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    • Chris MacAskill

      I worked as a geophysicist for 10 years and we owned 32 water testing labs around the country. It was incredibly eye-opening. 😳 I think what goes on above the water table gets 99% of our attention, so CO2. But I've been concerned for a very long time that we're rushing to mine lithium and cobalt at a great environmental cost that most of us are not understanding.

      Articles like this one in WIRED don't make me feel better:

      Watching this review of the Hyundai NEXO hydrogen fuel cell car that my buddy @AlastairJolly texted me, it sure seemed nice, and with less battery:

      I know, hydrogen is hard to make right now but so are lithium ion batteries and damn, how will we ever figure out the super scary (at least to me) waste disposal of them?

      πŸ“·: Green car reports

    • There disposal challenges of most lithium chemistries is the main driver for hydrogen proponents I think. I've heard the argument before. I don't think, though they havea completely thought out answer though. Just because they win on one point doesn't make ita viable competitor . With the exception of minor niche markersThey would literally need to legislate demand for the product. Just look at how nicely that's worked out for biofuel. Chemistry and reprocessing hasn't been proven to be an unsolvable roadblock though. Soi consider it to still be in the realm of a technical challenge.

    • There are so many variables. One is that hydrogen cars put water into the air and on the roads. Water is a greenhouse gas, although not as bad as CO2. And I don't know, can it ice the roads in the winter? Make the crosswalk lanes slippery in humid places in the summer?

    • Actually, the challenge that the article brings up isn'ta technical challenge... It's corruption and ambivalence in countries that place wealth and power over the long term health and sustainability of it's citizens and resources. That is definitely a tough nut to crack for sure. Interesting article, Chris , thanks for sharing.

    • At the peak of my career in geophysics, we had made some major natural gas discoveries and I was convinced it was the cleanest and safest fuel. The best scientists I knew agreed. You could burn it in the open air of your kitchen to heat soup. And yet, the EPA wanted to go alcohol. I felt sure I could go back there, meet them, give talks, and change their minds.

      Alcohol was a poison, it made you go blind. It burned with an invisible flame. It mixed with water and poisoned our wells. It was hard to design fuel lines and seals for engines with it.

      But they were hell-bent on doing it, so they did. I think I must've been naive and it was for the farmers, to drive demand for corn?

    • So called "Glass" Lithium battery development looks good to replace Lithium Ion based rechargeable battery formulas in 5-10 years. The great news is that this new technology, also called a Solid-State cell, is more stable than current rechargeables, vastly more duty-cycles and higher energy density. This would mean less lithium is required overall per application per consumer over time.

      Super-Capacitors look good for delivery vehicles and some mass transit, including trains; pretty much anything which doesn't require long-term electric storage (unless we can develop technology to prevent capacitor-energy-bleed).

      Hydrogen and alcohol fuel cells look good for further down the road, maybe as much as 20 years into the future. The number of hurdles are greater than first thought, unfortunately.

      Nuclear fusion is another extremely distant contender for electric energy production. My bet is that cyclical fusion containment will come first (demonstrators in 10 years with commercial applications in 20-50 years), with a much more efficient true continuous containment much further in the future.


      All of the above are either related to electric storage or electric production, and could be used, either on-grid or on-off-grid, as part of electric motor propulsion systems. (On-off-grid is simply using the electric grid to charge an electric storage sub-system, which is then used for individual propulsion.)

      As electric motor technology progresses and improves, the world will switch to more electric consumption vs traditional combusted hydrocarbon engines. That will be a phased change and require a change in public thought, made easier by improved reliability and, potentially, reduced costs.

      We have exciting times ahead for humankind, providing we don't first completely destroy this spaceship we call, "Earth"!

    • I don't think the water generation, even at Large scale would present a significant hurdle, as it can simply be captured and... Drunk πŸ™‚. Can you imagine... Your car now features a drink dispenser, lol

      The infrastructure of the hydrogen production and distribution is something I think they need to refactor. It's killing their ability to get the addressable market to a reasonable size. The electric car buyer can charge at home. The hydrogen car buyer needs a hydrogen station. Where are those stations? Far and few between. Why? Possibly the $1.5 million price tag associated with them is hampering expansion. Even with huge public subsidy of infrastructure, your addressable market is now limited to people who live near these plants, and are happy driving only where these plants are. Electric car fast charging networks have gotten there economics down to about $250k per distribution station. Now... Granted, the service capacity of each fast charging station is probably significantly smaller than each hydrogen station, but it the lower cost favors a broader network.

      With the cost of i hydrogen nfrastructure so steep, there's *no* way of gettinga reasonably profitable venture going without huge handouts paying for it. That is a recipe for extremely slow growth, hitting niche markets like fleet operators. Then again, with autonomous car service on the horizon... Maybe it might not be so niche soon. πŸ€”

    • Hydrogen vs Electric may eventually come down to refuelling time. Having to stop for an hour every 200 miles (typical Tesla Supercharger overall time) is OK for some, but not all.

