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Chrysler Announces Hydrogen Fuel Cell Van 324

Posted by michael
from the clean-as-a-whistle dept.
Juanfe writes: "Chrysler group announced a concept vehicle called the Natrium, powered by a sodium borohydride (NaBH4) engine developed by Millenium Cell. NaBH4 can be made from sodium borate -- basic borax, used in laundry detergent. MilleniumCell is a US Company that, not surprisingly, has made strategic agreements with major borax purveyors in the US (which just happens to be thought of as the largest borax reserve in the world). Could this be the start of the end of big oil and the start of the start of big Borax?" superflippy points out that Chrysler's press release is related to the Electric Vehicle Association of the Americas (EVAA) Electric Transportation Industry Conference 2001.
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Chrysler Announces Hydrogen Fuel Cell Van

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  • End of Big Oil? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bonker (243350) on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @11:27PM (#2697185)
    Hardly...

    The U.S. auto industry and the U.S. oil industry are so tight that work has been slowed or delayed for decades on all-electric cars.

    While this fuel-cell uses borax derivatives, I would be willing to bet money that any production fuel-cell based vehicles deployed in the U.S. use hydrocarbon-based cells. They're not going to let you just stop filling up every week, after all.
    • The U.S. auto industry and the U.S. oil industry are so tight that work has been slowed or delayed for decades on all-electric cars.

      Sad but very true.

      It's crazy that US Government wholeheartedly back this unethical business strategy to ensure their continuous inflows of political money, while letting oil exporters in Middle East holding our balls by altering the price and supply.

      Pathetic. *sigh*
      • It's crazy that US Government wholeheartedly back this unethical business strategy to ensure their continuous inflows of political money, while letting oil exporters in Middle East holding our balls by altering the price and supply.

        Get a grip, gasoline is incredibly cheap now...compare with 10 or 20 years ago, and add inflation, and think about it.

        Moreover, thanks to RONALD REAGAN for the STRATEGIC DEFENSE INITIATIVE, the USA finished off the USSR, and now backed by Russians who want to make a PROFIT, Russia is pumping all kinds of oil into the global supply, and OPEC is running scared.

        Yes, I thought Reagan was crazy at the time too. Maybe he was. But gosh, ass was kicked, and the world is a better place for it.

        -Thomas
    • Re:End of Big Oil? (Score:2, Informative)

      by homer_ca (144738)
      Most likely any fuel cell will be hydrocarbon based either directly or indirectly. I am not a chemical engineer, but the most economical process for creating hydrogen is from natural gas. How else are you going to get hydrogen? Electrolysis? Any business would be better off just selling the electricity unless natural gas gets a LOT more expensive.
      The hydrocarbon fuel cells use a reformer to crack gasoline into hydrogen and CO2. It's just moving the chemical plant into the car.
    • Re:End of Big Oil? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday December 13, 2001 @12:11AM (#2697334) Homepage
      The U.S. auto industry and the U.S. oil industry are so tight that work has been slowed or delayed for decades on all-electric cars.

      Sadly, no. The EV and Fuel Cell folks have continuously shot *themselves* in the foot by insisting that the EV/FC will instantly replace existing automobiles rather than finding a niche and growing from there. Poor planning, poor marketing, it kills 'real world' companies as much as it does dot-bombs.
    • by On Lawn (1073) on Thursday December 13, 2001 @12:43AM (#2697443) Journal
      The U.S. auto industry and the U.S. oil industry are so tight that work has been slowed or delayed for decades on all-electric cars.

      This makes a good story for movies in need of a bad buy but I've not seen any reason to believe it. As a matter of fact, no one in the industry (except the water injected carburator guy thats been in urban lore since the 40's), has ever accused big oil of maligning or hedging their work.

      Its time to get out of fantasy land and into real life. Theres to many problems that need solving to get worked up over movie plots.

      While this fuel-cell uses borax derivatives, I would be willing to bet money that any production fuel-cell based vehicles deployed in the U.S. use hydrocarbon-based cells

      Its possible that this is a notion of the past. However, hydrocarbon fuel cells are non-puluting to California standards. So, I have no problem with it. After all, the energy has to come from somewhere no matter what transport agent is used.
      • by neibwe (101336) on Thursday December 13, 2001 @05:14PM (#2700951) Homepage Journal

        Unlike some other conspiracies, the automobile/oil industry ones have some interesting history. I'd say it's more like interesting food for though, and it's not from some paranoid kook either --I'm not one to believe in paranoid conspiracies, new age cures, faith healing, visits from intelligent extra-terrestrials, mysticism, etcetera. I do however believe in sunshine (anti-backroom) laws, fair competition (through iron handed regulation if necessary, and good public policy.

        Michael Parenti in Democracy for the Few (6th Ed.)[1] writes about some disturbing observations. The energy frugality of mass-transit was so "undesirable" to the oil and auto industries" that "[f]or over a half-century their response has been to undermine th nation's rail and electric-bus system."

        The undermining of Los Angeles's 1935 "75-mile radius" "3,000 quiet, pollution-free electric trains [carrying"80 million people a year" was carried out by:

        "General Motors
        and[emph. mine] Standard Oil, using dummy corporations as fronts [through which they] purchased the system, crapped its electric cards, tore down its transmission lines, and placed GM buses fueled by Standard Oil...By 1955, 88 percent of nation's electric streetcar network had been eliminated by collaborators like GM, Standard Oil, Greyhound, and Firestone. In short time, they cut back city and suburban bus services, forcing people to rely increasingly on private cars. In 1949, General Motors was found guilty of conspiracy[emph. mine] in these activities and fined the devestating sum of $5,000."[23]

        He follows up with the influence of cars, extended references of death rates --"2x accumulated number of Americans killed in all the wars ever fought by the United States"", urban air pollution, massive automobile land use, "$300 billion annual subsid[ies]", while "...mass transit--the most efficient, cleanest, and safest form of transporting goods and people" is abandoned. (p. 106)

        I believe the money used "to subsidize automobile use" can be viewed, from one perspective, as an example of an economic freeloader. As auto companies undermine mass transit, thus using public dollars (which they only pay a fraction of) to fund expensive automobile public infrastructure.

