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Tesla Trumps Toyota: Why Hydrogen Cars Can't Compete With Pure Electric Cars

Tesla's Model S.

Tesla’s Model S. CREDIT: Shutterstock

“Toyota Bets Against Tesla With New Hydrogen Car,” blares the headline at That is a bad bet. It may even prove to be a major blunder for Toyota, which actually severed its RAV4 partnership with electric vehicle (EV) company Tesla back in May (though they kept their investment in Tesla).

I say that even though I own a Prius. In fact, I say it in part because I own a Prius. Fuel cell cars running on hydrogen simply won’t be greener than the Prius running on gasoline (!) — or even as practical as a mass-market vehicle — for a long, long time, if ever. So why buy one?

Right now, not only is electricity ubiquitous (i.e. relatively near where most cars are parked), but green electricity is nearly ubiquitous — and it is far cheaper to run one’s car on it than gasoline. Hydrogen, however, is not where cars are. “Green” hydrogen is nearly nonexistent. And it would be more expensive to run one’s car on green hydrogen than gasoline.

When I helped oversee the hydrogen and fuel cell and alternative vehicle programs at the Energy Departments Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in the 1990s, I was a big supporter of hydrogen and transportation fuel cell vehicle (FCV) programs, helping to boost the funding for those programs substantially. But the FCV research did not pan out as expected — some key technologies proved impractical and others remained stubbornly expensive.

So as I researched my 2004 book, “The Hype About Hydrogen: Fact and Fiction in the Race to Save the Climate” — named one of the best science and technology books of 2004 by Library Journal — my view on both the green-ness of hydrogen cars and their practicality changed.

As I detailed at length in 2009 when President Obama and Energy Secretary Chu wisely tried to kill the program, “Hydrogen fuel cell cars are a dead end from a technological, practical, and climate perspective.”

In this post I will focus on the climate issue. I’ll discuss the equally daunting practical issues in Part 2.

There are two huge problems with FCVs for those who worry about global warming and hence net greenhouse gas emissions:

  1. In general, some 95% of our hydrogen is currently produced from natural gas, or, rather, from the methane (CH4) that compromises most of natural gas.
  2. Making hydrogen from renewable resources like carbon-free electricity is expensive and an incredibly wasteful use of that valuable resource.

“Currently, the most state-of-the-art procedure is a distributed [on-site] natural gas steam reforming process,” explains Ford Motor company, which is working on its own fuel cell vehicle. “However, when FCVs are run on hydrogen reformed from natural gas using this process, they do not provide significant environmental benefits on a well-to-wheels basis (due to GHG emissions from the natural gas reformation process).”

It’s actually worse than that. Julian Cox at CleanTechnica has gone through the well-to-wheel (WTW) life-cycle GHG emissions of FCVs, EVs, and other vehicles in great detail in June post revealing that FCVs aren’t green. Cox notes that “90% of the Californian Energy Commission hydrogen infrastructure budget has been earmarked for non-sequestered fossil fuel production of Hydrogen in return for lip service of future environmental benefits that can never be forthcoming.”

Here are the numbers (click to enlarge):


Via CleanTechnica. Click to enlarge.

The graph shows high-polluting cars on the left, and low-polluting cars on the right. And it’s plain to see that hydrogen FCV vehicles group to the left, while EVs group to the right. It’s actually worse than that because Cox does not appear to have included the impact of the recent measurements and calculations of methane leakage from methane production, which are so severe they undermine the case for replacing coal-fired power plants with natural gas fired power plants.

So Cox’s conclusions are conservative, but still sobering:

The economically inescapable reason why hydrogen is of no benefit in tackling GHG emissions is that hydrogen produced by the most efficient commercial route emits a minimum of 14.34Kg CO2e versus 11.13Kg CO2e for a U.S. gallon of gasoline (of which 13.2Kg is actual CO2 gas in the case of hydrogen). This best case is not even the typical case owing to difficulties in transporting hydrogen in bulk. Hence the on-site (distributed) production from natural gas at fueling stations that suffers lowered efficiencies of scale. The real-world data attests to the fact that when installed in a hybrid electric vehicle the real-world energy conversion efficiency is insufficient to overcome the added GHG emission intensity of hydrogen production.

Unlike the optimal economic synergy of plug-in EVs and renewables, the economics of hydrogen strongly prevents renewables from competing to power an FCV fleet either now or in the future. Natural gas is no bridge to a better future. In the case of FCVs it is an economic barrier to renewables.

Converting cheap fracked gas into hydrogen is very likely going to be substantially cheaper than practical, mass-produced carbon-free hydrogen for decades, certainly well past the point we need to start dramatically reducing transportation emissions (which is ASAP).

For EVs, on the other hand, unsubsidized renewable electricity is already directly competitive with grid electricity in many parts of the country — and poised to continue dropping in price. In places where carbon-free power is on the rise, such as California, the electricity is already far less carbon intense than the nation as a whole. That’s why EVs in a state like California is already super-green (see final bars in chart above).

But you may ask, why don’t we simply use an electrolyzer to convert renewable electricity into hydrogen and run the fuel cell car on that? I answered that question in my book and in my 2006 Scientific American article, “Hybrid Vehicles,” written with advanced-hybrid guru Andy Frank:

For policymakers concerned about global warming, plug-in hybrids hold an edge over another highly touted green vehicle technology — hydrogen fuel cells. Plug-ins would be better at utilizing zero-carbon electricity because the overall hydrogen fueling process is inherently costly and inefficient. Any effective hydrogen economy would require an infrastructure that could use zero-carbon power to electrolyze water into hydrogen, convey this highly diffuse gas long distances, and pump it at high pressure into the car -– all for the purpose of converting the hydrogen back to electricity in a fuel cell to drive electric motor.

