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Coleman To Sell Portable Fuel Cell Generator 287

HobbySpacer writes " Popular Science reports that Coleman Powermate will soon start selling a small portable fuel cell power supply. The AirGen Fuel Cell Generator provides 1.2kW for up to 10 hours on a bottle of pure hydrogen. Interestingly, the company had to set up its own distribution system to insure it could deliver a refill anyplace in the US within 2 days. The unit, built by Ballard, goes for a pricey $8k but perhaps worth it if an indoor emergency backup is needed. Fuel cells can also be found for sale at the Fuel Cell Store and Greenvolt. Perhaps the hydrogen economy is closer than most people thought."
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Coleman To Sell Portable Fuel Cell Generator

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  • Isn't this a dupe? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hack'n'Slash ( 3463 ) on Monday January 21, 2002 @03:49AM (#2875259)
    Moderators should be allowed to moderate articles as (-1) Duplicate. :-)

  • by Kaellenn ( 540133 ) on Monday January 21, 2002 @03:51AM (#2875262) Homepage
    Sure, at the beginning they are $8,000. I can't imagine this price will stay long once competition enters the field. It's similar to the way Apple does technology. Look at the flat-panel monitor for example. Prices have already begun to drop due to their exclusive distribution by Apple.

    I'm glad to see that Coleman is entering this market. A bit pricy for most of us now, but at least this will start the ball rolling on clean-fuel generators.
    • Look at the flat-panel monitor for example. Prices have already begun to drop due to their exclusive distribution by Apple.

      The Mac faithful are often quick to remind us of all the innovations in computing that we need to thank Apple for. But is a price drop in LCDs one of them?

      I have no idea what the worldwide sales of Apple-branded LCDs are, but it cannot be even 10% of the worldwide production of LCDs for PC laptops and other non-Mac specific products. I think its probably fair to say that Apple was the beneficiary of the growth of LCD production for PC laptops and other uses. Furthermore, with Apple's 22" display costing $2500 I would bargain that sales of non-Apple 21" glass tubes actually went up, not down.

      It probably doesn't hurt the overall trend towards LCDs that Apple quit selling glass tubes, as I'm sure they were a notable OEM of big glass tubes. But display manufacturers and vendors have been pushing LCDs for some time -- cheaper to store and ship, and the manufacturing process has got to be overall easier than huge hunks of glass vacuums. Apple probably deserves kudos for "going LCD", but I don't think they deserve credit for inventing the desktop LCD market.
      • I have no idea what the worldwide sales of Apple-branded LCDs are, but it cannot be even 10% of the worldwide production of LCDs for PC laptops and other non-Mac specific products.

        I can't imagine them selling as many laptop LCDs as all the PC venders put together (from their sales numbers last year they may have beat any single PC laptop vender though). However I think they may have sold more desktop LCDs, and that does matter since they are different from laptop ones. They tend to be bigger (15" is small for a desktop large for a laptop, 17" is good for a desktop, have never seen it on a laptop, won't bring up 22"...), and have a wider angle of view. They also suck more power, and I assume are built a fair bit differently.

        It probably doesn't hurt the overall trend towards LCDs that Apple quit selling glass tubes, as I'm sure they were a notable OEM of big glass tubes. But display manufacturers and vendors have been pushing LCDs for some time -- cheaper to store and ship, and the manufacturing process has got to be overall easier than huge hunks of glass vacuums

        I'm not so sure, the LCDs still seem more costly, esp. as size goes up.

        Apple probably deserves kudos for "going LCD", but I don't think they deserve credit for inventing the desktop LCD market.

        Naw, they did it because staying competitive with CRTs was too costly. There is more margin in LCD panels. I don't think they deserve anything for switching to LCDs except being bought by people that think LCDs are what they want.

    • Do fuel cells need platinum or palladium catalysts? This would explain the high price -- and the only things that could bring down the price of platinum metals much would be the discovery of a non-precious-metal catalyst for auto catalytic converters, or discovering platinum metal ores in a whole new area...
    • I'm not going to argue with you on the fundamentals of product economics, but your point about Apple and LCD's is nonsense. The main driving force for bringing down the cost of LCD's in the past year has certainly been the PC industry players. As usual, Apple jumps on board and claims they invented it all along. Sheesh!


  • http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=01/12/09/044421 6&mode=nested

    Doesn't anyone bother to do a simple search before posting front page stories?!