        I particularly like how he states that "[g]iven the absence of alternative mods of transportatoin, people become dependent on the automobile as a way of life so that their need for cars is often as real as their need for jobs." The economic burden of autos is pretty high for most americans. It's not like a $1000 tv, or $300 bike. It's a monthy loan payment, and then it's a bi-annual insurance payment, and finally its massive social/tax/healthcare cost from the "46,000 people killed" and "2,000,000 people injured" in traffic accidents. It makes wonder if the Segway could make a dent into this automobile entity we all have to live with?[24][25]

        _____ >Parenti's footnotes<
        23. Jonathan Kwitny, "The Great Transportation Conspiracy,"in Cargan and Ballantin (eds.), Sociological Footprints, 2nd ed. (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1982)
        24. Bureau of Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States 1992 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1992); Andrew Kimbrell, "Car Culture: Driving Ourselves Crazy,"Washington Post September 3, 1989. Kimbrell notes that fatality statistics may be too low since they do not include deaths that occur several days after accidents or off-road.[2] he points out that motor vehicles kill easily one million animals each day, making road kills second only to the meat industry. More deer are killed by cars than by hunters.[3]
        25. Kimbrell, "Car Culture" >/Parenti's footnotes<

        _____
        1. "a major voice among political progressives"...Ph.D from Yale...lectures frequently at college campuses across the country." --[from back cover]
        2. My grandfather died because of accident related complications =(
        3. Animal rights activists will have a hard time stopping consumers from driving though, considering how car ownership is ingrained. And/or how convenient it is.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Quote from The Simpsons when Homer was a Stone Cutter:

      Who controls the British Crown?
      Who keeps the metric system down?
      We do, we do.
      Who keeps Atlantis off the maps?
      Who keeps the Martians under wraps?
      We do, we do.
      Who holds back the electric car?
      Who makes Steve Guttenberg a star?
      We do, we do.
      Who robs cave fish of their sight?
      Who rigs every Oscar night?
      We do, we do!
    • Re:End of Big Oil? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ian Bicking (980)
      Electric vehicles haven't needed any sabotaging to fail. They've failed all on their own, over and over.

      Part of this is that there's two big industries involved: the oil industry and the car manufacturers. Car manufacturers aren't going to let the oil companies keep them from doing what they have to to keep their market -- part of which is deflecting criticism about pollution and energy use.

      Of course, the car companies don't really seem to want to improve energy use or pollution anyway -- SUVs being a primary example -- but at least they are doing enough to distract attention, and preparing a little for a potential future where they might have to do more for conservation.

      But then they still have to figure out how to deal with traffic.

    • Re:End of Big Oil? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by hawk (1151) <hawk@eyry.org> on Thursday December 13, 2001 @10:40AM (#2698655) Journal
      > The U.S. auto industry and the U.S. oil industry are so tight that
      > work has been slowed or delayed for decades on all-electric cars.


      uh-huh.


      You left out "black helicopters," "pough carbuetor," and "trilateral commission" . . .


      :)


      hawk

    • Re:End of Big Oil? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Surak (18578) <surak@NoSpam.mailblocks.com> on Thursday December 13, 2001 @11:46AM (#2699011) Homepage Journal
      I've worked in the U.S. auto industry for nearly 3 years now, and having been born, raised and living in the Detroit area most of my life, the auto industry has been a big part of my existence.

      I can tell you that the U.S. auto industry and the U.S. oil industry are hardly in cahoots. The biggest problem is that the companies working on alternative fuel vehicles/electric vehicles/fuel cell vehicles basically keep screwing themselves over.

      One problem is that they develop a technology, spending billions of dollars. As soon as it's proven that they can't make cars that are affordable or practical to the general populace, they scrap it and start over, rather than introducing the vehicles to certain niche market segments, learning from that and making improvements, all the while collecting revenue from the people and companies that are buying the vehicles.

      Another problem is that they're too worried and too wrapped up in trying to make a vehicle that can be produced by existing manufacturing techniques. The car comapanies don't want to spend the required billions to completely retool all their factories to produce a different product.

      Of course you know what the funny thing is? The car companies completely retool their factories every few years ANYWAY and spend those billions ANYWAY, because their current method of designing and building tooling pretty much involves this: if there is a change in the body style (for instance), no matter how insignificant, START OVER and redesign and rebuild the tool FROM SCRATCH. Really. I've worked with the tooling companies for years, trust me. :)

      Shhh! Don't tell the car company execs that! They think they have billions invested in their current manufacturing techniques and that they haven't changed in years, when in fact they get completely overhauled every few years.

      The car companies really have no loyalties to the oil industry. They're whores. They'll do anything to sell vehicles. And they KNOW that they must develop fuel cell technologies and make them so that they are affordable and practical for the everyday person. Otherwise, they face extinction. I've seen their business plans, and they definitely involve exploring every technology possible, be it borax-derivative fuel cells, solar power, wind power, ethanol, batteries, other technologies. Whatever it takes.
      • Gasoline prices have been remarkably stable for the past quarter of a century. A decent car costs around $15,000, and a gallon of gas is a buck to a buck and a half. When a decent car cost $5000, a gallon of gas cost a buck to a buck and a half. People will drive all around town to save a dime to a quarter on a fill-up. Whatever the source of this odd behavior, reasonable perception of the actual costs of gasoline is not a part of it.
      • Gasoline is by no means the biggest cost of a car, unless it's a really cheap car that gets really good mileage, like my Neon, and that's gravy. Yet people have, historically, gone out and bought more fuel-efficient cars even when there is no way they could pay for it by increased efficiency.
      • Nowadays, everybody knows deep down in their brains that gas is dirt-cheap, even if they don't admit it. That's the reason for the lemming-like move to urban assault vehicles.
      • If U.S. oil is such an octopoid monster with infinite power, how come there's so much paranoia about OPEC and so many oil fields in the U.S. have been shut down? Microsoft may buy products, but they do have some people working on producing new versions. I'm sure that U.S. oil would have loved to keep Texas a major oil-producing state, but they couldn't.
      • U.S. oil makes money off of reselling, but you'd think that such a supposed conspiratorial monster would have done better than having U.S. gasoline prices be a quarter of what they are in Europe and much of the rest of the world.
      • Gasoline really is a good fuel. You get a lot of energy from burning it, and it stays where it's put. It doesn't diffuse through containers or require expensive metal hydrides that you have to run hot. It blows up, but there are a lot of things that blow up worse. The power characteristics of internal combustion engines are good, maybe not as good as steam which provides maximum torque when the engine is stalled, but easier to control. If the U.S. auto manufacturers had really wanted to support Big Oil to the exclusion of all else, they wouldn't be wasting their time at all with these basically electric vehicles and would be spending all the money on research into ceramic engines.
      • All-electric systems are hard to get right. There are a few all-electric model airplanes, but there has hardly been a massive switch to them. Is the vast, world-crusing model airplane industry part of the conspiracy, or is it possible that chemical systems do have an advantage over electric system if you have to carry your own power source?
  • by Harumuka (219713) on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @11:30PM (#2697197)
    There's an article [hfcletter.com] from '97 describing Chrystler's idea for the hydrogen cell fuel car. Interesting to compare their predictions and the result four years later. Quite thought-provoking.
  • by x136 (513282)
    ...Borax has gone up to $1.75 per gallon, and older folks are telling stories about how they could get a gallon of Borax for a nickel when they were kids.