The entire process of electrolysis, transportation, pumping and fuel-cell conversion would leave only about 20 to 25 percent of the original zero-carbon electricity to drive the motor. In a plug-in hybrid, the process of electricity transmission, charging an onboard battery and discharging the battery would leave 75 to 80 percent of the original electricity to drive the motor. Thus, a plug-in should be able to travel three to four times farther on a kilowatt-hour of renewable electricity than a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle could.

So from a greenhouse gas perspective, there is no competition between pure electrics and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. EVs win hands down and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Now it is reasonable to argue that pure electric vehicles (and to a lesser extent plug-in hybrids) have not completely crossed the threshold of becoming practical mass-market cars. But as I’ll discuss in Part 2, the view that hydrogen FCVs will overcome their many so-far-intractable obstacles to crossing that threshold while EVs won’t make steady progress on their fewer, so-far-much-more-tractable issues is implausible. Such a view should not be the basis of national climate or energy or transportation policy.

NOTE: Nothing I write here should be taken as a recommendation for or against investing in Tesla (or Toyota or any company, for that matter). There are simply too many examples of companies in the right technology space mismanaging themselves into oblivion.

The post Tesla Trumps Toyota: Why Hydrogen Cars Can’t Compete With Pure Electric Cars appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Aug 9, 2014 4:11 pm GMT

Unfortunately, hydrogen remains the Holy Grail for the advocates of the all-renewable economy.  Nothing else can store energy on a time-scale of months, and that’s absolutely required to balance the seasonal variations in wind and solar fluxes.  Batteries are great, but without charging the car you’re immobile after just a few days (typical EV) or back to gasoline in a trip or two (PHEV).

We’re not going to slay the hype-drogen myth until we get realistic about nuclear power, and most “environmentalist” organizations are beholden to fossil interests that consider Germany their model.

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Aug 9, 2014 5:53 pm GMT

Why would ammonia be unable to store energy on a time scale of months? Surely the efficiency with a more easily handled gas would be higher?

Indeed, given hydrogens famous propensity for leaking, it seems that in many real world settings hydrogen would be the alternative that is less likely to be able to store energy on a time scale of months.

Indeed, why would hydro be unable to store energy on a time scale of months, given that storing energy on a time scale of months is part of what many hydro facilities presently do?

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Aug 9, 2014 7:58 pm GMT

The conventional vision for the hydrogen economy does appear to be designed to fail.  Essentially all of its problems are easily fixed with plausible changes however.

The most important would be to substitute “NH3 – The Other Hydrogen“.  NH3 (ammonia) is a liquid, which has over double the energy density of 10,000 psi hydrogen (and 33% more than 3600 psi CNG).  Ammonia tanks need only be pressurized to 300 psi, so tanks can be shaped for better packing density compared to the simple cylinders & spheres required for H2 and CNG.

The change to ammonia also means that the expensive fuel cell is not required in order to produce adequate driving range.  Slightly modified internal combustion engines (ICEs) can be used.  Like diesel fuel, ammonia tolerates higher, more efficient compression ratios, hence the engine efficiency of optimized ammonia engines will be 20% higher than for gasoline engines (near real-world fuel cell efficiency).

The use of ICEs also means that dual-fuel vehicles (which can run on ammonia and/or gasoline, from separate tanks) can be used to solve the chick-and-egg problems with new fuel infrastructure roll-out, road trips, and range anxiety.

The convenient liquid form of ammonia means that it can travel by truck, rail, or pipeline.  So refueling stations can be added without regard to proximity to existing pipelines.

Regarding green-house gas emissions, agreed, neither H2 nor NH3 make much sense if society plans to continue relying on fossil fuel for the primary energy source and emit the resulting CO2.  If on the other hand, we choose large scale CC&S, then use of these carbon-free fuels is the best way to impact the transportation market (we already have at least one ammonia plant that uses fossil fuel with CO2 capture and re-sale for enhanced oil recovery: the Great Plains Synfuel Plant); ammonia from fossil fuel is sold today for a cost roughly matching that of gasoline.  Further, if society wishes to migrate to all sustainable energy, then carbon-free synfuel is a must.

Compared to carbon-neutral biofuels, ammonia solves the problem of excessive land and water use.  Annual energy produced per unit land area with wind-to-ammonia is 5x higher than for cellulosic biofuel (with the wind farms over-laid on food production land), and solar-to-ammonia is 30x better (nuclear would be much better still), using energy yields from D.MacKay.

The EV versus carbon-free synfuel debate is a phony choice.  Society needs both.  Some car owners will prefer the convenience of home EV charging, others will want the lower up-front cost of ICE cars and the faster in-route refueling.  Of course, heavy trucks and construction equipment will continue to need liquid fuel.

see also nh3fuelassociation.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Aug 9, 2014 7:00 pm GMT

For seasonal energy storage using hydrogen, special geology is required (depleted natural gas fields or large underground salt deposits which can be solution-mined to create caverns).  Above-ground hydrogen storage, in cryo-tanks is very expensive and has poor energy efficiency.

Ammonia, when refrigerated, does not require pressurization, so it can be stored in above-ground insulated tanks of arbitrary size.  It can also be stored in lightly pressurized tanks (without temperature control), like back-yard propane tanks (with delivery by truck for locations with no pipeline access).

