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Transportation

America's First Pipeline-Fed Hydrogen Fueling Station 247

Posted by samzenpus
from the piping-in-the-gas dept.
hasanabbas1987 writes "Shell has opened America's first pipe-lined hydrogen fueling station in the town of Torrence in Southern California. Shell wasn't alone in this project as Toyota also helped them in this green deed, all of which was funded by the government. At the moment other hydrogen stations around the US still depend upon trucks to supply them with fuel. This marks a new era of green fueling and hopefully this pipeline spreads to other stations. Many of the big car makers like Toyota, Honda and Mercedes have indicated a mass market for hydrogen powered cars by 2015."
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America's First Pipeline-Fed Hydrogen Fueling Station

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  • Is this safe? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by grapeape (137008) <mpope7@NOSpam.kc.rr.com> on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @03:45PM (#36098130) Homepage

    While I do think that Hydrogen based cars is a great idea I know that a problem in their development was safety. Is having a direct connection to the pipeline at a publicly used service station a good idea? We see stupid things people do resulting in problems at regular gas stations all the time, will it use full time attendants or will just rely on people being smart while fueling up?

    • by boristdog (133725)

      No. But if gasoline powered cars did not exist and someone invented them today, there is NO WAY they would be approved.

      "You want people to zip around at high speeds while carrying ten to twenty gallons of a highly volatile petroleum distillate? With CHILDREN in the car and by the roads? You know this 'gasoline' stuff is extremely flammable, you even use its explosive power to move your vehicle! Are you NUTS?"

      DENIED.

      • by Rei (128717)

        We have direct evidence to the contrary that it was not a concern when cars were introduced. Wagons of volatile fuel were already being carted through the streets. The main concerns with early gasoline vehicles were noise, air pollution (a contrast to "horse pollution", indeed, but without pollution controls, early cars still were pretty nasty), and various practical concerns like fuel availability and consistency, vehicle and fuel cost, and reliability/the difficulty in starting the vehicles (early elect

      • by jeffmeden (135043)

        No. But if gasoline powered cars did not exist and someone invented them today, there is NO WAY they would be approved.

        "You want people to zip around at high speeds while carrying ten to twenty gallons of a highly volatile petroleum distillate? With CHILDREN in the car and by the roads? You know this 'gasoline' stuff is extremely flammable, you even use its explosive power to move your vehicle! Are you NUTS?"

        DENIED.

        Not to mention, its more explosive than dynamite!!! (pound for pound, based on energy density.) And you want a tank full of it piloted by a barely qualified operator? That's INsane!

        • by Rei (128717)

          Not to mention, its more explosive than dynamite!!!

          How is "not explosive at all" equal to "more explosive than dynamite"? Why are you confusing energy density with explosive capacity? Being explosive means that you can release energy very quickly (aka, it's more akin to power density than energy density).

    • by vlm (69642)

      We see stupid things people do resulting in problems at regular gas stations all the time, will it use full time attendants or will just rely on people being smart while fueling up?

      H2 has two obvious advantages over gasoline:

      1) Leaks go straight up. Light it on fire and you get an immense fireball .... 100 feet up and headed higher at about 50 MPH. I'd much rather be trapped in a H2 car on fire than a gasoline car on fire. I suppose underground / underbuilding parking facilities would have a much more negative opinion...

      2) It doesn't soak into winter clothing and turn the operator into a human torch like gasoline will do.

      The obvious disadvantage is its extremely high range flammabi

    • by kimvette (919543)

      It'd be about as safe as methane (natural gas) distribution.

      I just don't see how they can store and distribute hydrogen economically, considering it will leak out the absolute smallest of openings, pores, etc. and to be stored in a tank requires a massive cooling system (to keep it below 20.2K), which in turn consumes a massive amount of energy to keep the hydrogen cool enough that it won't simply evaporate and migrate through the seals and hoses.

      There is an easily solution to portable energy needs though,

  • Hydrogen again? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by LWATCDR (28044)

    Hydrogen == natural gas.
    One has to wonder which would be greener? Just using the Natural gas in an IC Hybrid or Hydrogen in a fuel cell?