    I just entered "Coleman" into the search box and got the above link, same story, move along, nothing to see here...
    • I don't mind the duplicates as much as you. Considering that story was posted in December, no new, interesting comments have likely been made in a while. With a dupe, even if it's an accident, we tend to get more interesting comments from others who hadn't heard it the first time around. This time, someone submitted a link to a picture of it that I hadn't seen the time before, and others have said some interesting things.

      Even if it is an error, it's an error that harms no one and benefits many.
  • Picture... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Eminence ( 225397 ) <akbrandt@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Monday January 21, 2002 @03:53AM (#2875270) Homepage

    Picture of the device can be seen on the Popular Science's website here [popsci.com].

  • by Ieshan ( 409693 ) <ieshan@@@gmail...com> on Monday January 21, 2002 @03:54AM (#2875273) Homepage Journal
    You know, normally I wouldn't be thinking this way, but I suppose its the natural reaction.

    If the world fuel "economy" switches to hydrogen, what happens to the countries which sole income is provided by oil and fossil fuels? Won't these places be absolutely devestated and ruined by the collapse of their energy-demand? Hydrogen power is an amazing thing, but it'd be something like suddenly replacing the staple foods in the world with chemical products - it dents a rather secure and stable part of our lifestyle and global economy.

    I just hope something can be worked out before the "dream" of hydrogen power can be achieved... it's scary stuff, when you think about it.
    • Oil isn't just used to create energy. It is used in the maufacture of most thing: plastic, detergents, synthetic fabrics etc. So I don't think that it would destroy the income of oil making countries, but it certainly would hurt them.
    • If the world fuel "economy" switches to hydrogen, what happens to the countries which sole income is provided by oil and fossil fuels? Won't these places be absolutely devestated and ruined by the collapse of their energy-demand?

      Not really. The cheapest way to make bulk hydrogen is to use a reformer with a petroleum based feedstock. If they could build a reformer into the fuel cell and use Coleman's lantern fuel, then they'd have the next Big Thing(tm). Coleman's lantern fuel is a highly purified white gasoline. Which is more expensive than motor gasoline. Coleman? Big oil? Ya listening?
      • My fiancees friend's husband works at Scripps Institute of Oceanography. His area of interest is in family of oceanic extremophile microbes which produce hydrogen as a by-product. I thought that was very cool; obviously it goes without saying that they're looking at growing hydrogen in vats.

      • The cheapest way to make bulk hydrogen is to use a reformer with a petroleum based feedstock.

        No, that the most *expensive* way. It leaves us dependent on other nations for oil, *AND* because of the net losses in the conversion, it will increase net oil usage.
    • by stevelinton ( 4044 ) <sal@dcs.st-and.ac.uk> on Monday January 21, 2002 @05:27AM (#2875488) Homepage
      Hydrogen is not a primary source of energy. It's an energy transmission and storage system. As such, It has a lot of potential advantages over the current options -- long-distance power cables, tanks of gasoline, batteries, etc. but you still have to get energy from somewhere else to make it. The portability element makes some power generation options (off-shore wind and wave, desert solar, hydroelectric) more economic than they are at present when you have to build power lines, but oil and coal are not instantly obsolete.
    • by hazem ( 472289 ) on Monday January 21, 2002 @07:45AM (#2875718) Journal
      When I recently visited Kuwait, a major topic of discussion was how Kuwait can find ways to diversify their economy. The oil producing countries already know, barring some great discovery, that oil reserves will be depleated in 50 to 100 years. And Few of them are ready or willing to simply go back to hearding sheep, fishing, and perling to sustain their economies.

      Finance may become an important source of revenue - I recently read an article about an attempt to unify the Stock Exchanges of the Arab countries. This will hopefully have the effect of making Arab stocks more attractive globally. This is in addition to efforts by the individual "burses" to make themselves more interesting to international investors.

      Tourism will also be important - and will become even more so. If the Palestinians and Israelis can ever come to a solution, tourism there and in Jordan and Syria should boom! There's lots of neat stuff there! The gulf has fabulous diving and fishing, and of couse, is comfortably warm during European and American winters (and Asian, and Australian too). Even Saudi Arabia has seen the importance of tourism and has started to issue tourist visas!

      But also consider, as another poster has mentioned, there is an entire petro-chemical industry. Oil is not just used to push our cars, planes and ships around the world. It's also used as a raw material to produce a vast array of products.

      In the last 60 years, oil has helped bring properity and wealth to many parts of the Middle East. With careful planning and forsight, they will be able to build on this wealth and be ready when the oil "runs out", or is no longer needed as much as it is today.