Ammonia is the most versatile form of seasonal energy storage.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Aug 9, 2014 9:44 pm GMT

The methods for making ammonia cheaply are not there yet.  GCC’s coverage of the recent GWU announcement about electrolytic ammonia production claims a coulombic efficiency of just 35%.  Until that can be at least doubled, it’s not something to bet on.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Aug 10, 2014 4:07 am GMT

The synthesis of ammonia is too lossy/expensive with current technology.

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Aug 10, 2014 5:58 am GMT

So the synthesis of ammonia is too lossy/expensive with current technology, and the storage of hydrogen is too lossy/expensive with current technology. Given the difference in resources that have been applied to the two problems to date, it seems more likely that the first will give way to a serious research effort than the second.

And entirely independent of the issue of energy storage, less lossy / expensive methods of synthesizing ammonia are an opportunity to substantially reduce the life cycle GHG emissions associated with modern mechanized agriculture.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Aug 10, 2014 6:31 am GMT

IIUC, applying ammonia or nitrate fosters the emission of N2O, which is a somewhat troublesome greenhouse gas in its own right.

Liquid ammonia has roughly the same energy/mass ratio as dry wood.  Since all the elemental constituents are abundantly available from water and air, there’s no question of scarcity.  The capital cost of storage is just the tankage.  Is that cheap enough?  I don’t claim to know.  If you can carry the spring’s winds and the summer’s sunshine to run the heat pump through the cold winter, at a price you can afford, wonderful!  Otherwise, desperate people will do desperate things to stay warm and alive.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Aug 10, 2014 7:02 pm GMT

My understanding is that at GWatt scale, ammonia synthesis is pretty cheap.  This presentation from the Japan Science & Tech agency reports about 64% thermal efficiency of converting natural gas to ammonia at large plants.  Assuming part of the losses occur in the natural gas to hydrogen step, that suggests that ammonia can be made from hydrogen for about the same 30% loss at which liquid hydrogen is made from the gas.  It is worth remembering that studies have predicted that high temperature thermo-chemical synthesis of H2 will be the cheapest way to make hydrogen from nuclear or solar thermal energy.

The same presentation explains that the process efficiency gets worse as the plant size is scaled downward, hence the search for reverse fuel cell ammonia synthesis, which could be scaled to small sizes.  I think it is really the smaller size of certain renewable and end-use systems that is driving the need for more research into electro-chemical ammonia synthesis.

For example, this presentation reports on a project to use ammonia fuel cells to provide backup-power to solar powered cell-phone towers.  It uses a conventional (Apollo-era) alkaline fuel cell, which only works in the forward direction (fuel->electricity).  If it had a reversible fuel cell, the solar panels could also be used to make the backup fuel.

More and more work is happening in the field.  This presentation from a Canadian research team describes work on solid state ammonia synthesis, using high temperature ceramic fuel cells in reverse.  This Colorado School of Mines presentation shows how the tubular ceramic fuel cells are made, and their results. 

But again, conventional Haber-Bosch may remain the cheapest solution at large scale. (In this process, a mixture of H2 and N2 is passed over a hot catalyst which converts about 15% of the gas to NH3, the output is chilled to condense out the NH3, additional H2 and N2 are added, and the process is repeated; with good heat exchangers and efficient refrigeration, the process works fine.)

james filippi's picture
james filippi on Aug 10, 2014 6:30 pm GMT

This should shed some light on why Fuel Cell Technology is going to happen regardless …  And its happening faster than everyone thought!  Heck just look at what the best performing sector in the market is… Fuel Cell Technology.  HYGS, PLUG, BLDP, FCEL.  How can you argue with a FCV that gets about 400 miles per fill up and the only thing coming out of the tailpipe is “pure drinkable water”?

They said the same thing about gasoline internal combustion engines too.

If you think we do not have to worry about world oil reserves watch this.  “Crude Awakening” on YouTube.  Note the people being interviewed and who they are!

Hyundai “Tuscon” Fuel Cell Vehicle

$499 per month w/ Free Fuel & Free Maintenance from Hyundai!!! (pure water for exhaust)

Video (Someone took down the video but the article still there) below of what is happening in California at municipal wastewater treatment plants using fuel cell technology to produce 3 value streams of electricity, hydrogen and heat all from a human waste! This is pretty impressive in my opinion for hydro-refueling infrastructure.

“New fuel cell sewage gas station in Orange County, CA may be world’s first”

“It is here today and it is deployable today,” said Tom Mutchler of Air Products and Chemicals Inc., a sponsor and developer of the project.

james filippi's picture
james filippi on Aug 10, 2014 6:30 pm GMT

This should shed some light on why Fuel Cell Technology is going to happen regardless …  And its happening faster than everyone thought!  Heck just look at what the best performing sector in the market is… Fuel Cell Technology.  HYGS, PLUG, BLDP, FCEL.  How can you argue with a FCV that gets about 400 miles per fill up and the only thing coming out of the tailpipe is “pure drinkable water”?

They said the same thing about gasoline internal combustion engines too.

If you think we do not have to worry about world oil reserves watch this.  “Crude Awakening” on YouTube.  Note the people being interviewed and who they are!

Hyundai “Tuscon” Fuel Cell Vehicle

$499 per month w/ Free Fuel & Free Maintenance from Hyundai!!! (pure water for exhaust)

Video (Someone took down the video but the article still there) below of what is happening in California at municipal wastewater treatment plants using fuel cell technology to produce 3 value streams of electricity, hydrogen and heat all from a human waste! This is pretty impressive in my opinion for hydro-refueling infrastructure.

