G. David Felt
Staff Writer Alternative Energy - CheersandGears.com
September 25, 2012
Alternative Energy, what is the logical next step for America Part III?
Join me as I write about the various forms of alternative energy and how I see them stacking up in today’s market place.
Hydro, Geothermal and Wind
While excellent in being renewable energy for use by homes and businesses, Hydro, Geothermal and Wind lack the ability to drive an auto by itself. When combined with alternative forms of creating energy, these three renewable forms of energy can truly make a difference.
Hydropower, water powered cars or hydrogen/oxygen powered cars using 100% water as fuel is real. Splitting water by electrolysis and creating hydrogen/oxygen gas or Hydroxy gas, the molecules are bonded together positively in a ortho hydrogen state. Due to the power of this gas, you do not store it so it must be made as you drive. The special alternator generates amps to run the special stainless steel cell that allows this gas to be created and used to run the engine. One can research Stan Meyer’s Water Powered Dun Buggy to see what this technology is capable of. Yet with all the potential possible, either we have a true conspiracy from the oil companies with this technology being killed off or a solid scam. You decide!
Now you have the alternative Hydrogen powered cars that rely on tanks, a hydrogen stations and what most engineers call the PEM (polymer exchange membrane) fuel cell. The PEM fuel cells have the advantage of being light and small. They consist of two electrodes ( a negatively charged anode and a positively charged cathode), a catalyst and a membrane. Hydrogen is forced into the fuel cell at the anode in the form of H2 molecules, each of which contains two hydrogen atoms. A catalyst at the anode breaks the molecules into hydrogen ions (the protons) and a flow of electricity (the electrons). The ions pass through the membrane, but the electricity has to go around. While it's doing so, it can be harnessed to do work. Just as hydrogen is forced into the fuel cell at the anode, oxygen is forced in at the cathode. The protons and electrons reunite at the cathode and join with the oxygen to form water, most of which become the fuel cell's exhaust. Fuel cells are designed to be flat and thin, mainly so they can be stacked. The more fuel cells in the stack, the greater the voltage of the electricity that the stack produces.
Fuel cells have two major advantages over fossil fuels. First, they don't deplete the world's finite supply of oil, which helps us preserve the existing supplies and they could also reduce our dependency on foreign oil. Second, the only byproduct from a fuel cell's operation is heat and water, which means fuel cells don't produce pollution. This is vitally important in a time when carbon emissions from cars are believed to be promoting global warming.
Perhaps a more important question is how the hydrogen itself will be produced. Given that hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, constituting roughly 90 percent of the atoms in existence, you'd think that this wouldn't be a problem. Well, think again. Hydrogen is also the lightest element in the universe and any uncontained hydrogen on the surface of the Earth will immediately float off into outer space. What hydrogen remains on this planet is bound with other elements in molecular form, most commonly in water (H2O) molecules. And there happens to be a lot of H2O on the surface of the Earth.
But how do we separate the hydrogen molecules in the water from the oxygen molecules? And if we don't use water as a hydrogen source, where else can we get hydrogen?
The simplest way of getting hydrogen from water is the one that Sir William Grove knew about more than 150 years ago: electrolysis. If you pass an electric current through water, the H2O molecules break down. Similar to fuel cell operation, this process uses an anode and a cathode, usually made from inert metals. When an electric current is applied to the water, hydrogen forms at the cathode, and oxygen forms at the anode. Although this process is slow, it can be done on a large scale.
An alternative source for hydrogen is natural gas, which consists of naturally occurring hydrocarbons. A process called steam reformation can be used to separate the hydrogen in the gas from the carbon. At present, this is the most common method of industrial-scale production of hydrogen and would likely be the first method used to produce the hydrogen for fuel-cell vehicles. Unfortunately, this process uses fossil fuels -- the natural gas -- so if the point of building cars that run on hydrogen is to avoid depleting fossil fuel reserves, natural gas would be the worst possible source of this fuel yet with North America having the largest reserves in the world we have a 150-200 year step to the eventual holy grail of renewable energy with almost none if not truly no carbon footprint of green house gas.
Some experts have suggested that it might be possible to build miniature hydrogen plants that will fit in the average person's garage, so it won't even be necessary to drive to the local fueling station to fill up the car's hydrogen tank. The most extreme form of this idea has been the suggestion that electrolysis could be performed inside the car itself, which would make possible the astounding idea of a car that runs on water! However, the power for the electrolysis has to come from some sort of battery, so a water-powered car would need to be periodically recharged.