      I very much doubt that Coleman will destroy the Middle East!
    • >If the world fuel "economy" switches to hydrogen,
      >what happens to the countries which sole income is
      >provided by oil and fossil fuels?

      In almost all of these countries, the income generated by oil goes to a few people and to western oil companies and is not invested in meaningful development. The world's biggest oil producer, saudi arabia, is one of the most medieval country there is , and calling it stable sounds like a very bad joke.

      The oil economy does infinitely more harm than good both to those who have it and to those who don't. Getting rid of it would be a blessing.

      Maybe not for Norway. But all rules need an exception.
    • Hydrogen power is an amazing thing, but it'd be something like suddenly replacing the staple foods in the world with chemical products - it dents a rather secure and stable part of our lifestyle and global economy.

      As I've pointed out in several posts lately in response to the "Hydrogen Economy Hysteria" sweeping both /. and the halls of geovernment, Hydrogen is NOT a clean and cost-effective fuel - in fact, as hydrogen has to be produced today, it it neither as clean nor as cost effective as natural gas.

      The ONLY economical source for large quantities of hydrogen is natural gas - this is how almost all industrial hydrogen is made today. There is no technology on the foreseeable horizon that will change that. Almost all the hydrogen on this planet is tied up in water, an incredibly stable molecule that is notoriously difficult to separate. You *can* pull hydrogen out of either natural gas or water, but either is relatiely expensive and inefficient (water much more so.)

      Also, remember that even once you've got it, if your're reacting the hydrogen in air (as opposed to pure oxygen), there will *still* be pollutants (oxides of nitrogen and such) regardless of whether you burn it or react it in a fuel-cell-type reactor. (As an aside, the process of cracking natural gas for hydrogen produces fairly large quantities of CO2...)

      Since NG is already one of the cleanest-burning fuels known, you just have to wonder why everyone is pushing hydrogen as the answer: total energy efficiency is better and the environment is thus less damaged by simply using the natural gas directly, rather than first reforming it into hydrogen.

      Hydrogen is NOT a good fuel with any technology that will be reasonable on a commercial scale in the next 50 years. Any claims that it's "clean" (the "only water" lie) fail to take into account the inherent energy loss and pollution created by the entire hydrogen manufacturing & use process. That pretty much makes Hydrogen irrelevant to any serious discussion of energy sources. (Of course, I don't expect that to stop environmentalist wackos and the wooly-thinking governments from pushing the whole ridiculous idea in their zeal to demonize all methods achievable with foreseeable technology...)
      • Yes hydrogen is difficult and a bit dirty to 'manufacture' now. It's really being isolated, not manufactured. But on a universal level, it is the single most common element. If you're looking for a resource that won't run out, you have to eventually move to hydrogen. Natural gas is largely found above deposits of oil. When the oilfields are gone, so is 'natural' gas.

        I think you're also underestimating the rate of change in the next 50 years. 50 years from now tech won't be as different from our tech as our tech is from 1950's tech - it will be as different from our tech as our tech is from 1850's tech. Picking the long-term solution now seems sensible when you look at the ultimate cost of re-tooling all machinery for a new power source - do you want to do that once, or several times? Hydrogen production will become cheaper and cleaner and easier, and the benefits are more if the machines are already set up to run on (currently dirty) hydrogen.

        Solar power and hydrogen power will not run out in the lifespan of the human species. They will becom cheaper and cheaper and cleaner and cleaner. Picture floating factories refining hydrogen from the oceans using solar power - how ultimately efficient can that become? Natural gas is cleaner than hydrogen now but it is a limited resource. I have nothing against using it now, but it will run out while most of the mega-corps of today are still alive (much more important than nations), so they will have to re-tool eventually. Basically do you build your infrastructure around the fiber optic system of 10 years from now, or the 56k reality of today? Short-term, long-term, it's a complex balance, not a black and white question.
        • No, my point is not at all short-sighted, just realistic...

          When the oilfields are gone, so is 'natural' gas.

          That will be a very long time: at current forecast growth rates, well after hydrogen itself is no longer desirable. (100+ years - With conservation and more efficient use, such as turbines, the supply could last for centuries. Eliminating Pentiums alone would help tremendously...) In 1978, proven reserves of oil were 648 Billion barrels. By March 2000, the USGS estimated that world reserves were 2.2 TRILLION barrels, this same study also estimated natural gas and similar liquid reserves at another 2.3 TRILLION barrels, for a total supply increase of around 70X. It's also worth noting that this increased supply has resulted in a significant drop in real energy prices (except in the Peoples Republic of California, where Bozoid centralized planning and control prevent deregulation from working there as it has in Pennsylvania), a trend that will likely continue for many decades.

