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April 06, 2006



I honestly think fuels cells and hydrogen are a politically expedient dead end. The technical hurtles are just too high on practically any level.

I've just discovered butanol. And I think it's the future.


I'm a chemical engineer leaving IBM to go back to school for my Ph.D. I have some opportunities to do Li-ion battery research or PEM fuel cell research. Jim feels that that PEHEVs are more likely to replace ICE a majority of vehicles in the next 5 to 10 years. Plus batteries are needed for all the portable devices we use to make ourselves more productive. And the electrical demand that H production would create will be unlikely to be satisfied in the next decade. Any thoughts?

Robert McLeod


I recently finished my M.A.Sc. at the University of Victoria, which is a centre of PEM research. My impression was of research going no where. They have definitely given up aiming for automobile applications are are now aiming for laptops and other portable power needs. There was an enormous dearth of comprehension regarding the fundemental barriers to the hydrogen economy in the faculty. I would highly recommend reading Ulf Bossel's white papers on the thermodynamic limits of the hydrogen economy:


I have since moved on to do electron microscopy for nanotechnology applications. My impression now is that some nanotechnology solutions are not so pie-in-the-sky any more.
Batteries are a good example of an area benefiting from nanotechnology applications. Advances in the area of nanoparticles are moving along at a good clip. The high surface area to volume ratios of such particles has led to major improvements in battery charge rates and power output. Developing extremely small particles is much less sexy than say carbon nanotubes but it is producing significant results.

I did actually order some Ni-catalyst from QuantumSphere but they haven't delivered yet.

Harvey D.

Hydrogen as a source of energy for cars and light trucks seems (to me) to be one to many step together with too many unsolved distribution network and storage problems. Why not use electricity directly to power automobiles and light trucks. The storage devices required (baterries and ultra-capacitors) are here now and mass production could bring the price down quickly enough. Recent quick charge storage devices make very long trips possible. Every existing fuel station could easily become a quick recharge station. All the extra electicity required could very easily be generated locally from Hydro, Wind, Solar, Waves, 'Nuclear', 'Clean Coal', Alternative fuel etc. Driving an electric car requires about 12 KWh/day for 40 miles/days. That would add about 25% to our present electricity home consumption. The existing electric grid network can absorb +25%, specially at night when it is underused. It could be adapted as required. It is a well known technology. Do we really need hydrogen for light vehicles? Does it really make sense? Why not spend all that research money for better electricity storage devices? It could be the quickest way to arrive to Oil independence.


"The existing electric grid network can absorb +25%, specially at night when it is underused. It could be adapted as required."

Good point Harvey!

And if the 5 minute charge to 90% nano tech lithium ion batteries work as promised, they can also work as a distributed energy storage system. 100s of millions of cars plugged in while not driving. Plus 100s of millions more batteries for back up power in every home and business that has solar PV installations or wind systems.

To paraphrase the old Woody Guthrie tune: "There'll be pie in the sky, when you die, by and by..hydrogen fuel cell pie"



The Bilderbergers dissing the hydrogen economy.


I just heard a couple of NOAA scientists on the radio discussing the impact of CO2 on the oceans. Very bad. Coral and other species die off is accelerating.

Fun fact: the average American puts 118 lbs of CO2 in the air every day.

How? From cars? No. From burning NG? No.

The correct answer is from using electricity. We get most of our electricity from burning coal. So to run our lights, tv's, computers and other gadgets we're killing the oceans.

I'm all for running cars on electricity but the coal plants need to be shut down and replaced with something better. And the sooner the better.


Yep John, it takes a comprehensive plan that provides all electric power without CO 2...


...especially in light of the danger of methane release from melting permafrost. Triggered by human CO 2 from combustion, it is 400 times more effective as a greenhouse gas than CO 2, and huge amounts are now trapped under that ice layer across the northern continents.


For the first time in the comments on this blog I have seen, to my great pleasure, numerous echos of my own thoughts on hydrogen vs batteries. I was very pleased to see someone else refer to the work of Ulf Bossel. You might be interested in reading the paper by Swiss politician, Rudolph Rechsteiner, Ten Steps to a Sustainable Energy Future. I'm not so fond of his ten steps, but everything leading up to them is quite good:


The real link is too wide to display here. The article is in the right column, number 17 from the top.

Ulf Bossel and Rudolph Rechsteiner have inspired me to formulate my own strategy. Integrating very large fractions of renewable energy in our electricity grid is very complex, but after thinking long and hard about this issue, my plan has three major legs to stand on:

1) Flexible consumption:
Using smart technology to use electricity when it's available (e.g. freezers, fridges, air conditioners running mostly at times of excess

2) Distribution of energy:
Since most forms of renewable energy (wind and solar) are weather dependent, security of supply can be increased dramatically by sharing power over distances greater than the scale of weather systems, such as a nation-wide power super highway in the US or Europe. The sun always shines somewhere. The wind always blows somewhere.