“New fuel cell sewage gas station in Orange County, CA may be world’s first”

“It is here today and it is deployable today,” said Tom Mutchler of Air Products and Chemicals Inc., a sponsor and developer of the project.

james filippi's picture
james filippi on Aug 10, 2014 6:33 pm GMT
Linde starts production line for fuel cell car “filling stations”
(Reuters) – German industrial gases maker Linde opened what it said was the world’s first production line for hydrogen fuelling stations on Monday, in a bid to boost support networks for eco-friendly cars.
Fuel-cell cars, which compete with electric and hybrid vehicles in a race to capture environmentally conscious drivers, use a stack of cells that combine hydrogen with oxygen in the air to generate electricity.
Their only emissions are water vapour and heat, but the technology has been held back by high costs and lack of infrastructure. Fuel-cell cars will go on sale starting at $70,000, and filling stations cost over $1 million to build.
On the back of commercial launch announcements by Toyota and Hyundai and demand in Japan, Linde started up a production facility with an initial annual capacity of 50 stations a year. Until now, it has built them one by one.
The company announced an order for 28 stations from Japanese gas trading company Iwatani, which put the first of its Linde stations into operation near Osaka on Monday, the first commercial hydrogen fuelling station in Japan.
“It’s a chicken-and-egg situation,” Linde executive board member Aldo Belloni told Reuters on the sidelines of the opening ceremony in Vienna.
Belloni declined to say how much Linde had invested since starting its fuel-cell research and development in 1988, centred in Vienna, but said it was “very much”.
Fuel-cell cars can run five times longer than electric cars and fill a tank 10 times as fast.

These are billion dollar companies Air Products, GE, BMW, Honda, Toyota, Walmat, Costco, Mercedes and then you have the govts in Europe, Japan all backing Fuel Cell Technology… 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Aug 10, 2014 7:19 pm GMT

Fuel cell vehicles have momentum because of the hype.  If we launched a petroleum phase out tomorrow, and hydrogen FCVs, BEVs, and ammonia ICE cars had to compete in the market, I would expect 80% of the sales to go to ammonia, 19% to BEVs, and 1% for hydrogen FCVs. This is mostly based on sticker price, but also on the much easier infrastructure situation for ammonia versus hydrogen (ammonia cars can be dual fuel with gasoline backup, but HFVC cannot; ammonia can be transported by truck, but H2 cannot).

The idea that any technology we like can be made cost competitive is appealing, but has no basis in reality.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Aug 10, 2014 10:17 pm GMT

A fair amount of H2 is transported by truck, both as liquid and compressed gas.  But compared to the energy capacity and cost of a gasoline tanker, I’m sure it’s pathetic.  As with most things hydrogen, if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Aug 10, 2014 10:22 pm GMT

Auto companies are noted for following legal mandates, looking for good PR, and taking money when offered (especially when the amounts come to hundreds of millions of dollars).

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Aug 10, 2014 11:17 pm GMT

Most of the comments below defending FCVs ignore one or both of the key points that Joe makes:

(1) If you’re talking about the most economical and widely implemented production method for hydrogen (i.e., from reforming of natural gas), then the carbon footprint for the FCV is substantially worse than if the gas were used directly in an IC engine.  You’ve gone to a lot of trouble and expense for a worse result.

(2) If, instead, you’re talking about the more expensive route of producing hydrogen by electrolysis of water using zero-carbon electricity, then you could get two to three times better mileage per kWh by using that electricity to charge batteries rather than make hydrogen.

The main potential advantages that FCVs can deliver over BEVs are driving range and fast refueling.  But those are non-issues for the commuting and shopping trips that comprise the overwhelming bulk of miles driven.  Going on a road trip?  Then rent a gasoline vehicle for that purpose.  With the coming era of autonomous vehicles, the rental agency will deliver the vehicle to your driveway, and drive it back to their lot after you’ve returned home.

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Aug 10, 2014 11:34 pm GMT

A parenthetical followup: there is one approach to FCVs that would make technical sense to me.  But it’s not one that I see anyone pursuing.  That would be using a high-temperature fuel cell that can run directly on methane or methanol, combined with a heat engine running on the high temperature waste heat of the fuel cell.  

The very high efficiency of that approach would give it a low carbon footprint.  It would be necessary to put the fuel cell inside a super-insulated container, maintaining itself in a hot standby mode on a trickle of fuel unless the owner were willing to wait the 15 minutes or so needed for a cold startup.  Kind of like an old Windows machine.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Aug 12, 2014 4:28 am GMT

Regarding long-duration batter energy storage, the cost would be a problem.  For example, Solar Buzz gives a cost of $213/kWh for batteries.  If you could amortize that over 200 discharge cycles per year for 10 years (way optimistic, but just pretend), that would add 11¢/kWh to the cost of energy, before accounting for interest and losses.

On the other hand, if you were using the batteries for long duration storage, you might only get 2 cycles per year.  Even assuming a 20 year amortization period and zero interest, the storage system will add $5.30/kWh to the cost of electricity – not even close to viable.

Long duration storage is needed because solar energy peaks in the summer, and demand in northern climates peaks in the Winter.  Even in a sustainable electricity system combining solar with wind power, there will still be unwanted electricity produced in the Spring and Fall.  Using this unwanted electricity to make transportation fuel is more economical than discarding it or making fuel for power plants.


Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Aug 12, 2014 4:24 pm GMT

I believe battery manufacture can still be lowered considerably via machine automation and economies of scale. Perhaps, they can be “3-d printed”?

Concerning ammonia, wouldn’t there be issues with small leaks causing problems for a global small car fleet implementation?