          According to Robert L. Bradley, Jr., president of the Institute for Energy Research, "probable resources of oil, gas, and coal are officially forecast to be 114, 200, and 1,884 years of present usage, respectively. Moreover, an array of unconventional fossil-fuel sources promises that, when crude oil, natural gas, and coal become scarcer (hence, more expensive) in the future, fossil-fuel substitutes may still be the best source of fuels to fill the gap before synthetic substitutes come into play." (Source: http://www.heartland.org/perspectives/automobility 5.htm)

          Also, keep in mind that Hydrogen is not an especially dense energy storage medium. Really good battery technologies could well exceed the energy density of LH2 without the problems associated with hydrogen.

          I think you're also underestimating the rate of change in the next 50 years. 50 years from now tech won't be as different from our tech as our tech is from 1950's tech - it will be as different from our tech as our tech is from 1850's tech.

          I think you're obviously so young that your perception has been warped by sci-fi: The rate of change has been *FAR* less than forecast for well over 100 years now. 50 years ago, except for the Internet, and computers sucking up endless man-hours that could be used to produce real value-add rather than the overhead of systems administration, things were pretty much as they are now. Some things have improved, many have gotten worse, and most things are about the same. I see no reason to believe that somehow the next 50 years will be all that much different, especially as Moore's law starts to falter and gate density hits the wall. There will likely be some big advances, but almost by definition, those are impossible to effectively predict. (I also believe the liklihood of another great depression is fairly high in the next 50 years, which will make the last one look like a cake walk, and set back economic progress for many decades - not pessimistic, just a recognition that major depressions have a stubborn tendency to crop up every 50-100 years, so both the timing and debt conditions are building up to the inevitable.)

          Picking the long-term solution now seems sensible when you look at the ultimate cost of re-tooling all machinery for a new power source - do you want to do that once, or several times?

          I and many others would argue we're more likely to do this again if we foolishly choose hydrogen power now, and tooling up for hydrogen would be REALLY expensive. No thanks.

          Solar power and hydrogen power will not run out in the lifespan of the human species.

          Solar is neither efficient nor environmentally friendly when deployed on the scale required to replace all fossil fuels, whether or not the additional stupid step of making hydrogen is pursued. (see below)

          They will becom cheaper and cheaper and cleaner and cleaner. Picture floating factories refining hydrogen from the oceans using solar power - how ultimately efficient can that become?

          The simple fact is this: there is no clean way to produce large quantities of hydrogen. Solar energy is free and "clean", but is not terribly energy-dense, and suffers from the problem of being "low quality" thermodynamically. Even if you could collect *all* the energy falling on a square yard of the Earth's surface at high noon and perpindicular latitude, you still don't get enough to run a microwave oven, and in reality, we can't even afford to get the pitiful 3% that Solar cells catch (sadly, they often wear out before they've paid for themselves.) Racheting that back to account for the terrible efficeincies involved in splitting water by electrolysis results in having such huge areas covered by solar collectors that they themselves begin to be a significant source of environmental damage. (To head off the usual argument at the pass: "But it's out in the middle of the ocean!" isn't a valid response here unless you buy that argument for toxic waste as well...)

          My guess is that the future is likely to be far more electrical than hydrogen powered, but we'll have to wait and see. In any case, nothing much will (or should) cause a mass move to hydrogen for at least another 50 years or so. If efficiency and environmental concerns are really important, more effort should be put on the new diesel technologies, which are making impressive progress. [heartland.org]

          Real hybrids, not the wimpy and ridiculously expensive toys for yuppies we see now, could make a difference, espcially if powered by efficient microturbines.
          • I'm a 27 year old programmer with a B.S. in Architecture. I make good money. I'm not a 12 year old kid. But I have seen half the things that were wild sci-fi when I read them at 12 become reality.

            You don't get the idea of a singularity, I won't spend time explaining it to you, look it up. "except for the Internet, and computers" is the understatement of this admittedly rather new millenium. Computers are helping to produce a qualitative change in the rate of change itself. Look at genomics, weather modelling, rapid prototyping, etc. The change just hasn't been what we expected. No jetpacks, no rocket cars. But a global encyclopedia of all human knowledge?

            Moore's law will not hit any significant barriers until it hits ultimate physical limits, by which time quantuum computing and bio-computers will be near commercial viability. Doesn't really matter if you believe it, it'll happen anyway.
    • From what I understand there are alot of new ways to convert to hydrogen from oil, methane, and gasolene.