3) Storage of electricity:
The peaks and troughs of electricity production and consumption that cannot be smoothed by the two above mentioned methods can be stored, preferably by plug-in hybrids/EV's, thus killing two birds with one stone. The beauty of plug-in hybrids is that in a pich, you can direct all the battery power back onto the grid and fire up the gasoline engine for driving.

There are hundreds of other minor ways to work toward the same end, but for the sake of simplicity, the three point above are the most important. By implementing these in a slow and economic fashion, we could probably achieve 80% renewable energy by 2030, which would be a major step.

I'd be glad to receive constructive critique.



Not radical enough for me Thomas, hehey. But I can support those same steps.

I just want to go to all electric cars (why waste scarce capital building internal combustion engines anymore, 17% efficient?!)and all renewable electric power sooner. On a real emergency production schedule to match the urgency of global climate disaster.

Make no mistake this situation is just as dire, if not more so than the one faced in WW 2. It takes a similar scale of industrial production to deal with.

The destruction from global climate change and oil wars/terrorism is every bit as terrifying. The axis powers did not have access to nuclear weapons, jihadists do.

Hurricanes and drought on a massive scale have far beyond the destructive capability of even the fire bombing in WW 2.


Well, amazingdrx, as I have said, and we have discussed before, I'd rather set the bar a little lower and actually achieve something.

Trying to coerce politicians to enforce stricter rules may achieve something, but convincing investors that they can make money achieves a whole lot more!

I still maintain that alienating 90% of the population is a poor strategy in changing things. Instead you risk being labeled as a crack pot, at which point any sound arguments you may have are dismissed altogether.

The strategy I outlined in my previous comment is not a playbook, but a direction (path) to follow. Once we break the 50% renewable barrier, we will know a lot more about balancing supply and demand.

Personally, I would not mind paying twice as much for electricity if it were all-renewable. (Actually, I am sure it will be much cheaper than that once manufacture of hardware really kicks in on industrial scale). For me, the difference is on the scale of whether I can afford to buy a new cell phone every 6 or 10 months. I am willing to keep my 6 months old, horribly outdated, mobile 4 months longer, if it means clear skies and a clear conscience!

I realize that some pay a lot more for electricity. To that I can only say that if you have built a home without insulation and consequently have a very high electricity bill for air conditioning, then I will cry no tears for you. If your house has poor insulation, then get cracking and do something about it!

In my heart I agree with much of what you are saying, but not all. I believe, as I have said before, that plug-in hybrids are an important step towards all-out electrical vehicles. They provide an extra cushion in the transition from a fossil energy economy to an electrical energy economy.

I used to be in favor of “unbiased, independent experts” making decisions on which technology to pursue (such as EVs rather than plug-ins). I have now realized that such experts simply do not exist, and cherry-picking solutions is rarely the most efficient approach. I now believe in politicians laying the foundations (e.g. via various energy taxes) and letting free markets come up with the most efficient solutions. Therefore, we don’t really have to discuss whether plug-ins or EVs will win the game, time will tell.

Since you keep comparing global warming to WW2, I’ll keep commenting it. If you think Katrina was more destructive than fire bombing, I suggest you tell that to the people of Dresden, Bremen, Hamburg and Berlin…

I think it’s wrong that implementing sustainable energy requires a massive effort, as the one carried out by American women in factories in the 40’s! Just replacing every coal fired power plant scheduled for scrapping with renewable will do the job in a matter of 25 years. And don’t forget, we’ll start using less fossil fuel from day one! Just don’t build any new fossil fired power plants.



We mainly disagree on urgency Thomas.

I believe the sort of government action used in WW 2 wat production is warranted, you don't.

Consider this: When Henry Kaiser had a production problem posed by a government agency or another industrial mogul, he would call FDR. Then FDR called the relevant people, the Liberty shops got built and saved the UK and thus the world.

This is what I believe that the current situation needs, real leasdership. Not total government fiat, but action matching the emergency situation we face.

By all means use market forces by subsidizing consumers directly for the anount of clean, renewable power their vehicle or home uses. Match the incentive to the resulting shift away from fossil fuel combustion, then let the market pick the winning companies.

But simply letting the market choose either hybrids or plugins? Not the right course. Match the incentive to the amount of oil/greenhouse gas saved. Electric plugins charged with renewable power would get the most tax break, and hybrids that save very little fuel would get the least.

The urgency comes from the prospect of events like super hurricans that scour the planet of ALL structures, plants, and animals. 300+ mph winds leave little undisturbed in their wake.