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Aug 12, 2014 4:38 pm GMT

Batteries still have the promise of machine automation (or other automated process like 3-d printing?). They say there are only enough batteries on the planet to store about ten minutes of global demand, however, this must be vastly improved upon if we wish to gain the highest efficiencies possible from electricity sources and gain the much better efficiency over any liquid fuel to the vehicle.

james filippi's picture
james filippi on Aug 12, 2014 6:34 pm GMT


Here is a “Quad Generation” Fuel Cell System that may be of some help to those who think C02 is being emitted or will be emitted.  FYI –  These Fuel Cell Systems (Tri-Gen, Quad-Gen) are CLOSED systems that enable the C02 to be captured ect….

Publication Date: Monday, March 24, 2014

Publication: The Wall Street Journal

Village Farms International, Inc., In Collaboration with Quadrogen Power Systems, Inc. and Fuel Cell Energy, Inc.
Announces the First Ever $7.5 Million Quad-Genergation Energy Project.

“Tri-Gen” Fuel Cell System… Up and running now at Municipal Wastewater Treatment facilities in CA.

All from a human waste… Creating 3 (Three) value streams of Hydrogen, Electricity and Heat.  Impressive to say the least.
Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Aug 12, 2014 7:59 pm GMT

Small leaks of ammonia are not a problem.  Ammonia is not toxic at low levels.  It’s the active ingredient in glass washing solutions, precisely because it evaporates into the air, leaving no residue. 

Jim Warden's picture
Jim Warden on Aug 14, 2014 3:57 pm GMT

Where do you get insurance for hydrogen?,, Call up your insurer and ask for a quote. Batteries will move cars around and work well in warmer climates.. What about winter? What about big freight trucks and planes. For  the mainstream and air travel, only working robust one we see is GreenNH3.  Zero emissions and $2 a gallon.The patent was issued July 15 2014. The inventor fullfilled his social contract, but government and investors are hiding.

Jim Warden's picture
Jim Warden on Aug 14, 2014 4:06 pm GMT

Nathan check out GreenNH3. The fridge sized machines make the fuel where you park negating the need to transport fuel. GreenNH3 looks like the best bet to me also. $2 a gallon and zero emissions.The patent was issued to GreenNH3 July 15 2014. You should contact them Nathan. 

Jim Warden's picture
Jim Warden on Aug 14, 2014 4:14 pm GMT

A patent was issued to GreenNH3 July 15 2014. 

A fridge sized machine makes the fuel where you park.

$2 a gallon and zero emissions sounds like best thing at present.

They need an investor or new bolld, the inventor has worn himself out
 money and time wise.


Jim Warden's picture
Jim Warden on Aug 14, 2014 4:19 pm GMT

Are you forgetting the photo of the BMW burned to a crisp by hydrogen?

The metal was left like paper.

See GreenNH3 for a safe form of hydrogen, 3 parts H and one N to babysit.

It wont explode in tank even when you try. And storage is at 150 psi rather than 3000.

Hydrogen tanks start to embrittle the minute you fill them.

Someone please get behind GreenNH3 and make it available to me.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Aug 14, 2014 5:28 pm GMT

Wind and solar can not match humanity’s power needs unless very large scale storage is dramatically reduced in price.

EV’s can’t be depended on as a major fraction of storage, especially since it is most convienient to charge them at night (wind is NOT dependable every night).

Whatever utility scale storage is the most efficient is the one that must be mass produced at economies of scale unless it would be cheaper to build more solar (and or wind) to make up for the additional efficiency loss of a lessor quality but cheaper storage.

Ammonia would be the best choice for thermal generators (which could also be PV and wind to electrode?) because it is a liquid that can be stored for long periods. It’s only problem is the lack of public WILL for political support.

james filippi's picture
james filippi on Aug 14, 2014 5:57 pm GMT

From Car & Driver article.
Google:  Will Hydrogen Be Cheaper Than Gasoline? Who Knows?

The pump we used quoted the price of hydrogen at $5 per kilogram. The actual cost for pump hydrogen in the future is difficult to estimate with any accuracy, though, since the volume and infrastructure aren’t yet mature. Balch cites studies that foresee the price of hydrogen leveling off between $2 and $4 per kilogram, and he points out that a kilogram of H2 typically provides more range than a gallon of gas. Once the price of hydrogen does come down, it should carry a cost per mile that’s similar to or better than that of gasoline. Better yet, once established, the price is not expected to fluctuate with the same volatility as that of gasoline.

So although the process of pumping hydrogen into a fuel-cell vehicle is pretty simple (and getting simpler), the process of pumping hydrogen into our infrastructure could be one of the great challenges of our generation. At least we can look forward to keeping our hands clean.

The ix35 Fuel Cell is equipped with a 100 kW electric motor, allowing it to reach a maximum speed of 160 km/h (99 mph). Two hydrogen storage tanks, with a total capacity of 5.64 kg, enable the vehicle to travel a total of 594 km (369 miles) on a single charge, and it can reliably start in temperatures as low as -20 degrees Celsius.

Hyundai ix35 “Tuscon” Fuel Cell Vehicle

The ix35 Fuel Cell is equipped with a 100 kW electric motor, allowing it to reach a maximum speed of 160 km/h (99 mph). Two hydrogen storage tanks, with a total capacity of 5.64 kg, enable the vehicle to travel a total of 594 km (369 miles) on a single charge, and it can reliably start in temperatures as low as -20 degrees Celsius.

5.64 x $5 = $28.20 to travel 369 miles

5.64 x $4 = $22.56 to travel 369 miles

5.64 x $3 = $16.92 to travel 369 miles



Jim Warden's picture
Jim Warden on Aug 14, 2014 10:33 pm GMT

The GreenNH3 we saw at the show was only at 120 psi similar to propane.

large farms store NH3 in open tanks and keep it cool by pumping it

rather than pressure. We saw big zero pressure tanks in Iowa and Indiana.

