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Hydrogen Vehicle Generates Its Own Fuel 662

Posted by michael
from the baby-steps dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Our friends at The Arizona Republic have the scoop: 'The truck is hydrogen-powered and creates its own fuel from solar energy and water, a technical feat that rivals the advanced technology being researched by major auto companies and universities. The four-cylinder engine is tuned to run on hydrogen, which is produced by a hand-built electrolysis system mounted in the bed.' You can also help this project."
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Hydrogen Vehicle Generates Its Own Fuel

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  • Brilliant idiots... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Duncan3 (10537) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @12:33PM (#10461406) Homepage
    Solar power woohoo... lets put it on a vehicle that weighs as much as a small house!

    Brilliant!
  • by greg_barton (5551) * <[moc.oohay] [ta] [notrab_gerg]> on Thursday October 07, 2004 @12:34PM (#10461410) Homepage Journal
    From http://centralphysics.com/discuss.htm [centralphysics.com] before it was slashdotted...

    History

    Since the Mid 1990's Central High School in Phoenix has been involved in Alternative Fuel Vehicles. Originally the club was called "The Electric Vehicle Club" and we built and raced an electric car. Over the last 10 years our interests have broadened to many areas of environmental technologies and thus we are now the E-tech Club.

    During the 2000-2001 school year, Senior Laci Blackford, president of our club (then the electric vehicle club) proposed that we design and build a hydrogen vehicle. Laci began research and some electrolysis design that year. Over the next 3 years several students were involved, but it was club president Soroush Farzin who, with Sponsor Mr. Waxman, coordinated the progress and turned Laci's idea into reality!

    This project, to make a cleaner transportation vehicle, was motivated by the threats to our health and environment due to automobile-related pollutants. The hypothesis was that a vehicle can be powered by water and sunlight. The ultimate goal of this four-year project was to design and build a vehicle powered by hydrogen, which is generated on the vehicle from water and sunlight. The basic components of this include electrolysis cells, solar panels, a hydrogen purifying system and a storage system, all of which are mounted on a vehicle with an internal combustion engine that has been modified to run on hydrogen.

    In fall 2001, we began by building a 5-watt solar-hydrogen unit and researching many safety issues associated with this technology. During the 2002-2003 school year, a 4-cell solar-hydrogen producing unit with over 320 watts of power and a purifying system were built.

    In school year 2003-2004 an entirely new electrolysis unit was assembled, various components such as float valves were designed, built and tested. A storage system was also designed and tested. Ultimately, a 1998 Chevy S-10 pickup truck was purchase and modified to run on hydrogen. The solar-hydrogen system was mounted on the truck and the first vehicle in the world to run on sunlight and water was working.

    Conclusion

    Solar-Hydrogen Transportation Vehicle was motivated by threats to our health and environment. It was planned to build a self-sufficient vehicle that was powered by a renewable source of energy, hydrogen. This three-year project proved that a vehicle can be engineered so that it is capable of creating its own fuel by using water and sunlight, which are literally free.

    This project proves that it is possible for a vehicle to produce its own fuel from sunlight and water. A Solar-Hydrogen Producing Unit has been made, which is capable of producing, purifying, pressurizing and storing hydrogen. Also, a vehicle has been converted to run on hydrogen, which is capable of doing whatever a regular vehicle can do. This project gathered known technologies and put them together to make a new field of technology.

    The members of this project understand that this vehicle is not the ultimate solution to conventional gasoline-powered cars, but if it is shown that a car can run on water and sunlight, improvements may eventually lead to a practical alternative to fossil fuel powered vehicles.

    The first air plane flew a few feet before it landed. Today, airplanes fly between continents. This is the example the club has kept in mind throughout the whole project.

    Note: Soroush has moved onto studying mechanical engineering at Arizona State University and is interested in high performance engines. Laci is in her final year of her undergraduate program in mechanical engineering at Cooper Union College in New York City. She has continued her research in hydrogen production as well as storage in metal hydrides.