      Although, apparently the current state of the art isn't all that great for Hydrogen, either. A car can be refueled quickly, but it takes a long time before the pump is ready for the next car. Or there is limited storage/generation capability. People in LA found that out earlier this summer.

      Plus, unlike electric, you can't refuel your car while it is sitting in your garage over night.

    • Dang... I'd have figured 1.5m would have bought more service capacity. Maybe they have the opportunity to tweak it's local storage capability? The overnight charging is what saves electric cars. It makes dependency ona f fast charger network only a rare consideration for most people. A huge portion of the market is addressable with that charge while you sleep arrangement. If you *must* live near a hydrogen distribution station... That's clearlya concept concieved with gas stations in mind. But people don't remember, before gas stations were convenient, they were *remote* and you*stored* gas in your garage. That's why old garages were detached structures. Oil deliveries for oil heated houses. And before that, wood... You bought kerosene for light... All locally stored. They could come up witha concept where several fills could be brought home with one trip, and the user does a home swap... Kind ofa hydrogen equivalent to the early days of gas... The tanks are apparently not that bulky anymore. I doubt they are consideringa hot swappable design though. I think that's generally viewed as additional complexity courting user error and wear and tear concerns at a critical interface. I always thought that hot swappable batteries would be nice too, but I never see anyone building to that concept.

    • And cani just say, I'm going to miss the days when engines were simple enough to troubleshoot at home. You needa goddamn PhD to even describe what's going on ina hydrogen fuel cell. πŸ˜€

    • I think the attraction to hydrogen is the ability to refuel a vehicle quickly, the way we can now with gasoline. Yes, it's a cryogenic liquid, but a liquid nonetheless, so it can be pumped into a tank in the car in relatively short order. DC fast chargers are really getting complex now - liquid cooled cables, etc. And the charging time is still long enough that you don't stand by your car while it "refuels." You have to find something else to do for a little while. That's enough of a paradigm shift that people resist it. So hydrogen fuel cells can leverage the motor and controller development going on, while "fixing" the recharge time problem.

      As to the lithium issue raised by the article, there are plenty of other battery chemistries that show lots of promise. Lithium was driven by the excellent power density it gave for electronics. After all, a Tesla Model S battery pack is just a shit-ton of the same 16500 cells in your laptop! But for applications that aren't as size critical, there are other choices coming available. For example, this zinc-air battery:

    • Your point, that gasoline was much, MUCH less convenient early in the adoption of gas cars, is well taken. The local convenience store is a quite recent invention. But having reached that level of convenience, I think it's really difficult to get the general public to "go backwards."

    • Before I bought my Tesla, I was more than a little worried that recharging would end up being way less convenient than refueling. I had visions of spending hours at superchargers regretting my purchase and wishing I could just pull up to a gas station, pump, and drive off in a few minutes.

      But now that I've owned it for a few months and have taken a cross-country road trip, I realize my fears were unfounded.

      For day-to-day driving, I've never needed to charge anywhere except at home by plugging in overnight. It's actually more convenient than a gasoline car, because I'm charged up every morning and never need to stop to top up the tank before going somewhere. There's a supercharger just down the road, but I've never used it.

      Charging stops really only become necessary on road trips, but they're at least two to three hours apart, and I actually found the breaks relaxing. I'd pull into a supercharger, plug in, use the restroom, grab a bite to eat, maybe look at my phone for a bit, and by the time I was feeling recharged myself and ready to hit the road again, the car was ready too. Even after eight straight days of driving, I didn't mind it at all!

    • the international trend is for decarbonisation of the transport task. Early commercial success is with EVs but hydrogen is not lost. The cost is not economic yet but it will be. It is economic for heavy vehicles and I think increasingly we will see it in big rigs

    • Hi Chris and yes I am. I also work for new vehicle distributors in NZ so am reasonably connected, excuse the pun, to new technology trends. When I am back at my PC and not on my phone I plan to write a fuller response to your questions. It is an interesting space to be working in.

    • I've had my Model S for just under 4 years. Charging on trips has never been an issue. However, it does change how I plan my routes. I plan around Supercharger locations and/or schedule extra days to allow over night charging. That rules out many alternate routes. You're not going to see many (any?) Teslas on US 50 east of Eastgate, Nv., for example.

    • There are five international trends in the motor manufacturing world at present. These are:

      - decarbonisation (EVs, Hydrogen and other technologies)

      - connected vehicles, that is a range of safety assist technologies

      - vehicles becoming over time more autonomous (although fully autonomous vehicles go any where at any time on any road is still a long way off)

      - younger age (gen Y) less likely to obtain their drivers licence

      - fleet/ride share vehicle ownership models changing.