    A nickel!
    • Yes Clean energy, really really clean energy. How clean you say? Its so clean you can used the old batteries to wash your soccer uniforms!

      Yes I know, its not very punny.
  • by nyquist_theorem (262542) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `mehgellebm'> on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @11:31PM (#2697208) Homepage
    Not that I expect them to take on the Dubya's oil folks, but Yahoo's Market Guide [yahoo.com] has some interesting background on the company, Millennium Cell. [millenniumcell.com]

    The article states that the process of charging up the borax produces pollution, though so does this not (for now) just represent the "make the pollution elsewhere" paradox of electric cars, whereby one uses coal-generated electricity to drive around instead of gasoline, substituting one fossil fuel's energy for another?
    • The article states that the process of charging up the borax produces pollution, though so does this not (for now) just represent the "make the pollution elsewhere" paradox of electric cars, whereby one uses coal-generated electricity to drive around instead of gasoline, substituting one fossil fuel's energy for another?

      So where does the energy come from to run the plant that refines / recyles the fuel? There's no real way to break the cycle that I can see.
    • by Dyolf Knip (165446) on Thursday December 13, 2001 @12:27AM (#2697391) Homepage
      The article states that the process of charging up the borax produces pollution, though so does this not just represent the "make the pollution elsewhere" paradox of electric cars, whereby one uses coal-generated electricity to drive around instead of gasoline, substituting one fossil fuel's energy for another?

      I'm assuming that you are only referring to pollution from generating power to generate hydrogen to run the reaction, not the reaction itself.

      In which case, I will point out the huge differences between the little generator in your car and the big generator downtown. The little one must be lightwieght and portable. It has to have a power-to-weight ratio sufficient to cruise itself around town. I don't know about you but I have yet to see a 200MW power station tooling around on the interstate!

      Furthermore, not every country thinks fossil fuels are wonderful like the US. France, for all their other shortcomings, generates most of their power with nuclear fuels. Much cleaner than coal. Furthermore, You can use things like that nifty solar chimney going up down under. True solar powered cars are a joke, but if the car charges off the grid and the grid were powered by solar (or hydro, or wind, or tides, or...) then wouldn't that be a very clean car indeed?

    • Great ideas, if they are great enough, can take on anyone - to take as an example something from a speech Guy Kawasaki made to a graduating class: companies that used to cut up ice and ship it worldwide used to flourish...and in some areas, it probably looked like a monopoly that could not be broken - but a paradigm shift occurred.

      That all became obsolete when along comes a method to make ice anywhere, and at anytime - but the original companies were focused on the wrong things - better saws, etc., completely missing the point - guess who survived? Then the next paradigm shift came when refrigeration was used...in a free market, the best ideas will eventually win out - they just need to be packaged in the right way, have the right backing, marketed ad infinitum to get the average Joe to notice, etc. Another great example of a paradigm shift that greatly marginalized a former monopoly: IBM almost completely missed the PC boat. I don't really buy that an attractive idea can be held back by a company or group of companies for very long - if the idea is truly viable. If that were possible, IBM/Digital would have held back the PC, and forced consumers to keep buying expensive Big Iron and expensive proprietary terminal hardware, etc. Paradigm shifts happen. Once there is enough momentum, and mindshare, etc., they seem to almost explode with force and get adopted at a rapid pace. Sometimes, it happens almost independently - the phone, for example. Also cryptography and calculus - I think all of these were developed independently at nearly the same time - I doubt this is an accident. If inventors/thinkers/whatever are really "standing on the shoulders of giants" then there reaches a point where it seems like these kinds of things almost naturally fall out of the R&D process. I bet there is some chaos theory about this somewhere, but anyway. I just think it is highly possible we may be on the verge of another paradigm shift...it may take a few decades, but hey, it's a start.

      I also won't deny that in many cases Big Brother and Big Oil or other such entites conspire(d) together to keep a certain product alive and well - a great example is diamonds - I don't know about any U.S. government involvement with that specifically, but diamond cartels have done a great job at making people think diamonds are rare or valuable. That's why government should stay, as much as possible, out of business dealings. Eventually, there will be corruption of the payoff type to provide protection for a certain product - campaign funds, lobbying, etc...in a truly free market, this would be kept to a minimum.
    • The "polution shifting" problem is much less of a problem than it might seem at first glance. Assume that all the extra electricity necessary to power all traditional electric cars is produced by combusting gasoline. However, instead of doing this in a million independent facilities (the engines of your car) with almost no monitoring and very loose ecological controls, it is done in a single facility carefully designed for maximum efficiency. So instead of people driving untuned decade old gas guzzlers, everyone is driving with the most efficient engine possible.

      In addition, since all the polution is produced in one place, many measures can be taken to ensure that the polution is minimized.

      Basically, it's like everyone getting their power from one big car that is constantly worked on by a team of engineers to ensure maximum efficiency.

      So in the worst case, electric cars are better.
      • The point you make about upgrading a centralised source to renewable making thousands of cars Green at once instead of having to upgrade every car is a good one. In addition, energy can be extracted in ways and from areas not practical within the car itself. You may put a solar cell on a car, but you can't take advantage of offshore wind or tidal power.

        Phillip.
        http://www.FutureEnergies.com/
    • An electric vehicle or hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle doesn't just displace pollution from the tailpipe to the smokestack- power plants tend to be more efficient than internal combustion engines (the real strength of the latter IMHO is the ability to easily produce variable power), and depending on the plant and energy source, may have lower emissions per unit energy produced, so there are some real environmental gains to be made.

      And b/c you aren't tied to petroleum as an energy source anymore, you can go really green and produce your electrical power or hydrogen (apply the former to water to get the latter) or boron hydrides using wind or solar energy- wind energy is economically competitive with the fossils today.

      SO as much as boron hydrides seem to have better energy density that today's batteries, I'm intrigued.
  • by rebelcool (247749) on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @11:31PM (#2697209)
    At least, not anymore.

    Being the clever industry they are, the oil companies LONG ago realized they were dependent on a limited resource. Indeed, the reserves wouldnt make it out of the 21st century.

    Hence they all now refer to themselves as 'energy companies', and work with all sorts of things, not just oil.