    • Hydrogen == natural gas.

      Umm, no.

      Natural Gas = CH4.

      Hydrogen = H2

      CH4 =/= H2.

      • by demonbug (309515)

        Hydrogen == natural gas.

        Umm, no.

        Natural Gas = CH4.

        Hydrogen = H2

        CH4 =/= H2.

        The point was that, currently, hydrogen gas is largely derived from petroleum products and/or natural gas. So until large-scale industrial water cracking or something becomes economical and takes over, this really doesn't reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

      • by rrohbeck (944847)

        The issue is that hydrogen today is made from natural gas, at an energy loss.
        Nobody makes hydrogen with electrolysis from solar cells because it's too costly.

        • by cpu6502 (1960974)

          Honda does. They built a solar cell fueling station that converts water to H2, and which they use for the hydrogen test cars.

          • by LWATCDR (28044)

            That is a test system. Commercial hydrogen production is from reformulated hydrocarbons. I suggest you take a look at the cost and then work out the payback time on Honda's system. Probably about the time the Sun becomes a Red Giant.

      • by LWATCDR (28044)

        Yes it is equal too Hydrogen but not identical too. Hydrogen is made from reformulated hydrocarbons mostly if not exclusively in the US natural gas.

    • depends on the source of hydrogen. In NZ natural gas (CNG) is pretty common for cars. However they are big heavy high pressure tanks that only give you about 300km range. Better than electric of course.
      • by LWATCDR (28044)

        Hydrogen is made from Natural gas today. If you make it from electricity than odds are it is coming from fossile fuel, nuclear, or Hydro. Solar and wind are too expensive for Hydrogen production.

  • Say parts that are un/under utilized?

    • You would just pipe natural gas to "hydrogen" stations, and crack the natural gas at the station.

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        No, you can not. Steam reformation is not something that can be done on that small of a scale and be monitored by the pothead manning the cash register.

        • Yes, it can be done on a small scale. And yes, it can be automated and handling by remote monitoring and SCADA equipment. You don't even need someone manning the station if you only accept credit cards and have a video feed to make sure the place hasn't exploded (for remote shutdowns).

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      No they can't. That is one of the problems with Hydrogen. Look up Hydrogen embrittlement. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen_embrittlement [wikipedia.org]
      Not to mention potental problems with things like seals, pumps, and valves.
       

  • I have a hard time keeping up with what's hip in the green world, but I thought electricity was the green thing that we're supposed to fuel our cars with now. Didn't hydrogen fall out of favor with the greenies a few years back?

    • by Rei (128717)

      It's not about being "hip"; it's about where the state of technology is. And yes, the tech for hydrogen sucks. But that doesn't mean that there's not still funding for it.

      • by elrous0 (869638) *

        Call it what you like, all I know is that my environmentalist friend is always changing his story every few years. One day he's telling me how great hydrogen fuel is, then it's ethanol, then it's electricity. I remember one time when we were in college it was methane. I keep telling him they need to decide on one thing and stick to it, but then off he goes on some new thing that's going to save the world. Tomorrow it will probably nuclear fusion, or sails on the cars, or god knows what.

        • by Rei (128717)

          Wow, great to know that your single idiot friend is the bellweather for both the science behind a technology and the opinions of an entire movement.

          • by elrous0 (869638) *

            He's just great at talking about some new technology that's going to save us, and then changing his story and moving on to some new "savior" when the previous one (inevitably) doesn't pan out. When I first met him, for example, he was big on hydroelectric power. Then someone told him that dams kill fish and suddenly he was preaching against them and had adopted some new cause. Wash, rinse, repeat. That's Kevin.

            He's the kind of guy who wanted to save the whales, but only in the 80's when it was in vogue.

        • by timeOday (582209)

          I keep telling him they need to decide on one thing and stick to it

          Well, you're wrong. What we need to do is develop a large number of promising ideas in parallel and see which turn out best.

    • by cpu6502 (1960974)

      Environmentalists have always supported the Electric car, and a hydrogen car is simply a different type of electric car (the battery is replaced with the fuel cell). I've not met any greens who were anti-hydrogen, since it is a clean fuel. Some are anti-natural gas but most think H2 will eventually be produced from solar panels.