      On the decarbnonisation front, EV's are considered by many manufacturers to be a transition technology. This is mainly due to resources for batteries being a limited/finite resource and that electricity generation in most countries can be carbon intensive. Recycling of batteries is of less a concern as whole new industries are springing up to recycle or reuse lithium iron batteries.

    • It's easy to start thinking of our current situation as normal instead of a temporary "energy splurge." I think it's fair to say that everyone, certainly all first-worlders, use more energy than they produce. (Produce is actually a misnomer..."capture" is perhaps a better word. The sun produces energy by sacrificing mass. Everything else is exactly a zero sum game.) Even our collective efforts to capture wind energy fall short of supplying our needs. The difference between what we use and what we capture is supplied by stored energy which has accumulated for millions of years. As you note, exploiting this stored energy is so convenient now because we collectively spent an entire century building out infrastructure to make fossil fuels convenient.

      There are really only two things we know for sure:

      1. This stored energy source is finite and will run out eventually--sooner if we deplete it faster.

      2. There is no such thing as "credit": When fossil fuels stop making up the difference between what we use and what we capture, we will use less energy than we capture.

      A corollary is that in a post-fossil-fueled world we will need to own the entire process of capturing, storing, transporting/distributing, and using energy.

      To successfully transition to whatever follows fossil fuels, we need to identify, prototype, standardize, manufacture, and build out a replacement for conveniently prepackaged energy. To avoid disruption to critical services like food delivery to grocery stores, power to hospitals, and transportation fuel for police and fire services, this process needs to be complete by the time access to fossil fuels becomes an issue. Ideally, all of society will have transitioned to whatever follows. This implies that at the time of depletion, the replacement will have been in place for long enough that there is a robust selection of used vehicles, and few if any people still rely on the energy subsidy that fossil fuels provide for any life sustaining purpose.

      The prevailing attitude seems to be that we can wait to start this process until access to fossil fuels becomes a problem. This would seem to invite apocalypse into our homes and offer it a cup of tea.

      Perhaps I have wandered a bit. The point is that a transition from an established system (where we are trust fund babies spending down a very large "energy bank account") to a system in its infancy (where we get a frigging job and pay our own way) is coming. Inconvenience relative to what we have now will be part of that equation, particularly in the early days. Things will get less inconvenient as the replacement system matures and as people get used to the new way of doing things.

      Accepting the inconvenience of a transition avoids the much greater inconvenience of not having something to transition to when the time comes.

      That's Plan A. Plan B involves a lot of might even call it a culling. Plan B makes inconvenience look like a best case scenario.

    • I've seen some noise around using ammonia as a hydrogen carrier. This eliminates some of the problems with hydrogen storage and transport. Check out the round trip efficiencies here. Presumably both hydrogen and ammonia could be produced in a distributed fashion.

      It's worth noting that fuel cell cars are EVs. Hydrogen is just the energy storage mechanism. I suspect there's nothing stopping the manufacture of a fuel cell car with a moderately sized battery that can be charged at a level 2 or 3 charger. (A "plug in hydro-hybrid".) This would also allow the vehicle to exploit regenerative braking. Maybe this is what they already do. I confess I don't know too much about fuel cell cars.

      The advantage of batteries is their round trip efficiency. The disadvantage is the energy density and the time it takes to charge. A plug in hydro hybrid would be able to exploit the high-round-trip efficiency of a battery EV charge for commuting, while retaining the ability to refuel quickly using a lower round trip efficiency energy carrier on road trips. If commuting were highly efficient and road trips somewhat less so...that might be a good path forward.

      My rule of thumb, unproven: Densifying energy costs energy...meaning you have to collect more energy to do the same work. It might be that these lower-efficiency technologies see increased market penetration as our energy collection infrastructure is built out. Think of the cost of putting solar panels on your roof to charge a battery EV vs. the cost of panels which must power a hydrolysis machine, and a compressor, and a chiller... which one is likely to catch on early?

    • Very thoughtful post buzzkill! Couldn't agree with you more especially using your analogy:

      The point is that a transition from an established system (where we are trust fund babies spending down a very large "energy bank account") to a system in its infancy (where we get a frigging job and pay our own way) is coming.

      At some point the "big trust fund" will run out if use it irresponsibly, so we have to start investing from that fund now while it still has funds.

      Also, welcome to Cake πŸ˜‰!

    • Fascinating, buzzkill. You seem to know a lot about this. I thought I did until you got into ammonia, which I didn't know a thing about. Your link was interesting but I was feeling that since I had never read about ammonia as an energy source, I needed to back up a step to get more basics. This link helped me understand your paper more.

    You've been invited!