    Its in their best interests that things start moving off fossil fuels, given their limited supply, and people move onto things like hydrogen, which is pretty damn common. And they know this.

    You'll still be getting your fuel from them in 20 years...it just might not be gasoline anymore.

    • While I agree that Energy companies are into all kinds of alternative fuels - I must disagree on the 'best interest to move people onto hydrogen'.

      For as long as Oil is the major fuel source globally the Oil industry can fix prices, hold nations to ransom, and generally act like dicks.

      As soon as alternative fuels start to account for more than 10 - 15% of transportation they are mainstream - in that everyone that wants one can have one. At that point any government, city, company can simply say 'okay - we're going oil free' an average city council / police force / medium sixed company in the UK will replace 90% of existing vehicles within 3 years. Not long if you decide to buy fuel cell only in 2004.

      As soon as Oil has to COMPETE for markets against alternatives (not just oil from another supplier) prices will come down - they will have to - hopefully they will drop below viability and the oil cos will have to stop extraction.

      With an average field life cycle lasting upwards of 30 years there are a LOT of young fields which will only start paying for themselves 5, 6, 7 years from now. Shell doesn't want fuel cells to be common until at least 2015 for that reason.
      • As soon as Oil has to COMPETE for markets against alternatives (not just oil from another supplier) prices will come down - they will have to - hopefully they will drop below viability and the oil cos will have to stop extraction.

        Not necessarily. Fuel is not the only application that petroleum is used for. Petrochemicals are a prime example (who didn't see that one coming). Plastics and lubricants are others. Fuel may be a leading use for petroleum prodcts, but alternative energy sources won't necessarily cause everyone to stop producing it.
  • by slave2technology (112603) on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @11:39PM (#2697231)
    It looks like the actual fuel cell used is made by Ballard Power Systems [ballard.com]. From Millenium's home page: "We have a joint development agreement with Ballard Power Systems, initiated in October 2000, to further develop our hydrogen generation system for use with Ballard's portable power fuel cell products."

    Millenium makes the system that turns the sodium borohydride into hydrogen, then Ballard's fuel cell turns the hydrogen into electricity.

    I want one.

  • Why fuel cells? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Rolo Tomasi (538414)
    I mean it's nice, but much too complicated and expensive. Why not use cheap, existing technology, i.e. combustion motors? They can be fueled by alcohol, methane and even hydrogen (BWM is already series-producing a hydrogen-fueled 750 [spiegel.de]). We could have been driving on methane for decades, but the fact is, the oil companies have a lot to say in most governments, and without fuel, even the most high-tech car is useless.
    • Why would methane be that much better than gasoline anyway?

      All the organic sources are horribly inefficient (like ethanol) or they have a small capacity -- peat, for instance. Is there some great source for methane I don't know about? Why aren't they using it for power plants, then?

      And the non-organic sources are all mostly equivalent -- one day natural gas is cheaper, demand goes up and it's more expensive, and so on.

      At least for all the hydrocarbons.

  • Huge water tank? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ukryule (186826) <slashdot@nOSPAM.yule.org> on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @11:57PM (#2697292) Homepage
    To generate the hydrogen for the fuel cell the sodium boro-hydride is combined with water:
    NaBH4 + 2 H2O ----> 4 H2 + NaBO2

    Sodium Boro-hydride + water (+catalyst)-> hydrogen + Sodium borate
    So does this mean you need a huge water tank? I saw no mention of this in the article - but I would guess you'd need more water than you need petrol in current cars.
    • Well, according to them [millenniumcell.com] it contains about the same amount of energy per gram as gasoline. It's as dense as water [ox.ac.uk] (about), while gas is half as dense, so, assuming you don't have to dilute it in order to store it, your tank of sodium borohydrate should be smaller than an equivalent gas tank. However, you're right about the water.

      So, every 3+5+4 = 12 grams of sodium borohydrate (1 mole) need 2 * (18) = 36 grams (2 moles) of water. At that rate, you end up with four times the mass, which is over twice the volume, of water and sodium borohydrate together, as you'd need of gasoline.
      • Wait a sec. The reaction requires 48 g (12 of NaBH4 and 40 of water) of fuel to generate 8 g of hydrogen. Hydrogen has 3 times the energy density by mass of gasoline, so a corresponding amount of gas would be 24g, or about half of the sodium borohydride. Since gasoline is 2/3 as dense (.7 g/cm^3 compared to 1.07 g/cm^3), it should read "twice the mass and 30% more volume". Which is absolutely fantastic compared to storing the raw H2; that would take at best 3 times the volume and leak like a sieve.

        Either my chemistry is wrong (say it isn't so!) or they exaggerated slightly on their web page.

        • Haha, that should read "48 g (12 of NaBH4 and 36 of water)".
    • by spiral (42436) on Thursday December 13, 2001 @12:56AM (#2697473)
      >So does this mean you need a huge water tank?

      Um, just follow the reaction:

      NaBH4 + 2 H2O ----> 4 H2 + NaBO2

      Now, burn the H2:

      4 H2 + 2 O2 ----> 4 H2O

      So, we end up with MORE water than we started with. The other point to consider is that the conversion process is happening on the demand. You don't convert the entire tank of NaBH4 into H2 instantly, that would defeat then entire idea of "storing" the hydrogen.
      • You have a good point here, since the final stage of energy production involves the production of water in large ammounts then why not recycle the water that you are creating and use it in the first reaction, thereby minimizing the size of the water tank required. In fact the size of the water tank would only need to be large enough to provide enough water to initiate the reaction since the final stage produces more than enough water for an ongoing reaction, plus or minus some for evaporation and other losses...
  • The biggest problem with this approach is the distribution. Unfortunately, nobody really seems to give a rat's ass about the environment, so they'd rather buy a car that pollutes the air but can use gasoline available at every other street corner than take the risk of having to drive an extra 3 blocks to the new sodium borohydride station. Hell, you can buy a VW Jetta TDI (Turbo Direct Injection, diesel fuel, like you can't get that anywhere) that gets twice the gas mileage of the GLX (unleaded) version, pollutes less, and has performance comparable to their lower end gas models. You don't see the roads filled with TDIs, do you?

    Even if you could convince people to buy the cars, none of the gas stations will want to take on the expense of converting to the new stuff in the first place.

    A solution won't fly unless it's cheaper, easier, AND performs better than what people have now. Unless, of course, Microsoft's marketing people have at it.
    • You don't see the roads filled with TDIs, do you?
      If you did, then the price of diesel would go way up. When you refine oil you get a certain amount of diesel and a certain amoung of gas. The demand has to be proportionate, or the system gets messed up.