      Personally I think H2 is too difficult to handle. I think after a few cars blowup, the consumers will flee. -or- If the manufacturers do manage to make safe, impervious hydrogen

      • diesel is the future. Peanut oil works in diesel engines directly; we could refine and modify (chemically) peanut oil to work in current diesel engines easily. It can transmute into kerosene rather easily too (jet engines). So what we could do is get rid of that petroleum fertilizer shit farmers use and instead do crop rotation. Harvest the peanuts, crush and extract, refine the oil, modify, ship as diesel fuel; use the crushed peanuts as feed crop for pigs and goats; burn the peanut bushes and shells;

      • by robot256 (1635039)

        Personally I think H2 is too difficult to handle. I think after a few cars blowup, the consumers will flee. -or- If the manufacturers do manage to make safe, impervious hydrogen cars, the pricetag will be so high (~$100,000) that nobody will be able to afford it. The same flaw that plagues pure EVs.

        Because conventional gas tanks never explode [wikimedia.org], gas engines never catch fire [nfpa.org], and we're paying a fair price for perfectly safe [chicagoinjurylawblog.com] gasoline storage and transport?

        Never mind the studies [sciencedirect.com] showing that hydrogen is safer [rmi.org] than gasoline [rmi.org] in real-world situations. It's not the safety mechanisms that make the present technology cost $100,000 per car [wsj.com], it's the fuel cells themselves, and the cost will only come down over time because of mass-production and technology advances.

  • by hawguy (1600213) on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @03:51PM (#36098218)

    There are no vast fields of Hydrogen waiting to be mined (at least not on this planet). Hydrogen is an intermediate energy storage medium most commonly extracted from fossil fuels. It can come from water via electrolysis, but there's a lot of waste energy form that process so as far as I know it's not done on a large scale.

    What is the overall efficiency of a Hydrogen powered car (including the energy cost to extract the hydrogen) as opposed to one that runs directly off of fossil fuels?

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      In theory the idea is that once you have hydrogen fueled vehicles you can switch to cleaner sources of hydrogen. Like cracking water in a high temperature nuclear reactor. Either way everything is just storage of energy from the big bang.

      • by hawguy (1600213)

        In theory the idea is that once you have hydrogen fueled vehicles you can switch to cleaner sources of hydrogen. Like cracking water in a high temperature nuclear reactor. Either way everything is just storage of energy from the big bang.

        Oh gee, that sounds simple, just build out an entirely new energy distribution network to distribute hydrogen, and then it's as easy as building a hundred nuclear powered hydrogen processing plants to create unlimited green hydrogen! I guess Hydrogen really *is* a great solution!

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          I said in theory. In reality it is a huge waste of power to produce, embrittles every damn metal it touches, leaks out of everything and is in general a huge pain in the ass to work with.

    • Efficiency (Score:4, Informative)

      by Rei (128717) on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @04:07PM (#36098454) Homepage

      What is the overall efficiency of a Hydrogen powered car (including the energy cost to extract the hydrogen) as opposed to one that runs directly off of fossil fuels?

      From below, I posted about the efficiency. Here [photobucket.com] is a graph from this [sciencedirect.com] research paper. To sum it up, if you're burning the H2 in an ICE, you're only making the situation worse. PEMFCs can be a little better than ICE vehicles, but they pale in comparison to electric cars.

      • by hawguy (1600213)

        What is the overall efficiency of a Hydrogen powered car (including the energy cost to extract the hydrogen) as opposed to one that runs directly off of fossil fuels?

        From below, I posted about the efficiency. Here [photobucket.com] is a graph from this [sciencedirect.com] research paper. To sum it up, if you're burning the H2 in an ICE, you're only making the situation worse. PEMFCs can be a little better than ICE vehicles, but they pale in comparison to electric cars.

        Thanks, I had always suspected that was the case, I'm glad to finally see some real numbers!