  • by Engineer-Poet (795260) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @12:44PM (#10461560) Homepage Journal
    And it makes you wonder. When you've got a very limited amount of power input, you want to get it to your load (the axle) as efficiently as possible. Is electrolysis and an internal-combustion engine even remotely competitive with batteries for that purpose?

    From what I've seen, the answer is no (electrolyzer @ ~70%, engine @ 25%, overall efficiency ~18%; batteries ~70%). It appears that you could get 4x as much range out of a solar-battery system, even more than you can get out of an electrolysis/fuel cell cycle.

  • by Brigadier (12956) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @12:45PM (#10461564)


    Going directly from electricity to mechanical energy is much more effcient that using electricity to liberate hydrogen, then using the chemical energy from the hydrogen to creat mechanical energy. in the latter process a significant amount of energy is lost to heat and a very mechanically in-effcient system (52% See link below.) also solar panels are only about 22% effecient as is. So all in all this makes a cool science experiment for the kids but it isn't proactical by any means.

    http://ecen.com/content/eee7/motoref.htm
    http:/ /www.qrg.northwestern.edu/projects/vss/docs/ Power/2-how-efficient-are-solar-panels.html

  • Not sustainable? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Control Group (105494) * on Thursday October 07, 2004 @12:46PM (#10461581) Homepage
    Someone correct my figures if I'm off, but according to my scratch calculations, this isn't theoretically sustainable without major advances in engine efficiency. Given 3.3 kWh/m^2 (which is average solar radiation in Seattle, according to here [noaa.gov]), and assuming your average car is about 5m x 2m (rough numbers, recall), it looks like you've got 49.5 kWh to play with.

    Then, given 125,ooo BTU/gallon of gasoline, and around 3400 BTU/kWh (from here [jwiwood.com]), you're looking at 37 kWh/gallon of gasoline. No current gasoline-engine car I know of burns less than 1.3 gallons per hour under any normal driving conditions.

    Now, obviously, Seattle is the worst-case location in the continental US, but even in the best location (AZ, at 5.7 kWh/m^2), you've got to have a car which burns less than 2.3 gallons per hour. The more fuel-efficient of modern cars hit this pretty well, but I don't think the average is near that.

    Or am I making some gross, embarassing error in my figuring?

  • who remembers (Score:3, Informative)

    by pair-a-noyd (594371) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @12:48PM (#10461593)
    that movie about 10 years ago named "The Water Engine" where some guy in the 30's invented an engine that ran on water and some shyster lawyers screwed him around and stole his invention then he ended up dead.

    hmmmm...
  • by azaris (699901) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @12:48PM (#10461597) Journal

    It seems to me that someone who lives in a tightly knit community and only drives a few miles to work and school should invest in a bicycle.

    Except if the tightly knit community is located in a geographical area that gets snow for four months of the year, at which point cycling to work/school every day gets to be at best inconvenient if not downright dangerous for a good time of the year.

  • by gatzke (2977) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @12:48PM (#10461607) Homepage Journal

    Solar / Wind / nuclear are effectively clean energy production, no CO2 emmissions and good almost indefinitely.

    You really need to look at overall efficiency. If you use solar to make electricity, then use that electricity for hydrolosys making H2, then use that in a fuel cell, is that more or less efficient than just charging a battery. From what I hear, you have less loss, more energy density, and lower cost using batteries right now.

    Supposedly, making H2 from H20 and electricty is around 50% efficient. The fuel cell adds another loss, so you get maybe 25% of your electricy you managed to collect to the motor.

    There is no clear cut solution, but there are many options and many things one must consider when looking into these problems.
  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @12:50PM (#10461627) Journal
    Blocking alternative fuel depends entirely on the block working. If somehow such a blockade is broken by some third party then the fuel companies will have spend a lot of money on giving someone else a free market.

    It is like price fixing, keeping the prices high by making agreements between all the parties only works if all the parties keep to it. This is hard as in it will also make it extremely lucrative to then go under the fixed price and get all the business.