I cannot believe some big investor dosent see the opportunity and take

this GreenNH3 to the people. I want it now.

The patent was issued July 15 2014, so it seems like it is ready to go.

I really think there is nothing else out there for jet travel. What could be better

$2 a gallon and zero emissions. And it can make late night excess hydro into

storage. That seems to be the holy grail right now, energy storage by GreenNH3.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Aug 15, 2014 3:51 am GMT

1), What’s the efficiency to convert sunlight, wind into hydrogen, methanol, dimethal ether and of course, ammonia? 2), how much energy to either pressurize it or liquify it (if at all)? 3), how efficient in the vehicle’s fuelcell to electric motor? 4), will (any) new infrastructure issues become a deciding factor? And 5), safety.

We all need to learn which is the best fit for direct electrical sources and what’s best for thermal sources, such as molten salt nuclear (if proven to not cause societal breakdown due to the fear factor). From there, we can determine the least expensive, most abundant non carbon source of power for all sectors.

Also, there is the fact that simply direct electricity to battery may be the overall winner for the light vehicle sector because electricity is transported over an already established infrastructure at the speed of light, can be stored in batteries at rather high efficiencies, be used to propell the car at high efficiencies and be safe.

We need to vastly improve wind, solar, the molten salt reactor, whatever best liquid fuel (or hydrogen if transport is cheaper than whatever additional costs for liquid fuels) and of course, battery manufacture.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Aug 15, 2014 6:56 am GMT

Here’s an interesting NRE report on their fuel cell vehicle demos, from 2012.  Not very impressive (although as you say, this is somewhat dated); the fuel efficiencies demonstrated were hardly better that would you would get from ammonia-electric hybrids (36-52 miles per gallon-of-gasoline-equiv).  Keep in mind that any fuel economy number that come out of Japan will look much worse when the same vehicles come to the US, due to higher driving speeds.

Another problem highlighted in the report is the stubornly low density of gaseous H2.  Going from 350 bar storage to 700 bars (5000->10,000 psi) only boosted tank capacity by around 20%, partly due to the tank walls getting thicker.  Those tanks by the way, weighs 30x more than the H2 they contain.

They reported that energy equivalent to 11.3% of the hydrogen was used to compress the hydrogen.  This is almost as much energy as would be required to convert the H2 to ammonia.

Then there is still the problem of expensive, platinum-filled fuel cells.

Jim Warden's picture
Jim Warden on Aug 15, 2014 2:04 pm GMT

Why worry about the price of hydrogen ?

Im too afraid to get into a hydrogen fueled vehicle after seeing the photos and how dangerous it is.

The patent was issued July 15 2014 for GreenNH3  , (safe hydrogen) so the inventor has fullfilled his social contract,, but investors and politicians are hiding and not filling their social contracts.

So now you and I can travel zero emissions for $2 a gallon if someone would get off their duff.

Only trouble is Big Oil has so much power investors like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates wont fill their social contracts and get this technology in place so you and I can use it.

If GreenNH3 machines become as plentiful as refrigerators it could solve a lot of the worlds problems, including, climate change, middle east strife, poorer 3rd world poverty, maybe cause an economic uptick here


William Hughes-Games's picture
William Hughes-Games on Aug 15, 2014 7:25 pm GMT

How about the added factor that Hydrogen must be kept in either  an expensive cryorgenic tank or  high pressure tank in a car and a lot of energy is used to either liquify or compress the hydrogen.  I wonder if hydrogen could be used, economically in a static application.  It would be a good way to store extra energy when your solar panels are peoucing more electricity that you are using, and the hydrogen could be stored in an up side down tank floating in a right way up tank, the way producer gas was once stored.  Tanks can be of any size and the hydrogen, thus produced, can also be used in a gas stove.

james filippi's picture
james filippi on Aug 15, 2014 8:32 pm GMT

Hmmm.  Good point William.  The more I think about that the better I like it.  I wonder what some of the others think about it? 

William Hughes-Games's picture
William Hughes-Games on Aug 15, 2014 8:59 pm GMT

One could argue that hydrogen is safer than most of the hydrocarbon fuels, liquid or gaseous.  If a rupture occurs in a hydrogen tank, the hydrogen is lighter than air and quickly rises up away from any potential source of ignition.  Methane is also lighter than air, ethane the same density and all other hydrocarbon vapours or gaseous hydrocarbon fuels are heavier than air.  They flow along the ground looking for a spark.

William Hughes-Games's picture
William Hughes-Games on Aug 15, 2014 9:04 pm GMT

At present, it costs about a third as much to travel a kilometre in a pure electric car as it does in a petrol car.  If that ration remains about the same, a fuel, such as Hydrogen, even if it  only costs the same as petol per km traveled will have great difficulty competing.  Did you hear that Telsa has opened up her patents to whoever wants to use them.  That could be a game changer.

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Aug 15, 2014 11:30 pm GMT

The above is mostly nonsense. Air-hydrogen mixtures, at the right mixing ratios, are certainly explosive. As are air-natural gas mixtures, air-gasoline vapor mixtures, air-charcoal dust mixtures, air-wheat flour mixtures, etc.  It’s true that mixtures of hydrogen and air will detonate over a much broader range of mixing ratios than most other gases or combustible aerosols. But a 10,000 psi tank of hydrogen becoming half-full of air??? Only if you can think of a way to “accidentally” pump air at 10,000 psi into it.