Lest you doubt the probability of storms like this, consider the melting permafrost and the resultant release of trapped methane with 400 times the greenhouse effect per volume as CO 2.


Come to think of it Thomas, a firestorm IS a natural phenomenon, whether unleashed by human fire bombing or natural events like drought brought on by human caused greenhouse gas.

As with nuclear weapons, used on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, or nuclear disaters like Chernobyl, humans are merely the catalyst that unleash terrible natural forces, like the nuclear chain reaction or the fiery hurricane like force of a firestorm.

Harvey D.

Thomas, I fully agree with you that wider (protected) power grids would improve Wind and Solar power collection and availability to users. In our case, since about 98% of the electricity we use (about 40 000 MW peak and 22 000 MW average) is from Hydro and that source could be doubled to (80 000/44 000) and the local Wind power potential, within 25 Km of existing high voltage power lines, is estimated at 95 000 MW, we could use the huge water reservoirs to store energy when wind is not there, i.e. use Hydro plants as back up to insure availability.

In other words, the combination of easily regulated Hydro power + Wind (or/and Solar) represents an ideal situation for sustainable clean power for centuries to come.

Our James Bay CREE natives have offered to build 2 000+ large wind mills, on their land, and export the surlus power to Ontario and USA. Quebec Hydro would supply the power lines (already there) and back-up power generated by new 5 000 MW hydro-power plants close by.

The above initiative could be multiplied by 10 in the next 20 to 30 years and could produce enough clean electricity for one or two PHEV or EV in each Canadian home.

The Labrador Coast, with some of the best wind and hydro potential in North America could supply similar clean power to Atlantic Canada and the US North Eastern States.

Exporting massive amount of clean electricity to USA would definately be more recommendable than exporting 2 000 000+ barrels/day of NOT so clean OIL extracted from Alberta tar sands.

The capital investments required are about of the same order ($ 100 to 150 billions) but the Wind/Hydro solution would be much more sustainable in the long run and would reduce OIL useage and pollution instead of increasing it.


It's true that the Prius does not save a lot of fuel. In Denmark, at lot of small Suzuki cars with 1.0 litre engines are sold, and they get around 50 mpg using old, simple technology.

Plug-ins with battery capacity in the range of 50-100 miles would rarely start the ICE, thereby reducing gasoline consumption by as much as 80-90% (numbers guestimated from post about AFS Trinity from 8 Feb).

If battery technology suddently become much cheaper as a result of industrial scale production, I think we will see all electrical vehicles pick up quite fast. After all, a hybrid is much more complex. And I assume gasoline engine, clutch, gearbox, etc. associated with the ICE weigh 250-400 lbs. With that weight you could install 17-25 kWh extra of Li-Ion battery capacity, thus increasing your EV range by something in the order of 100 miles. If all the nano news about being able to charge batteries to 80-90% capacity in just 5-6 minutes comes true, then who needs the gas engine. That's not a lot more than filling your car with gas. Btw, I assume all car parks will become electricity filling stations.

I agree with you on letting government incentives match the fossil fuel load of vehicle technology.

To answer your question about urgency. No I don't think WW2-like government action is required. I do, however, think clear signals from the government about its energy policy (in favor of sustainable energy, of course) is required. A couple of years ago in UK, a number of CEOs of the largest companies sent an open letter to the government, basically saying that they would welcome stricter environmental rules (including CO2 emission), provided it was part of a sustained long term policy with equal opportunity for everyone. (It's not hard to see why they sent it. Harscher legislation would help keep out cheap, lo-tech competition from Eastern Europe and China).

Investors are anxious about renewable energy because they fear that oil will become cheap again and render their investments uncompetitive. If this uncertainty could be removed by political measures, investment risk would be reduced dramatically.

Anyway, that's what I think...



Harvey D,
Your comment spurs me to mention one of the many suggestions to make "80% renewable by 2030" work. I believe as much hydro power as possible should be diverted to load balancing, i.e. running the hydro plant at 2-4 times mean load at times of renewable power deficiency, and slow down to a minimun at times of excess. Of course, capacity and requirement of the downstream rivers should be observed and respected. Hydro power is perhaps the only source of electricity that can be adjusted with little to no consequence, at least to the reservoir. I think this is a better solution than pumping water up into reservoirs. There's always a loss of energy associated.

It would be a shame to use hydro power as base load power in a scheme with lots of renewable energy.

Great idea to sell renewable power to USA. Better to make money from clean energy than dirty!

Speaking of dirty. Why don't they use renewable energy to extract and process the tar sand? What they need is heat and hydrogen - why not get that from wind turbines rather than natural gas, which is the best fossil fuel, something we ought to save for the future instead of burning it to produce the lowest possible quality of heat, namely: lukewarm heat (for domestic heating).