    So the fuel companies are researching very hard because to them it is better to be in the future the hydrogen industry at the cost of some profit to their current petroleum industry then risk a future where they will be the petroleam industry when the market has gone hydrogen. Further more there will still be a market for oil, just what do you think plastics come from?

    Such a system as this would still have to be built by someone. BP/Shell doesn't care how they make money. Who does care? Goverments, no fuel tax on hydrogen yet. Same with bio-diesel. Or how about the arab nations. Without the dependency of oil exactly who would give a shit anymore?

  • by kognate (322256) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @12:53PM (#10461653)
    This has been studied at length. the Mars direct people even built a machine to do it.

    The paper, called:

    Mars In-Situ Resource Utilization Based on the Reverse Water Gas Shift: Experiments and Mission Applications

    can be found at: http://www.nw.net/mars/

    And you're right, the density does suck. Another problem with this truck is wrapped up in the same reason trees don't run down antelopes. The sun is a great power source, but it's just not enough for some applications.
  • by bfields (66644) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:00PM (#10461748) Homepage
    Except if the tightly knit community is located in a geographical area that gets snow for four months of the year, at which point cycling to work/school every day gets to be at best inconvenient if not downright dangerous for a good time of the year.

    Nah, it's not that bad. People in northern climes ride year round too. Good sites for ideas include icebike [rcn.com] and bikewinter [bikewinter.org]. Also I wrote up some suggestions on riding in winter [fieldses.org].

    Where I live in Michigan it's pretty easy as the streets usually get cleared early on all but a few of the worst days, so it's not really the ice and snow as just a matter of dressing right for the weather. (Main points: protect extremities, but don't dress *too* warm, since you'll warm up as you exercise.)

    --Bruce Fields

  • Re:Flamebait? (Score:2, Informative)

    by ackthpt (218170) * on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:01PM (#10461769) Homepage Journal
    The truck is hydrogen-powered and creates its own fuel from solar energy and water
    Wow looks like the Republicans are getting all the mod points today!

    This was the subject of a MAD Magazine cartoon, about 30 years ago, drawn IIRC, by Al Jaffee: A man invents a car that runs on water and is hauled away by government agents due to the threat it posed to the big oil companies and their grip on Washington.

    30 years later, the idea still rings with some conspiracy theorists that the powers that be don't want alternative transportation and fuels to work.

  • by bdeclerc (129522) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:03PM (#10461793) Homepage
    Wrong. Just think about it:
    The solar panels are used to split water into Hydrogen & Oxygen, the Hydrogen engine then recombines hydrogen & oxygen to produce energy. How much energy? Exactly the amount needed to split the water in the first place. SO even with 100% conversion efficiency (a physical impossibility) you need to get just as much energy from the solar panels as you later need to move the car. In reality, the conversion is way below 100%, so you need even more.
    Hydrogen on earth is nothing more than a special kind of "battery", it is used to "store" energy, not to create it out of thin air...
  • No matter how many ways I try to parse your post, you're not making any sense. Allow me to explain:

    The energy used by the car for propulsion is the energy already stored in the water.

    No, it's stored in the hydrogen. The water is "pre-burned" hydrogen and oxygen. At a perfect conversion rate, it takes exactly as much energy to convert water to hydrogen and oxygen as you get from making hydrogen and oxygen into water.

    In other words, you add energy to the system and it gets stored in a fuel form. The energy doesn't already exist in the system.

    The energy from the solar panels is not the limiting factor.

    Eh? Let's say we get 200 watts/m^2 of sunlight. The solar panels are only going to be ~20% efficient. That brings us down to 40 watts of energy. The electrolyzer is probably about 50% efficient, bringing our final storage rate to ~20 joules per second. That works out to about 72 kilojoules per hour. Which at a "mere" 2kw of constant use would provide exactly 36 seconds of driving time. (Actually less due to further inefficiencies.)

    They'd actually get more power by storing the solar power in batteries, then using an electric drive. The only trick is that batteries tend not to be as energy dense as hydrogen.

