were new energy that was ready to hit the road.
Get Ready, Get Set, Stop
There were a few problems with the announcements and news stories about the hydrogen generators and the energy potential they offered. The first was price.
Yes, you could buy a hydrogen powered generator for your Hummer - but you had to supply the Hummer and the conversion would cost $60,000. For a Cobra, the cost was $149,000 - a bit out of reach for the average person.
The second problem was the lack of refueling stations. At the time the announcements were made in 2004, California had 13 refueling stations.
These were operated by utilities and carmakers and there were plans for as many as 170 commercial filling stations to be built by 2010. Those plans have not materialized.
Hydrogen is sold by the kilo and the cost was of refueling was estimated to be anywhere from $1/kilo to $20/kilo.
One kilo of hydrogen has the same energy as a gallon of gasoline but hydrogen vehicles get at least double the mileage from that energy.
However, the tank of a hydrogen car requires frequent refilling due to size limitations.
Creating Energy to Run The Cars
Hydrogen can be used directly to power a vehicle but the technology is even more expensive than using a modified internal combustion engine or using hydrogen fuel cells.
Only one model of hydrogen powered hummer was sold and it was a Green Hummer rather than the Hydrogen Hummer that received the news coverage at the time.
This vehicle uses biodiesel as the main fuel and hydrogen provides a secondary energy source. After the engine was converted, the company reported the mileage on the vehicle doubled.
Two hydrogen generators were used in two Cobras which were sold. The hydrogen Cobra could reach a speed of 140 mph and go from 0-60 in four seconds.
For the Cobra, the problem is that the range of the hydrogen tank in the car is only 80 miles. At 60 mph you would need to refuel three times on a four hour trip.
By 2009, the future of hydrogen generators as an energy feature grew dim when the Energy Department withdrew funding for hydrogen fuel cell research.
Economic times were hard, unemployment was rising and the reason given was that it was not likely hydrogen generators would provide energy in the near future.
While saying innovation in cars was still a high priority, the Energy Department announced it would abandon funding for hydrogen generators and focus instead on electric cars that could be plugged in to existing outlets.
Once again the research community was stood up. In 2003, the announcement by President Bush that the Energy Department would continue to pay for research into hydrogen fuel cells provided incentive for companies building hydrogen fuel cells and generators for energy.
In 2009, the safety net of funding disappeared and the potential for hydrogen cars was pushed into the future.
While hydrogen proponents expressed dismay over withdrawal of government funding, many environmental and energy experts agreed with the decision.
There are multiple obstacles to overcome before hydrogen generator become common place for car buyers.
It may be another twenty years before fuel cells can be made affordable and before processes to remove hydrogen from water are improved and refined.
It will take many years to build refueling stations and the construction will not start in a big way until the technology can provide cars people will buy and can afford.
Hydrogen generators provide energy that is cleaner than plug-in electric cars that relying on electricity often generated by fossil fuels.
A hydrogen car would have the advantages of an electric car with increased mileage and power but would also provide a vehicle lacking the emissions that can add to climate change.