Well, for one thing, natural gas sells for 2-3 cents/kWh, whereas wind power costs 5-6 cents/kWh...


Harvey D.

Thomas:.. I think that you gave the correct answer i.e. $/KWh. Wind power will only be used for tar sand activities when Natural Gas runs out or becomes more expensive than other sources of eenrgy regarless of all the pollution created. Free market 'democratic' economy dictates that approach......


Very hopeful comments Harvey. I hope that Canada and the US will build a power grid corridor for wind power from the high wind speed areas of the northern great plains to meet the power needs of both countries and abandon fossil and nuclear power.

Market forces are already impelling wind power investment to such an extent that there is a shortage of wind manufacturing capacity.

I believe there is a great future in 50 mw (equivalent kwh production to a continuously operating 50 mw source) wind machines on the plains, and 100 mw floating wave/wind platforms offshore.

These machines would be huge and harvest wind power from much greater heights where wind is steadier and has a much greater average speed (power in the wind varies with the cube of wind speed).

By locating them in deserted remote areas and offshore out of site the NIMBY problem could be solved. the scale would lower the cost of power produced to levels that would more than compernsate for more costly power transmission lines.

As far as storage to even out supply and demand the upgraded grid will even that out considerably and the storage capacity of batteries in 100s of millions of electric cars and homes will do the rest.

Also energy intensive industries like glass and metal recycling sand foundries are already being used to buffer demand/supply variables. They are operated when surplus power is available and shut down during high demand and low supply conditions.

Super conducting energy storage rings are a utility scale storage technology that deserves research and development also.

As far as tar sands, oil shale, liquid fuel from coal, agribizz biofuel, nuclear power, I think all these sources are far to garmfiul and expensive to condsider practical alternatives to pursue in the future. They ought to be abandoned as soon as possible.

We should go all renewable electric for all power needs especially trabsportation. Air travel can still be supplied with liquid fuel from the waste stream using algae-to-fuel technology. This is what the best possible outcome looks like to me.

I also have a different take on hydropower to make it more enviro friendly. Gates that ipen up beside a river then let excess water into wetlands, when the river flow is low the water from wetlands would flow the other wat, into the river.

Power would be produced by underwater wind mill type devices mounted in the gate structure,that would not harm fish or wildlife.

This would control flooding, save water in wetlands that would replenish aquifers, allow fish populations to thrive where normal dams destroy them, and still provide a lot of hydropower.

This plan would actually provide far more hydropower than is now produced because it would allow far more installations than conventional dams, that are nor being built and some actually removed because of damage to fish and aquatic ecosystems.

Imagine the Mississippi with these installations all along problem flooding areas. It would produce huge new sources of power and restore drying up and contaminated aqifers depleted by disastrous agribizz farming techniques and desert city (like Pheonix, Las Vegas, LA..)water use.

Thomas I don't think we can agree on the urgency factor involved in conversion to renewables. Have you seen the artcles on melting permafrost release of methane?

Unless more people heed this warning the political will to reform energy policy on a global emergency scale may not exist in time to save life as we know it on spaceship earth.


Well, amazing, about the urgency, let's just agree to disagree. Otherwise, I think we're pretty much on the same page.

I like your idea about under water wind mills in rivers instead of conventional hydro power damns. Except perhaps that hydro damns are possible the best sources of energy storage on a massive scale.

I just had a new idea. Maybe it's far fetched, but I'll give it a go anyway. Imagine that a nation-wide (in the US) electrical super highway were built, based on superconductors. If there were a ring structure (Imagine drawing a giant ring inside the boundaries of the basically rectangular USA), maybe it could be used as a gigantic super conducting energy storage ring..? I don't know if it's even possible, but why not. Sure there would be losses of energy incurred, but that's true for any storage technology. Such a ring would kill two birds with one stone (even out regional differences and electrical energy storage).

Just to be sure, I'm not suggesting that any one president (or any other political or private entity) attempts to build such a quadrillion dollar structure in one go. I'm merely suggesting that individual strings of profitable power super highways may eventually be connected to form a ring.



Well Thomas once superconductors reach higher temps and lower costs I think they will be used in long distance power distribution.

Using the space over hihgways for solar power then installing induction strips under the rtoad surface to recharge elecxtric vehicles while they are traveling is a possibility.

Meanwhile utility scale superconducting enerfy storage could reduce the need for vackup power for renewables. Methane generated from the waste stream consumed in diect fuel cells coupled with microturbines could also be used for backup power.

75% efficiency nakes it a cost effective solution. Any CO 2 can be recycled back through the algae/waste treatment system to make more liquid fuel and methane.

Raymond Ng

This is nice?
can save alot.
But where can i have it?


This is what its all about people! ideas and then moving forward

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Batteries/Hybrid Vehicles