Liquid hydrogen is certainly hazardous to handle. But I’ve heard, anecdotally, that the biggest safety concern that NASA had with it was not gas-hydrogen explosions, but rather the nearly invisible flames that one can get with a hydrogen leak that catches fire.  An unsuspecting worker could blunder into the flame from leaking LH2 plumbing without knowing it was there. Workers were instructed to carry strips of material hanging from sticks held out in front of them, when the ventured into areas where a hydrogen leak might occur.

I’ve seen videos of the safety testing done on 10,000 PSI hydrogen tanks. It includes lighting a bonfire around a full tank, and finding the tank still intact when the fire has burned out. Also firing an armour-piercing round into a full tank.  The round penetrates and the tank sprouts a long jet of escaping hydrogen, but doesn’t explode. The jet of gas is visible because it’s cold enough to instantly freeze the water vapor in the air around it.

No, the problem isn’t safety.  It’s cost. Even with the expected cost reductions possible with mass production, each of those super-tanks would cost more than an average car.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Aug 16, 2014 1:24 am GMT

The reason to store gas in an upside-down tank over water is so that the gas can be released at constant pressure (a normal compressed gas tank exhibits decreasing pressure as the gas is removed).

Storing hydrogen (or any gas) in lower pressure tanks rather than higher pressure does not reduce the cost of the tanks: consider a tank of a given size, if the amount of gas is double, the pressure will also double, which requires that the tank wall thickness also double; so for any given tank material, there is a fixed ratio between the mass of the tank and the mass of the gas it holds, regardless of pressure (about 30x for hydrogen in steel tanks, see fig 30 in this NREL report).

Operating storange tanks at reduced pressure does reduce the energy required to compress that gas.  However, larger, thinner-walled tanks take up more floor space, are more expensive to transport, and are less puncture-resistant.

This TEC article reported a source that estimated a 30 hour hydrogen storage tank would cost $2000/kWatt (at utility scale).  This is much cheaper than today’s batteries, but the round-trip energy efficiency would be much lower too.  This would be in addition to the cost of solar panels and reversible fuel cells.

Regarding the safety of home hydrogen production/storage/usage: it would be much safer to buy hydrogen (e.g. from a gas grid), already with the odorant added in.  Pure hydrogen has no odor, and is an explosion waiting to happen, from the first undetected leak or burner flame-out.

For energy storage for off-grid homes, I prefer ammonia storage.  Like a backyard propane tank, an ammonia tank could hold an entire winter’s worth of energy.  A fuel processor mounted next to the tank could crack the ammonia (NH3) into a mixture of hydrogen and nitrogen (which could power stoves, heaters, and fuel cells), with just enough ammonia left to provide an odor (and with no failure mode that produces odorless hydrogen).  If you have an extra-cold winter and run out of fuel, just have your tank refilled by truck (no need for fossil fuel backup).

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Aug 16, 2014 4:03 am GMT


The invariance you mention is cute, but it applies to the difference in pressure between the tank and the ambient environment, not the absolute pressure in the tank. By that rule, the cost of tankage for a gas stored at atmospheric pressure is zero. 

That’s not very realistic, of course, but the relationship itself is not particularly realistic.  It assumes that cost is strictly proportional to the minimum mass of tank material required, and ignores the cost of fabrication (among other things).  In practice, the inverted bowl “gasometer” is a reasonably economical way to store small modest amounts of hydrogen — assuming one has some cheap land on which to build the tank.


Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Aug 16, 2014 4:03 am GMT


“Number 3” is the thermal options, the possibility of direct heat to hydrogen (and then ammonia, or whatever to rid the storage and safety issues). Molten salt reactors should be built just for this purpose, because well, batteries can’t do it all (or can they???).

A bunch of concentrating heliostats or simply, direct electricity from wind and PV to electrode for the thermal splitting?

I know there is a loss of efficiency but I believe we do not have the option of 72 hour “renewables only” utility scale battery storage, any time soon (we can’t be fossil backing forever!). If such is even remotely possible, then we must all support and promote intensive battery manufacture by massive machine automation, because that is the most efficient way. Only such machine automation could ever get a stored kWh to less than the required $50 or so.

I would think that we would have to build the MSR’s to make industrial liquid fuels but if all the billions could instead guarantee super cheap batteries capable of not only powering cars, but also to store the power for all the needs of ten billion at high standards, for days on end, then we could finally ditch most all thermal sources.

In such an awesome scenario, I imagine “tanks of battery” for global shipment to areas of poor direct electrical generation capabilities!

Of course, assuming much end use efficiency, PV and wind would have to be placed on just over 1% of all land (unless there is a way to do so on the oceans). Many (supposedly) environmentally conscious people won’t go for it as well as not going for advanced nuclear. So, if land issues are even worthy of a debate, then the MSR must be considered (and possibly other nuclear, if proven incapable of meltdown regardless of anti-nuclear sentiment!). Because, in order to power cars fossil free, we need almost 100% fossil free energy sources. Rooftop alone can not cut it.

Trivial amounts of additional hydro, biofuels, wave, and tidal are not enough to really add to the power necessary to make liquid fuels or charge batteries at the planetary level.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Aug 16, 2014 5:29 pm GMT

I thought about half a million sq miles of PV should be the overbuild necessary for storage to power the world, electric cars, more efficient appliences, water, food, etc, and with conservation. I figure storage capacity as the inverse of renewable energy’s capacity factor. Thus a 4x “overbuild” is necessary plus extra for whatever storage inefficiency.