      • by cpu6502 (1960974)

        The "winner" in your graph is not a fuel cell car. It's a battery-electric vehicle refueled either off the grid (natural gas or hydrogen plant) or from a home power unit (i.e. solar).

        I find it hard to believe switching a power plant from Natural gas to Hydrogen makes efficiency jump from 35% to 74%. It appears the author of the study did not take something into account..... probably efficiency losses converting water to H2.

        BTW they didn't include diesel hybrids. If they had, the efficiency would have bee

  • I didn't see anything in the article about the size of the pipeline, where it came from, what diameter pipe it is, or what material it's made of. But the number one question is, what odorizer is in the hydrogen? Hydrogen is explosive over a greater range than methane, and natural gas pipelines have to be regularly checked for leaks. Without leak surveys and with no odor in the gas, hydrogen transported by pipelines is going to be extremely dangerous.

    Oh, my job for the last 35 years? Checking natural gas pip
    • by Rei (128717)

      Hydrogen passes through solids hundreds of times easier than NG -- or any odorizer -- can. So it's questionable whether an odorizer would help.

      The good news is that hydrogen disperses quickly when vented into open air. The bad news is that if there's anything over it, it can pool, and it's extremely sensitive to sparks, burns in almost any fuel-air mixture, and can not only burn, but detonate. And of course there's always the "invisible flame" issues when dealing with pinhole leaks, which are always a pa

  • This article, from a 2008 edition of Skeptic [skeptic.com] magazine, spells out the good, bad and ugly of using hydrogen to power cars.

    In short, not a good or easy thing to do.

    The article [skeptic.com].
  • by Rei (128717) on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @03:53PM (#36098242) Homepage

    To add information to this discussion, here's the net system efficiency, well-to-wheel, of different energy sources:
    Link [photobucket.com]

    That graph is from this paper:
    Link [sciencedirect.com]

    All issues of fuel cost, fuel cell vehicle cost, safety, ozone damage, infrastructure cost, and so forth aside, one of the big complaints about hydrogen is that it's just not that efficient.

    • by afidel (530433)
      Interesting graph, though I wonder if they included the energy of producing the plants in those calculations because the electric car with natural gas generation seems very high considering how expensive NG MWHr's are.
      • by Rei (128717)

        This graph does not deal with cost of energy at all -- purely energy in, motion out. NG plants are very efficient, and getting even more efficient (the latest generation are about 60%, not counting the potential reuse of waste heat). NG power is expensive per MWHr compared to coal because NG is more expensive than coal per joule, even after the power plant efficiency difference is taken into account. Both NG and coal power are primarily marginal cost driven (aka, fuel), not capital cost driven like nucle

    • by rrohbeck (944847)

      Nice graphs.
      This is exactly the point: Transmission line efficiency * charging efficiency * battery efficiency * discharging efficiency * electric motor efficiency is many times higher than anything involving ICEs, turbines or fuel cells because their efficiency sucks. So as soon as electric power is anywhere in your chain you can't do better than with an electric car.

    • by cpu6502 (1960974)

      The "winner" in your graph is not a fuel cell car. It's a battery-electric vehicle refueled either off the grid or from a home power unit (i.e. solar). So basically they are saying forget Fuel Cells and go with EVs. (shrug)

      I find it hard to believe switching a power plant from Natural gas to Hydrogen makes efficiency double (35 to 74%). It appears the author of the study did not take something into account..... probably efficiency losses converting water to H2. To overlook something that obvious is not g

    • I'd be interested in someone taking it a step farther, Electric car with distributed generation is given 80% efficiency, but that can't include the energy involved in making the solar cells or windmills. Of course, if you're going to include that in the electric items, you need to do the same analysis for the others as well: how much does energy does it cost to make the equipment to mine and drill for fossil fuels. And then of course you have to think about maintenance, future upgrades, economies of scal

  • So they are running hydrogen pipes to all the fueling stations now? What sort of hazard is that going to provide? Are they going to put odour generating chemicals in the hydrogen like they do with natural gas, so that you can tell when there is a leak? If so, are these chemicals going to play nice in the engine? What happens when there is a leak in the pipe? Hydrogen/oxygen flames are nearly invisible to the naked eye. Are we going to have to add other compounds to make any flames visible?
    • by Rei (128717)

      Odor generating chemicals won't work with hydrogen. Hydrogen leaks far better than any other chemical, even helium. No odorous compound even comes close. Hence, only a major leak from a hydrogen container would let the odorous compounds escape. The same problem exists with flame visibility; you really need IR cameras to see it well. Other major hydrogen problems are pooling under overhangs and the very extreme sensitivity to even minor static shocks, as well as the wide range of combustible fuel-air m

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        Weren't those exploding reactor buildings in Japan the result of hydrogen buildup?