      This exact thing happened in the 70s, when diesel cars got (moderately) popular, and diesel prices went up past gas.

  • After reading the article (whoa did I just do that?), I find you are told in the beginning we are being given "the promise of pollution-free transportation" but at the end we find out it actually produces pollution from the natural gas process for the hydrogen component. Science will have to catch up with the idea to make it truely pollution free.

    Also there is a problem with that left over borax that has to be recycled and delivered back to the consumer. Once its used, its spoiled. You can't wash your clothes with it. It has to go through a process to recycle the chemical. How much pollution will that process create? Same problem with electric cars. If they are getting electricity generated from a dirty power plant are they really helping the environment? A truely Green car will have to have a power source that is clean from beginning to end not just from the tailpipe on.

    I think I will stick with my buck a gallon gasoline for the time being and use Mass Transit when I can. The ironic thing about the war in Afghanistan were the initial liberal handwringers screaming that Bush II was just trying to jack up oil prices to help out his evil, rich Texas buddies. As we see today, its dirt cheap -- bottled water costs more per gallon!!!

    • There is a wonderful pollution free form of transport out there... Sail boats. :)

      Anything that uses a chemical reaction to create power is going to create pollution of some form. We can get very cleaver about what form that will be. But the fundamental truth is that you are taking big complex molicules and breaking them up into smaller compounds and releasing energy. This applies to the Human body (and all other animals and plants) as well as cars, airplanes and powerplants.
      • Anything that uses a chemical reaction to create power is going to create pollution of some form.
        No, there's lots of chemical reactions that involve sunlight that aren't polluting, like growing a plant.
    • Re:Pollution Free? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dyolf Knip (165446)
      If they are getting electricity generated from a dirty power plant are they really helping the environment?

      Ok, most everything before this is quite correct, but it drives me crazy when people say this. You can't put a nuclear power plant in a car. Nor tidal power, nor hydro power, nor solar chimneys, nor any other type of clean, non-fossil-fuel source of power. But you can put them on the power grid and then run your car off it, so all of this is quite worthwhile.

      • There's all sorts of ways we could meet current electric demand in a cleaner way, but we aren't. Having electric cars wouldn't change that -- there's just as much an incentive to make clean electric now as there would be with electric cars. And apparently that incentive isn't great enough for us to do it now.

        Electric cars do open up the potential for using clean power. But with the tremendous efficiency problems electric cars have... clean power is not limitless any more than dirty power is.

        Right now we could all convert our heating systems to electric -- without needing any technological breakthroughs! But that wouldn't be any better for the environment -- quite the contrary, it would be much worse for the environment. Electric cars seem like the same thing.

        • A number of countries do not primarily rely on fossil fuels for their power grid. France, for instance, uses nuclear for something like 70% of its electricity. Nuclear of course has its own pollution, but it is of a type that can be stuffed into a bottle and dealt with. Much easier than, say, CO2 emissions. Also, stationary power plants are usually more efficient than your car, even counting in transmission losses.

          Point is, an electric car or or similar device dissociates the power generation from the power usage. You are free to improve one side of it without affecting the other. That is, an electric car doesn't care how you generate the power so long as it's there. Or the switchover from nasty coal to sparkling clean hydro doesn't change how you use the power, just how you make it.

          But you are right, even where this sort of thing already applies we seem stuck with oil. But automobiles are such a huge market that switching from fossil fuels in them would have an enormous impact on the power industry. They will have to simultaneously become the replacement for half the oil pumped out of the desert and deal with the fact that Americans don't want to be dependent on foreign oil anymore. In light of recent events, companies like Millenium Cell or power companies looking to expand into non-oil based plants need only do a "Get the US off of dependence on these wierdo Arab countries" ad campaign and they'd be swamped with supporters.

          • Point is, an electric car or or similar device dissociates the power generation from the power usage. You are free to improve one side of it without affecting the other.
            It seems like a bit of a premature optimization, though... we don't (practically/realistically) know what will really work. I'd be very interested to see what relative energy use and pollution is for different kinds of transportation.

            At one point -- admittedly, quite a while ago -- I had heard of studies that electric cars cause more pollution than normal cars. A large part of that might be in the form of heavy metals, due to the large battery packs. I've heard bad things about "light" rail as well, as moving 40 ton trains around (my, what passes for light these days) -- even on rails -- is not very efficient considering the average occupancy.

            You also have to consider the pollution due to production. I've heard people say that those with old cars should buy new cars that pollute less. I'm very suspicious of that -- the waste of getting rid of that old car and the pollution to produce the new car may be much more than any pollution created in the use of the old car. I don't really know one way or another -- I haven't seen many studies of overall pollution (though I have seen a book that talks about the pollution due to production of various goods).

            I suppose the ideas of free market environmentalism -- where try to expose the true environmental impact of items through price (through taxes) -- would make this clearer, as the price would reflect a balance of resources, labor, and environmental impact. It still wouldn't allow us to judge potential benefits that much, but at least we could understand the present situation.

  • by boopus (100890) on Thursday December 13, 2001 @12:08AM (#2697325) Journal
    The interesting thing about this article is not that they're selling a fuel cell based car, it's that they seem to have come up with a way to actualy power the fuel cell. For years we have been talking about hydrogen powered fuel cells "that's only byproduct is air and water", while ignoring the large amounts of energy needed to extract the most abundant elemet from the universe. Traditional hydrogen generation uses energy that (surprise) comes mostly from fossil fuels. If they've found a way to use borax instead of fossil fuels, I'll be very impressed.

    Unless they've altered the laws of physics, it will still take energy to do this "recharging" of borax that the article talks about, but hopefully this can be more effient than todays batteries, and will at least provide an alternative to oil that does not pollute the air.


    • No, you're smoking crack here boopus.

      Production of hydrogen can be done many ways, but all of them require energy in.

      They have no novel or interesting process for it. They haven't figured out a way to trick the first law of thermodynamics, and all of the efficiencies or inefficiencies of the hydrogen generation will be based on their actual energy source.

      -Rothfuss
  • Ancient chinese secret, eh...?
  • Ok lets say that in 5 years Crysler (Or Ford or GM Or whomever) puts out a van that runs on these fuel cells. Before I go out and buy one I want to know a few things:

    1) Where do I go for fuel?
    2) How much does it cost per mile for fuel?
    3) When it breaks where do I get it fixed?
    4a) When it needs a part where do I get it
    4b) How long does it take for the parts to show up?
    5) How much does it cost to insure?