    Now, it might be true that even at perfect efficiency, you'll never get enough hydrogen from the water using solar power, but that's a different calculation that what you're doing.

    What calculation am I doing? Energy is energy, and power is power. You've only got so much of it in a system, so you have to make the most of it.
  • by timster (32400) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:07PM (#10461851)
    More specifically, the "water" state is a low-energy state (chemically speaking) whereas the "oxygen+hydrogen" state is a higher-energy state. Energy (from the sun) is used to break the bonds; since this a move from a low state to a high state it requires energy input. Then when the two are reacted together into the low energy state, the energy is released.

    None of the energy that moves the car is energy that was in the water in the first place. The water/hydrogen conversion is actually just a way to store the solar energy.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:11PM (#10461899)
    Solar Panel [otherpower.com]'s do not take more energy to make than they produce in their lifetimes.
  • by gidds (56397) <slashdot@@@gidds...me...uk> on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:13PM (#10461919) Homepage
    Just on the off-chance that you were being at all serious, you should know that methane itself doesn't stink -- it has no odour at all. That's why gas companies have to add in a separate chemical to make it smell. If you associate a smell with methane, it's probably the trace organic chemicals, especially the sulphur-containing ones, that are also produced when digesting food...
  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:14PM (#10461928) Homepage
    A few miles per day? That sounds about right. Must be on the flat.

    They say they have four solar panels. Suppose they're Shell Solar SP150 units. [realgoods.com] Four of those would about cover a truck. You'd get about 600 watts in bright sunlight, about a tenth of what they need to move the truck at all. They might get 5KWH per day, or 18 MJ, if they're lucky. One gallon of gasoline is about 100 MJ. So they're getting no more than 1/5 of a gallon of gas equivalent per day.

    With batteries, you'd get about 80% of that energy out of storage. Electrolyzing hydrogen and then burning it is less efficient. Probably a lot less efficient.

    They're pushing a pickup truck around, so they'd get maybe 15-20MPG. So it looks like they can drive maybe two miles on the flat on a good day.

    Of course, if you park it all week, you can go maybe ten miles on the weekend.

    With super-light cars and ultra-expensive gallium arsenide photocells, things look better. But no way is putting some solar panels in a pickup truck ever going to accomplish much. The energy just isn't there.

  • by Eminence (225397) <akbrandt@nOSPam.gmail.com> on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:18PM (#10461982) Homepage

    I seem to recall reading somewhere that ethanol requires more petroleum to create than it saves when used in internal combustion engines...

    Are you kidding? Ethanol was mass produced long before petroleum was anything more than a medicine. After all, people were drinking for centuries.

    It only takes some heat to distillate it. And heat can come from many sources.

  • The 200w/sq. m is based on monocrystalline silicon PV.

    Actually, I was speaking of 200w/m^2 before PV conversion. At 1au, the Earth receives about 1.3kw/m^2 in space. By passing through the atmosphere, most of that energy is lost.

    The best you could do is ~1kw/m^2 somewhere near the equator.

    With PV losses, your actual power produced will range from 40 watts/m^2 to an absolute maximum of 200 watts/m^2.
  • by jubei (89485) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:40PM (#10462271)
    Actually, hydrogen is so small that it leaks out of pretty much any container.
  • by hankwang (413283) * on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:45PM (#10462344) Homepage
    On an average weekend I ride over 100 miles on a bicycle, averaging about 20 mph. The amount of food and water required for these rides is actually very minimal and close to what I normally consume.

    At that kind of speed (pretty impressive, unless you're doing that in a flock), your muscles deliver 200 W to the bicycle, which is about 800 W in terms of burned food. For those 100 miles, that is 14 MJ, equivalent to 0.9 kg carbohydrates, or 0.4 kg of fat/oil. A normal daily consumption for an inactive adult male is around 10 MJ. I strongly doubt that your inefficient metabolism is converting 14 MJ per non-weekend day into heat. It is more likely that you use your body fat (a couple of kg) and the glycogen storage in the muscles and liver (up to 700 g carbohydrates for a trained athlete). The rest of the week you replenish your fuel stock.