Your three biggest challenges to a Hydro car is cost of developing the hydrogen technology. Platinum is the most widely used catalyst in fuel cells leaving one with a 100K fuel cell cost. Storage is a thorny problem. Hydrogen is a gas that likes to spread out so compression into a reasonable size while dealing with expansion issues from warm days means that your tank would vent out and in a couple days you would have no fuel to run the car if it was sitting for days, this on top of the explosion factor due to being highly flammable. One only needs to remember the Hindenburg. Fortunately, hydrogen fires are not as hot as gas fires and less likely to start a secondary fire. Third challenge, Hydrogen is it really nonpolluting? A fuel cell only produces heat and water as exhaust but the process to create the hydrogen in not necessarily clean. Electrolysis uses electricity and that electricity will often come from plants that burn coal, a highly polluting source. And when hydrogen is extracted from natural gas, it produces carbon emissions, which is exactly what we're trying to avoid by using hydrogen in the first place.
Think back to your grade school science class about using the heat lying deep beneath the Earth’s surface. As we look to alternative ways to reduce our dependence on Fossil Fuels, it is not uncommon that every potential energy source is being considered as a replacement. How can geothermal power your car?
Geothermal energy resources include an array of earth-sourced energy, including heat found below shallow ground, hot water and rock found a few miles deeper, and even the extremely high-temperature molten rock known as magma, lying deep beneath the surface of the Earth, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Although it has garnered more attention of late, heat from the Earth, or geothermal energy, has been warming water that then seeps into underground reservoirs since the beginning of time. With temperatures reaching extremely high levels, from 225 to 600 degrees F, these reservoirs form a usable source of energy that can then be used to produce electricity. In fact, the U.S. has used geothermal energy from reservoirs such as these to generate electricity at power plants for the past 50 years. As research continues on how to extract and use this renewable energy, expect geothermal energy to continue to become more competitive on a cost basis with fossil fuels. As supplies of fossil fuels dwindle, geothermal technology will already be in place to shoulder the energy needs.
Currently, three types of electric generating plants have been developed to utilize geothermal energy. Used since 1960 as a replacement fuel for coal and other fossil fuels to generate electricity, technologies relying on geothermal energy have been developed primarily in three ways to power electric generation plants. One of these is known as dry steam. In this technology, steam from underground wells is used to turn a turbine that then activates a generator to produce electricity. However, due to a lack of underground steam resources, the only dry steam plant generation in the U.S. is at The Geysers in California. In binary cycle technology, heat from reservoirs of temperatures between 225 and about 350 degrees F is used to boil a working fluid that is then vaporized in a heat exchanger and used to power a generator. Water from this process can be injected back into the ground to begin the process again. But the most common kind of geothermal-powered electric plant is the flash steam plant that makes use of water from reservoirs of high temperatures, brought up through wells where it boils into steam and is then used to power a generator. Leftover water and steam can be returned to the reservoir for reuse.
Geothermal resources are geographically favored. Although geothermal heat pumps can be used throughout the country, electric generating plants and direct-use systems are limited in the western states because geothermal resources are geographically concentrated in the western U.S. Part of the reason for the geographical limitations are that drilling technology is current limited to development of geothermal resources from shallow water or steam-filled reservoirs, which again, are found primarily in the west.
So while this has enormous potential for clean power generation to power electrical cars, we have multiple limitations at this time for being a favorable source of fuel. One is the charge time for electric cars; two the distance an electric car can travel and three is the current state of development of geothermal power. For these reasons this is not a replaceable form of fuel for petrol.
The idea of a wind-powered car is nothing new. Back in the 1960s, Douglas Aircraft engineer Andrew Bauer allegedly created a working prototype of a "directly downwind faster than the wind," or DDWFTTW, vehicle. However, no official records exist exploring whether it was faster than the wind.
Today you have an engineer Richard Jenkins who dreams of creating a vehicle that can use air to power a auto and in the process set his own land speed record. You can find much on the Greenbird built by Richard yet while the autos are propelled and driven by wind. There is still the large scale production of such a car and the need for constant wind to make them a reality.
The issue of cars powered by wind electricity is less one of supply and demand, and more one of sociological and cultural shifts in habits and thinking. Going from miles per gallon to kilowatt hours per mile means more than plunking a battery where the gas tank used to be. It's about changing driving habits, travel habits and even our concept of working and commuting. But when (and if) these cultural traditions are changed, wind power would still come up short on supply. Sure, it could generate the necessary power, but only if there were enough wind farms and only if there were enough ways to distribute the power -- if and if and if. But the wind is a fickle beast, despite modern forecasting techniques. Wind is seasonal, wind is dependent on storms and wind is variable and changeable -- much more so than human behavior.
The best bet on wind is where wind is a constant, so that wind generators can create the electricity that can go into charging auto’s this can have a very small carbon foot print and yet we still end up with the shortages of an electric auto.
What we need to be asking ourselves and demanding for US independence is as follows:
What is the logical next step to remove our dependence on Oil from other countries while allowing us to move to the next better fuel for auto’s?