    In the US we are real good at Gas and Diesel fuel you can get them almost anywhere. And enough things run on them that getting spare parts and people who know how to fix the things is not hard. I have seen cars that run on Compressed Natural Gas, but there is no way in hell I would buy one. Why because there are like 3 places in all metro Boston that I can get CNG. Where as the 87 octane gas that my Saturn wants can be gotten anywhere.

    Remember the cost of owning a car is not just the fuel prices.
  • by jjeffries (17675) on Thursday December 13, 2001 @12:33AM (#2697405)
    For example, engine output power will now be rated in scores of mule teams.
  • Safe? Nope (Score:5, Informative)

    by SpacePunk (17960) on Thursday December 13, 2001 @12:36AM (#2697415) Homepage
    Here's a couple of links.

    http://espi-metals.com/msds's/sodiumborohydride. pd f

    http://physchem.ox.ac.uk/MSDS/SO/sodium_borohydr id e.html

    Here's what the article says about Sodium Borohydride...

    "To solve those problems, Chrysler's system stores hydrogen in sodium borohydride powder, which is nonflammable and nontoxic"

    Here's what the data sheets say...

    "Stable, but reacts readily with water (reaction may be violent). Incompatible with water, oxidising agents, carbon dioxide, hydrogen halids, acids, palladium, ruthenium and other metal salts, glass. Flammable solid. Air-sensitive."

    "Toxic by ingestion. Risk of serious internal burns if ingested. Harmful if inhaled and in contact with skin. May cause burns or severe irritation in contact with skin or eyes.
    Toxicity data
    (The meaning of any abbreviations which appear in this section is given here.)
    ORL-RAT LD50 89 mg kg-1
    SKN-RBT LD50 4000 mg kg-1
    IPR-RAT LD50 18 mg kg-1

    Risk phrases
    (The meaning of any risk phrases which appear in this section is given here.)
    R15 R25 R34."

    Looks to me like big business is full of shit yet again.

    -
    • by jcr (53032) <jcr@nOspAm.mac.com> on Thursday December 13, 2001 @01:12AM (#2697547) Journal
      I don't see anything you've cited that indicates that the stuff is likely to blow up in a wreck. Gasoline is toxic, too, especially here in California where the air-quality geniuses have demanded that it include the carcinogenic MTBE.

      I'd also point out that you don't often encounter palladium, ruthenium and other metal salts on your daily commute.

      -jcr
    • You know what this means?
      ORL-RAT LD50 89 mg kg-1

      89 mg of this chemical per kilogram of body weight is the LD50 (lethal dose to 50% of rats it was administered to orally).
      (The funky bolding is to emphasize where each part fits in the LD specification.)

      So, if a rat weighs 500g, there's a 50% chance that feeding it 44.5 mg (a very tiny amount) of this stuff will kill it.

      Extrapolating this to an 80 kg (176-pound) human, ingesting only 7.12g of this chemical should be enough for a 50% chance of death (assuming it has the same toxicity to humans as rats).

      All in all, pretty nasty stuff.
  • The thing that gets me is the energy has to come from some where. Everyone has been touting electric cars however you still have to plug them in to charge the batteries, well where does that energy come from, in the US it comes primarily from large coal burning power plants. Trust me coal burning is probably one of the dirtiest forms of producing energy, worse then oil or gas by far. So yes, our cars might be emitting less emissions but we haven't made any real progress if we are spewing out tons of coal burning byproducts just to generate the electricity.

    My feeling is that we need to either harness solar power more effectively or other natural phenomena such as wind or wave. Maybe even Fusion has a chance eventually, regardless any of these methods will be considerably cleaner than fossil fuels.
    • Re:Energy (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Zachary Kessin (1372) <zkessin@gmail.com> on Thursday December 13, 2001 @12:53AM (#2697468) Homepage Journal
      There are a few ways in which electric cars reduce polution:

      1) They generaly don't use any power when they are at idle. So when you are stiting in trafic at least you are not using power.

      2) A large Gas-Turbine plant (Running what is basicly a Jet engine) can be more efficant that a Otto engine in a car. For one thing it does not have to go anywhere, and probably gets better maintinace.

      And ofcourse it moves the polution to somewhere else. But it would be good if we used less Coal.

      On the other had air polution has gone way down over the last 100 years. In 1905 or so My Great grandfather left London where he had go to from Russia because of all the polution from everyone burning coal for heat and cooking.
      • I agree we have made considerable progress however we haven't made progress on a fundamental level, our primary energy source is still the same, fossil fuels...
      • And ofcourse it moves the polution to somewhere else.
        It moves it to a centralized place where it is easier to install equipment to scrub the exhaust, resulting in lower total polutants emitted per end-user energy consumed.
      • 2) A large Gas-Turbine plant (Running what is basicly a Jet engine) can be more efficant that a Otto engine in a car. For one thing it does not have to go anywhere, and probably gets better maintinace.
        Last time electric cars came up here, I looked up energy efficiency statistics, and found that 2/3 of electricity is lost in transmition. That's one hell of a big drain on the over-all efficiency of the system -- one that sucks up the efficiency of that large Gas-Turbine plant pretty well, I imagine. I wish I still had the link for that, but it was hard to find the first time and it's too late for me to get into that again.
  • by "Zow" (6449) on Thursday December 13, 2001 @12:51AM (#2697461) Homepage
    the US (which just happens to be thought of as the largest borax reserve in the world).

    Humm, I had no idea we were viewed this way by the rest of the world. . .

    "Hi, I'm from the United States."

    "Oh, yes, big land of Borax!"

    "Well, um, sure, I guess. . ."

    1. Being in the auto industry myself... I've formed a few opinions.
    1. While consumers drive the introduction of new technology in the auto indusry (i.e., demanding diesel engines because of better gas mileage vs. sticking with good 'ol unleaded because you can get it anywhere), consumers don't even have access to many of the technologies developed by auto companies because our regulatory environment hasn't changed significantly enough to justify the cost of a full launch. That is, lots of great ideas end up sitting unfinished on the drawing board because their projects are killed when the suits don't see a high enough return on their investment based on current conditions (i.e., gov't regulations).
    1. To a large extent, the US government uses CAFE standards and other regulations as barriers to entry for more advanced foreign competitors. If GM or Ford were able to beat Honda and Toyota to market with environmentally friendly technology, we would see environmental regulations tighten much faster.
    1. As for now, the US auto companies are squeezing the light truck market for what its worth... and devoting little real attention (e.g., attention that produces vehicles/features that actually make it to market) to fuel economy. And until the Big 2.5 make a quantum leap past Japan in time to market with new technology or the US government tightens regulations, we'll continue to see Navigators and Escalades on the roads and dealer lots. The Chrysler soap-box derby machines will scarcely see the outside of auto shows for quite some time.
  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday December 13, 2001 @12:52AM (#2697464) Homepage
    This is just another way to store hydrogen. It doesn't make hydrogen. It doesn't make electricity from hydrogen. It's a tankage system for Ballard Power System fuel cells.