    My experience is that I feel too tired to be hungry after a single day of cycling, which seems to agree with your observation. However, during a cycling holiday (3 weeks, 5-7 h per day) I surely eat massive amounts.

    Anyway, fat and gasoline have about the same energy content, so a fast cyclist does 400 km per liter (1000 miles per gallon). Which is quite efficient compared to a car.

  • You don't drive a car 100% of the time.

    Correct.

    The Solar panels would be potentially working around the clock (Very little at night)

    Sort of correct. They'll produce only a trickle of power in the morning and evening, with their maximum output around noon time. At night the amount of power they produce is too small to measure.

    And even some on a cloudy day.

    Correct.

    If you had a Cell capable of storing X energy + the time running the car and the hydrogen/water conversion would it not be possible in a period of driving lets say 1hr to run the car every day of the week at full potential?

    Well, if you read my post, you'd know you'll probably get an average of about 36 seconds of drive time per hour. Since one hour is 3,600 seconds of drive time, you'd need about 100 hours of charge time for every hour you drive.
  • by Eminence (225397) <akbrandt@nOSPam.gmail.com> on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:32PM (#10462868) Homepage

    Ok., so I did some research and it is really better than I thought. They were wise enough to start a program for biomass fuels after the first fuel crisis in early 70-ties, since 1979 there were 5.4 million cars running on ethanol in Brasil. Wow! This source (PDF) [renewables2004.de] describes the program. It turns out that combined effect was beneficial for the environment, but it wasn't cost effective in the late eighties and early nineties due to low oil prices. But now, prices are rising again so...

    Some other links: 1 [msn.com] 2 [fleet-central.com]

  • by NanoGator (522640) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:35PM (#10462909) Homepage Journal
    "It seems to me that someone who lives in a tightly knit community and only drives a few miles to work and school should invest in a bicycle.'

    It's easy to oversimplify this down to 'get a bike', but there are a couple of things to consider.

    1.) It adds a significant amount of time to your job. One can spend 10 minutes driving, or half an hour riding. That does't include the time it takes to change clothes, assuming you work up a sweat. A coworker friend of mine used to ride to work, and he mentioned he had to leave an hour before work. Dunno if that's true in every case, but it is a significant amount of time lost. I never asked him about it, but he stopped using his bike to go to work shortly after his child was born.

    2.) Who's to say that their course home is safe after dark? I'm thinking about my current job. I don't think I'd be in danger of being mugged or anything, but there is a long dark road with a 50 mph limit. I think I could reroute, but it'd be at a significant distnace cost. I'm sure others would have similar concerns.

    My point? I'm not saying you're wrong. However, I do hope you'll consider that one needs to meet more than a couple of conditions to consider switching to a bike to get to work. Mass transit is a much broader option.
  • The Oglemobile (Score:2, Informative)

    by honestmonkey (819408) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:40PM (#10462972) Journal
    Interestingly enough, this has already happened (which may in fact be what you are alluding to). In the late 1970's in El Paso, TX, there was an inventer (Tom Ogle) who said he had a car that would get something like 100 mph or more, although I think that some more "reasonable" claims were in the 55-60 range. Drove it to Phoenix, AZ on a couple gallons of gas as I recall. Everyone said it must be fake, couldn't happen. I had a physics teacher at the time that gave extra credit to anyone doing a paper on what the minimum energy needed to move a car given certain assumptions.

    Anyway, Ogle was found dead in 1981 of an apparent suicide. Conspiracy theories abounded. This was in my neighborhood, and I often went by the garage he worked at. I may have even met him once, but he was a few years ahead of me in school. There are patents of his device. Here's a link: http://www.rexresearch.com/ogle/1ogle.htm

  • by gordyf (23004) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @03:08PM (#10463352)
    aluminum oxide ... a key ingredient for Thermite
    Nope. [wikipedia.org]
  • Re:The Ice Age (Score:5, Informative)

    by pclminion (145572) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @03:10PM (#10463371)
    Widespread use of solar would reflect some sunlight, and capture the rest, rather than having it absorbed into the ground. This would, at a certain scale, cool the earth--less enegy being converted to heat.