I had forgot about the need to desalinate large quantities of water and possibly, sequester the excess CO2 out of the air. So, ya, we need a global fleet of MSR’s as well (and be willing to deal with the nasty fission products and tritium, etc).

You’re right about wind. Spacing requirements for wind power (alone) would require lfar more land but it’s tower and road footprint is like nothing compaired to its turbulance.

I think I cut total primary energy consumption in half for efficiency and then multiplied by 5 for decent standards (for 10 billion people), assumed 15% PV efficiency, about a third extra for access space and did not account for line loss.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Aug 16, 2014 5:46 pm GMT

Roof top is not enough land. Parking lots require structural design (for safety, thus too expensive?) and is still not enough land. Trash to waste, biofuels, wave, tidal, etc are many magnitudes too weak, when considering total planetary power requirements, especially for 10 billion people living at high standards.

I’ve got to harp on trash to waste… it might be good to convert the methane from trash into CO2 (that’s the end process) but it is not feasable to get more energy out of a waste product. Consider that it takes a thousand units of energy to grow or make, transport and consume (and re-transport) “wastes”. You will never get anywhere close to a thousand units back unless that waste is nuclear spent fuel (which is really only about 1% consumed).

Biofuels is not a sizeable option. Remember that it was dirty coal that saved what was left of the pre-industrial forests.

William Hughes-Games's picture
William Hughes-Games on Aug 16, 2014 8:55 pm GMT

What a neat idea.  I assume that this doesn’t make the electrolysis process any less efficient.  Perhaps one could go even deeper.  This still leaves the more expensive tanks in your vehicle but each advance helps.  Just a rhetorical question.  In a 300Atmosphere tank (like the modern SCUBA tanks) would there be enough range to make a hydrogen car practical.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Aug 18, 2014 2:56 am GMT

Do you have an example with specific numbers for the cost and energy content?

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Aug 18, 2014 3:21 am GMT

Solar and wind together can provide some 90% of our required energy without storage…”

Please cite a source for this.  The DOE NREL did detailed modeling for the US grid in their RE Futures study, and came nowhere near 90% for solar and wind.  If you look at their figure 2-2, their 90% renewable case shows 40% for wind, and only 7% PV.  The biggest solar contribution, about 12% was ground mounted solar thermal, which included thermal energy storage to make it dispatchable.  The scenario also incuded a very large 16% contribution from dispatchable biomass burning (which is controversial at best, due to the extremely large environmental footprint, and the fact that it appears to conflict with our need for biofuel for transportation).  It also assumed a doubling of hydro and large increase in geothermal.  

The curtailment of solar and wind was claimed to be only 7%, but this ignores the 50% curtailment of the remaining nuclear fleet, plus they assumed a large fleet of CAES, which has very poor round-trip energy efficiency (i.e. only slightly better than curtailment).

The rosy press release didn’t admit to it, but the RE Futures study basically showed that the high renewable scenarios are very expensive, any are only possible when money is no object.

William Hughes-Games's picture
William Hughes-Games on Aug 18, 2014 8:33 am GMT

When I lived in Vancouver in the 50’s and 60’s, producer gas was stored in enormous “inverted bowls” and was piped to industry and domestic users. I rather like the idea because, as you say, it can be any size and is only limited by having a bit of land on which to put it. I like Hydrogen, especially, not only because it can be produced from excess electricity and hence power you through the cloudy periods (or windless periods) but because Hydrogen is far safer than most of the hydrocarbons. The only hydrocarbon lighter than air is methane, ethane is the same density while the rest head for ground if the tank leaks. We have been sensitized by the Hindenburg to think that H is especially dangerous. As for using it in a stove top, all the modern ones shut down if there is no heat from the burning gas.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Aug 18, 2014 5:40 pm GMT

I think you’re right. I think I was also being “conservative” for all those who think rooftop alone would suffice.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Aug 18, 2014 5:52 pm GMT

Basically, storage requirements are the inverse of capacity factor, meaning that renewable energy’s 25% or so CF necessitates a 4 times overbuild, 3 of which must be stored. Then there are the lulls… Remenber that the residential section (that you mention) is but a small fraction of future planetary power needs.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Aug 19, 2014 3:40 pm GMT

And you may not need backup“. True, if you’re willing to do without power when the solar and wind isn’t there! Sure, many families could get used to the return to a simple life of “making do”, but not all of civilization. We would collapse just as every other nation in history did when they run out of resources. Consider hospitals, they need reliable power ALL the time. Business do too.

Most all the power demands of planetary civilization can not just “turn off and tune in later”.

Thus, we need very cheap and efficient storage regardless of whether it is to store a million square miles of solar and millions of wind turbines for many hours on end or even just to smooth out the power from safe molten salt nuclear to provide 24/7 reliable power (so as to prevent the next dark age and prevent an overheated biosphere)!

A good story about the future (which doesn’t really promote nuclear) is “earth 2100” (on youtube). We need to stop using fossil fuels (and relying on them for RE backup).

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Aug 20, 2014 4:39 pm GMT

You need to do the energy math.

Find total global primary energy consumption, then divide by two, because solar and wind doesn’t waste to heat loss. Then multiply by FIVE. This is the power 10 billion people at high standards will need. We will also need to account for losses at each stage of the process, such as heat to fuels, or heat to electricity (CSP and nuclear, fusion, etc) and direct electricity to inefficient storage.

Now, what makes you think that we don’t need much storage? The global civilization needs power 24/7, are you suggesting that mere wastes to fuel is even anywhere plentiful to provide all the backup for the piss poor capacity factors of wind and solar?

Again, do the energy math and prove to me, before you state wishful thoughts.


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