    The usual issues apply: finding a source for hydrogen, keeping the storage system and fuel cell from crudding up, and getting the system weight and cost down to manageable levels.

    It's still at the "concept car" stage.

  • Every time I see a "X made from Y" I think of

    -Guncotton is made from wood chips
    -Sodium cyanide is made from salt
    -Hydrochloric acid is made from salt
    -Carbon monoxide is made from coal and air

    NaBH4 is -nasty- stuff. You don't want to touch it, it will take the water right out of your skin. You don't want water near it until you want the hydrogen. It -burns-, too.

    Probably less dangerous than gasoline, but it is NOT as innocuous as laundry detergent.
  • by Embedded Geek (532893) on Thursday December 13, 2001 @01:00AM (#2697487) Homepage
    I'm dubious about fuel cells for the same reason electrics haven't caught on - the infastructure to refuel at a public "gas station" isn't there (as many /.ers have pointed out). My wife and I have been looking at an alternative: A hybrid car.

    We were leaning towards Toyota's Prius [toyota.com], although Honda makes one too (the Insight, I believe). Can't speak for Honda, but Toyota is very serious about this, selling them cheap at about $25K (and you get to deduct $2000 on your Federal income taxes. Some states give you incentives, too). Obviously, they're hoping to make it up on market share (not like the dot-coms, I hope!) and maintenance. We test drove one and it was nice, with the pickup of a small V6, but it was uncanilly quiet -- your brain thinks you're coasting even when you're cruising or accelerating slightly. AT 50+ MPG and the tax deductions, we were hoping to come out ahead instead of maintaining our '94 Corolla.

    ...until our company laid my wife off. Damn recession. Still, the Prius is a pretty cool car. ;)

    • Obviously, they're hoping to make it up on market share (not like the dot-coms, I hope!) and maintenance.
      Actually, they might be underpricing them because of regulations. Car manufacturers (by law) have to sell a certain number of efficient cars for every inefficient car they sell -- so very efficient cars are sometimes sold cheaper to allow the company to sell more (high-margin) inefficient cars.
    • The Prius is a great car. My wife and I have had ours for a little over a month. It's quiet, roomy, fun to drive (we fight over who gets to drive it), and totally rocks on mileage and emissions. It's rated at 45mpg/highway and 52mpg/city, and is SULEV (Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle) -- the only thing cleaner running is a ZEV electric vehicle. The higher rating in city driving is because of lower speeds, and taking advantage of regenerative braking.

      It's funny -- the car has a touch-screen display that shows your mileage and generated energy over 5 minute intervals, and besides being fun to play with, it has made us better drivers. We have a graphic indication of when some driving habit uses more or less fuel, and it's become a fun challenge to maximize our mileage. We've wondered if they made these kinds of displays required in cars, if all people might not become more efficient drivers, even in mega-SUVs.

      We looked at the Honda Insight as well. It gets better mileage, but is only a two-seater with very limited cargo and carrying capacity. There was a local news story a while back about a couple of guys that bought one for commuting. They are both large-framed guys, and it turns out they were over the safe weight limit. After some prodding by the reporter, the dealer took back the car because the buyers hadn't been told about this problem, even though they'd told the dealer specifically the two of them planned to use it together.

      We know the Prius is still burning fossil fuels and polluting, but it's a big step in the right direction. A friend and I took the Prius to Yosemite a couple weeks after we got it, and to point out the difference, we were parked next to a Ford Expedition at a spot along the Merced River. The Prius was off (we were off taking photos), and the driver of the Expedition was sitting in it with the engine running. It wasn't cold, it wasn't raining, so it was boggling to us why he'd be sitting there instead of actually looking at the scenery, and with the engine running.

      Back to the topic -- I really hope Chrysler, Millenium, et al, can get this working. As other posts have pointed out, fuel cells aren't a new energy source, but an energy storage mechanism. Whether it's compressed hyrdogen, borax, or whatever, it takes energy to produce and distribute. But it will be another step in the right direction, just a hybrids or other very efficient vehicles are a good first step.

  • Sounds promising. I wonder though, how long it takes to fuel up? Does the hydrogen simply get absorbed into the borax as easily as gasoline pours into a tank, or are we looking at minutes or hours to recharge the fuel supply?

    I've gotta say, I love the idea of fueling stations that need nothing more than sunlight, water and a compressor to generate the product, though.

    -jcr
    • I've gotta say, I love the idea of fueling stations that need nothing more than sunlight, water and a compressor to generate the product, though.

      Won't happen. Electrolysis of Water to produce hydrogen is hideously inefficent. No commerical production of hydrogen is done this way, it's almost all steam reforming of methane. Good link on the process here [ieagreen.org.uk]. The only likely alternative source of hydrogen in the future is bioengineered alge, such as described here [doe.gov]. However this is probably still decades away from displacing steam reformation as the primary source of hydrogen.

  • by chriscmp (5983)
    Check out this MSDS [bu.edu]

    And I'm still not sure where we're going to get all that hydrogen. In the US most of it is made with steam reformation of Natural Gas. This releases all the C02 from the methane into the atmosphere, and isn't particularly efficient either. Creating H2 with electricity is also possible but highly inefficient even when compared to the lowly lead-acid battery. Finally, where do we get our electricity from?... Oil and Coal. Back to where we started from. Watch out for the shell game folks!!!!

    Still we have to do something about our oil gluttony. I think some better fuel efficiency standards would probably be the best thing.

    • Still we have to do something about our oil gluttony. I think some better fuel efficiency standards would probably be the best thing.
      That will only go so far. We have a long-term problem. The amount of energy needed increases every year, and even if we keep insisting on better fuel efficency now, it will take 10-15 years before the effect is fully felt (I drive a 10-yr old car, how many others do too?).

      What we really need is a way to take all the little tiny inefficent motors and shift that power burden to larger motors (generators). It is much easier to refine and improve upon 10,000 motors than it is 100,000,000 motors. At least with the 10,000 we can systematically and easily update and improve them.

      So in the short term, yeah, fuel efficeny may patch things up. But at some point that increase in efficency will not keep pace with new power demand for the world. We need to address the long term creation, storage, distribution, and delivery of power. And right now it's simply not happening.