    No. Thermodynamics. All energy eventually ends up as heat. Unless you intend to permanently store the collected energy, it will eventually end up as heat again. We just had the opportunity to do something useful with it before that happened.

    Now, let's look at the total energy available from the sun, and compare that to what we use. The earth's radius is 6378 kilometers. Its cross sectional area is therefore 127,800,491 square kilometers. Assuming a solar constant of 1370 watts per square meter, this means that, on average, 175,086 terawatts of solar energy fall on the Earth's surface.

    In comparison, the current rate of power consumption by humans (and this includes gasoline and other fuels, not just electric consumption) is about 5.5 terawatts.

    Thus, we are only using about 1 part in 32,000 of the available power at the surface of the earth. If we produced the entire 5.5 terawatts using solar energy, we would have to intercept 1/32,000 of the incoming solar radiation -- in other words, we would change the Earth's albedo by 0.003%. Now, given the fact that solar panels are only about 25% efficient, we must multiply by 4. So, ultimately, we change the albedo by 0.012%.

    The albedo of Earth fluctuates by much more than 0.012% due to natural causes. Thus, any affect we would have on the solar energy balance at the surface of the Earth would be indistinguishable from natural random variations.

    In short, we don't have jack to worry about.

  • by hankwang (413283) * on Thursday October 07, 2004 @03:12PM (#10463402) Homepage
    Where did you get your information though?

    You know, when you spend many hours on the bike while on quiet roads, you have things to think about. :)

    200 W for cycling 32 km/h: my own measurements (measure deceleration as soon as you stop pedaling, combine with mass and velocity to obtain dissipated power), and an equation from a book about bicycle training (Dutch, forgot the title): P=4v+0.2v^3 (P in watts and v in m/s), which applies to racing bikes with lean athletes sitting on them.

    Efficiency of the human body in converting food to energy: sitting on a computer-controlled stationary bike in a gym that says how many calories I burn per hour and how much power I deliver. That turns out to be a factor 4. Agrees roughly with what I've seen in tables (1 hour of cycling takes so-and-so many calories) in comparison with the previous point.

    Glycogen storage: 300 g to 700 g depending on physical condition and activity/food intake during the past days, from aforementioned book.

    Cycling holidays: personal experience. Food intake is usually between 18 and 24 MJ (4500-6000 kcal) per day.

    Energy content of carbohydrates and fat: doesn't everybody know those? 18 MJ/kg and 35 MJ/kg. Fat is mostly hydrocarbons, as is gasoline. The small fraction of glycerol in fat won't make a big difference.

  • by hackwrench (573697) <hackwrench@hotmail.com> on Thursday October 07, 2004 @03:59PM (#10463968) Homepage Journal
    Maybe, but since we're puuling the numbers to demonstrate that something is in fact the solution out of thin air, perhaps one of these is actually the solution: http://peswiki.com/index.php/Top10 [peswiki.com]
  • by Dyolf Knip (165446) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @05:35PM (#10464995) Homepage
    Got a link? Because every single Google result I checked, and I do mean every single one, turned up a skin coated in aluminum powder and iron oxide with poor conducting cables grounding it. Which _is_ thermite, and is a disaster waiting to happen. They actually tested it with an old piece of the skin, and with no H2 at all; it ignited instantly. Records research in Germany yielded reports from experiments done by Zeppelin Company engineers that showed that the skin, under the right circumstances, was a firebomb.

    So please, enlighten us as to how the fact that the Hindenburg was painted with thermite and electrically bonded with poor conductors which would have caused a high-energy discharge during an electrical storm (and there was one) constitutes a myth.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 07, 2004 @07:08PM (#10465842)

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