        • by Rei (128717)

          Indeed they were. Despite being engineered in all regards to try to avoid precisely that sort of event. Hydrogen pools and detonates just so damned easily.

          Here's what the detonation of an amount of hydrogen perhaps 1/10th of what you'd find in a typical mass-market hydrogen car (or a hundredth of a hydrogen semi) looks like [youtube.com]. Now, thats an H2/O2 mixture; to get that force with H2/air would require about twice as much. But it gives you a good idea of what we're talking about here (and why such a low-densi

  • by sensei moreh (868829) on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @03:55PM (#36098254)
    subject line says it all (as does TFA)
  • I used to live in Torrence, CA. It was really fun living there, even though the place doesn't exist.
  • Good lord (Score:3, Insightful)

    by el_guapo (123495) on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @03:59PM (#36098328) Homepage

    Hydrogen is NOT green - not until they find a "green" way to produce it. It is NOT an energy SOURCE (like fossil fuels, and nuclear), it is an energy CONVEYOR. I wanna save the planet as much as anyone, but as long as fossile fuels are used to generate the hydrogen, it actually makes more sense to just burn the stuff in an internal cumbustion engine. /me waits to get modded down :-/

  • Yikes! I think I will wait for natural gas (methane) fuel cells to be rugged enough for use in vehicles. Much safer than hydrogen.

  • hydrogen ftw (Score:2, Interesting)

    by cheeks5965 (1682996)
    FCEVs (fuel cell electric vehicles) win on a number of levels:

    * there are a number of pathways to make h2, which allows you to make your desired tradeoff between cost, quantity, carbon footprint, etc. Some pathways: petro natural gas, landfill gas, power plant electricity to electrolysis, solar panel to electrolysis, coal gasification. what's cool about this is that h2 production technology can improve over time, and you can establish the FCEV market now that will fund future development. pathways ftw!

    * F

    • by hawguy (1600213)

      FCEVs are a form of electric vehicle so they get EV efficiency ~85%, while natural gas cars are still internal combustion so they get ~30%. efficiency ftw!

      Do you have a source for this? I thought real world fuel cell efficiency was much less than 85% - like closer to 40% [evworld.com] or even less [wikipedia.org]

      *unlike BEVs, FCEVs avoid the range anxiety issue, and can be filled up like a regular car instead of needing 8 hour charge. convenience ftw!

      15 - 30 minute fast charge stations for BEV's already exist [nissan-leaf.net] and i would expect that even faster options will exist faster than a large hydrogen creation and distribution network could be built.

      • by Bengie (1121981)

        Let me know when you can top of an EV in 5 minutes and has at least a 200mile range. Some car manufacturer recently said it would take about a 50KW load for 30 minutes to get a 100mil EV up to 85% charge. To charge that in 5 minutes, you would need a 300KW load and that's not even 200 miles. So, double for 200 miles, 600KW for 5min.

        Now, build me a quick charge station that can handle ~6 vehicles pulling 0.6MW, or ~ 3.6MW. Even at 95% efficient AC->DC, you would have 180KW of heat to dump.

        This is why a hy

  • So far we're all dancing around what should be the key issue: H2 is an inefficient medium.

    If you make H2 from natural gas, you would get better end-to-end efficiency by simply burning the natural gas in a combustion engine--basically the same engine that's in your car, but with a different "carburetor".

    On the other hand, if you make H2 using electrolysis (water + electricity), the round trip efficiency is about 25%. In this context, the H2+fuel cell is acting like a battery, and we already have MUCH more

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