      So yeah, lets throw some short term things into the mix, but lets not forget the big picture.
  • My bottle has a big skull and crossbones on
    it, right next to a little picture of a flame.

    The text says: Contact with water liberates
    highly flammable gasses. Toxic if swallowed.
    Causes burns.

    Sodium borohydride is a strong reducing agent!
    It turns just about any metal cation (e.g. Fe+2,
    Cu+2, etc.) into the metal!

    According to the Merck, it also reduces:
    aldehydes, ketones, acids, esters, acid chlorides,
    disulfides, and nitriles. Ouch! Not exactly
    inert or friendly. A mouthful of gasoline isn't
    gonna kill you, but this stuff'll really do you in.
  • The FAQ says:

    The weight-energy storage is almost equivalent to gasoline. This means it generates about the same amount of energy per gallon of fuel as gasoline.


    So, if this is true, wouldn't an electric car powered by this with fuel cells probably get better mileage than most gasoline cars? A gasoline engine is burning the fuel, giving up like 90% of it's energy in the form of heat. While fuel cells, and electric motors also produce heat, it's not nearly as much and a much larger percentage of the energy can be used for actually powering the vehicle.
  • The are located right across the parkng lot.
    They have been testing this engine thing for years
    in many different cars.. even Suv's. Its totally silent at low speed since it runs off batteries.. once it runs out of juice or needs more horsepower the very small engine kicks on to power the electic system. Its realy wierd seeing a suv moving across the parking lot totally silent. Suposedly they also have regenerative braking hooked up as well. Everything runs off this soapy mixture (which I no know as borax.. ) the soapy mixture is put torhough a catalist which generate hydrogen on the fly hence there is no hydrogen stored in the car.
  • I read the blurbs on the Millenium website, but they don't answer two questions which seem important. Okay, this borax solution produces "hydrogen on demand" (TM), great. It leaves behind a safe, non-polluting, "recyclable" compound and emits no hydrocarbon exhaust. Sounds all hunky-dory.

    Except a couple of nagging questions. Like, how do you recycle the waste product (sludge?) to make it usable again? You have to reintroduce hydrogen back into the waste product to make it usable again, but that hydrogen has to come from somewhere. They mention seawater as the potential source of hydrogen in this process. Okay, true, water is two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen. But you have to expend energy to extract the hydrogen. Lots of it. Where does that energy come from? Power plants, most likely. Power plants that burn fossil fuels, for the most part.

    From what I understand, it's more efficient to burn the fossil fuels directly in your car's engine than to burn it in a power plant, transmit the energy somewhere, store it in some sort of battery or fuel cell, and use that to power your car. Even if that's not the case, you still have to burn fossil fuels, nullifying the supposed benefit of this new "clean" technology. Plus, we're still beholden to "big oil".

    The other question is, what happens to the waste product? I guess it would go into some sort of holding tank in your vehicle or something Does that mean you would have to not only fill your tank when you go to the borax station to refuel, you would also have to empty the waste tank?

    Oh well, at least this seems more useful than cold fusion.
    • You hit it on the head. Unlike the crap marketing campaigns try feeding you, there's very few ways to produce "clean" energy. People are gullible enough to drive electric cars thinking they're so fucking cool no not spitting out any exhaust. They can't seem to grasp that for every kilowatt they shove into their car's battery the powerplant burning fossil fuels is spitting out as much or more pollution than the 4 cylinder ULEV engine their electric system replaces. Others will scream about hydroelectric power or solar power being clean yet don't realize the true cost of building big dams or manufacturing solar cells. Industrial societies are very taxing on their environments and need to learn to better manage their resources and reduce waste. Electric and fuel cell cars don't reduce much of anything, they just redistribute problems that already exist.
  • by Eric Smith (4379) <eric@brouha[ ]com ['ha.' in gap]> on Thursday December 13, 2001 @02:51AM (#2697838) Homepage Journal
    Could this be the start of the end of big oil
    No, because to produce large quantities of hydrogen, you still need a lot of energy. Right now the only cost-effective energy sources for that are fossil fuels, nuclear, and hydroelectric, and in the US we don't seem to be building more nuclear power plants. Not much new hydro either, AFAIK.

    What fuel cells do for you is provide a better way to store energy. The energy still has to come from somewhere.

  • The automobile needs to be redesigned from the ground up. We're still using the same basic design that Henry Ford popularized: cheap, bulky, easy to manufacture, and constructed mostly of steel. The average car weighs 20 times more than the driver. Right there, you cut efficiency of getting from point A to B by twenty-fold even if you had an impossible perfectly efficient engine. Obviously, there's a limit to how efficient a vehicle can be following law of diminishing returns as you try to make the vehicle and motor lighter. However, we're nowhere remotely near that point with the 99% inefficient metal beasts we drive today.

    Food for thought: a 300lb. hybrid recumbent bike / motorcycle design, somewhat bullet shaped, made out of modern composite plastics with large crumple zones and a strong rollbar. It has interchangable wheels for different seasons (if necessary) and generally has a very low rolling resistance. The vehicle is powered by a 10hp electric motor, which (if the vehicle had no rolling or air resistance) and assuming a 200lb driver, would reach 35mph in 3.7s. Reasonably, lets say 6s, but less if you decide to help out by pedaling. Obviously the power source is the greatest weight. Fuel cells would be ideal, but even without, modern lithium ion batteries would be a decent replacement at 300W/kg power density and 100Wh/kg energy density. 10hp = 7460W, so you'd need about 55 pounds for the Li-Ion batteries. A 1000W solar array ($5000), will fully charge the batteries in about 3-4 hours in full sunlight. So now you have a very cheap vehicle which will last nearly forever (except the batteries and tires), require virtually no maintenance, and once paid for, be free to operate as long as you live somewhere with halfway decent sun-hours. Who wants to build one? (-;
    • It's called a Moped (your's is just a high-tech, buzzword moped), and the first accident involving an 18-wheeler will crush you like a fly. Seriously, I want a LOT OF STEEL around me when I'm whizzing down the highway at 75 mph. I don't see 18-wheelers getting smaller or going away.
    • See here [google.com] and here [enterprise.net].

      The Sinclair C5 was a plastic-bodied electric trike with pedal assist, and was supposed to be the Next Big Thing at one point. But, nobody bought it. It was about an order of magnitude cheaper than what you're suggesting, too.

      Basically, a car has to be a certain minimum size to be useful to people. Even the existing subcompact cars are too small for 99% of the public. For most Americans, it has to hold 4 people and their luggage. A trike has no chance in the market whatsoever.

      Jon Acheson
  • Will it get 20 Mule-Power?

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurence of the improbable. - H. L. Mencken

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