      Even if they had to just burn the feuls and use the energy to create hydrogen, it could done alot more efficently at a big central location, and having one place to controll emissions is more envirenmentally friendly too.

      However, this goes way beyond oil though because it creates a hydrogen economey. Nuclear, solar, oil, methane, hydroelectric, would for the first time ever be put on the same par in any energy market, ups and downs in any single supply would be much more managable to the consumer. The fact that hydrogen is so easy to convert back and forth from electricity is even better.

      From those large unused frozen methane reserves in the ocean which could readially be converted to hydrogen, to nuclear power plants in unpopulated far off locations, to oil and coal fields, to solar panels on your roof - could all contribute to a universally interchangeable market.

      As things stand now, an advance in solar technology or nuclear safety really wouldn't change your gasolene prices, just as advances in feul efficiency don't often reflect on your electricity bill. In a hodrogen economey, all this would change, and lead to a very dynamic and competitive market that would be much much harder to monopolize by any one company, country, or cartel. That in itself would drive down prices, boost economies, lead to more innovation which in turn would drive down prices more.

  • Energy Policies (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Noodlenose ( 537591 )
    Unfortunately, with the current "oil first - the world later" attitude of the Bush government, this will not have the impact it should have.

    Quietly wiping away a tear for Al Gore....


  • My dad used to work for a Coleman related company (basically just licensing their products and producing them under a different name.) He had mentioned something like this quite a while ago, it's cool to see it made it farther than the development stage. The image of the Coleman Powermate looks quite familiar, and unchanged from what I had seen quite awhile ago. As the article mentions, the price tag is quite steep, but may prove useful to the medical industry, although I would think at this point it would be a 3rd stage (or 4th, or 5th..) power supply backup. It also seems quite useful for a military use, as it is quite portable, although I'm sure a military version would be a bit more durable and have a better useful life (in terms of backup power and actual physical durability). The fact that it requires pure, bottled hydrogen seems like it's biggest downfall though. I hope Coleman or other manufacturers help to bridge the gap to something more useful for the home consumer.
  • Hydrogen? (Score:2, Redundant)

    by johnburton ( 21870 )
    8k for the equipment but how much does a bottle of hydrogen cost? I can't find that information anywhere.
    • Hmm, you're right, I missed that when I read it somehow. Although when you compare those prices with the prices for the storage systems on the other web page, i'm a little dubiuous.
    • From the popular science article [popsci.com]:

      ...the company is confident a $100 refill could be delivered anywhere in the United States within two days.

  • by schwap ( 191462 ) <<gro.elgoowhcs> <ta> <huaeb>> on Monday January 21, 2002 @04:09AM (#2875310) Homepage
    Although, fuel cells are a door into a world of cleaner, more abundant energy, it must be said that with every great inovation and evolution in technology comes with an even greater responsibility. If the hydrogen economy is here, then we have to consider where that hydrogen is coming from. Is it going to come from hydrocarbons like oil? Is all that hydrogen going to be generated from the electrolysis of water? Are we going to use bimass? If its oil, then we may be in just as bad a situation. The refinement of oil leaves a tremendouos number of nasty by products, not to mention our continued dependance on a non-renewable resource. If we get it from water, then what generates t he electricity? Solar and wind are options, but will require tremendous investement to fulfill the requirements to generate the amount of hydrogen necessary to replace the internal combustion engine. If its biomass, I havent seen the numbers to indicate the amount of byproducts to make harvesting economical, although I know it had been done on a limited scale. There is a give and a take. There are no free lunches. I want to know if we are going to decrease the amount of pollution we are dumping into the environment, or make the situation worse. Fuel cells, and hydrogen power in general, have proved themselves efficient and clean on a small scale, but untested on a large scale. I still see the same unanswered questions of production, distribution, maintenance and disposal.
    • by TraceProgram ( 171114 ) on Monday January 21, 2002 @04:48AM (#2875418) Homepage
      You have some very good points. It is good that we raise these kinds of questions now and begin testing the viability of this "new" technology. I would also suggest that we support the strong growth of a hydrogen economy. Its potential benefits are far greater then the green and clean arguement always put forth. The ability to move closer to an off-grid or neighborhood-grid based electrical system is an incredible boon. Massive powerlines, and with them transmission loss (not to forget eyesores), will be needed less and less. Power outages will be fewer and effect smaller groups of people. A big military benfit of a local grid system is that it is very hard to knock out power to any large population. Another benefit is the pure water generated. While not very tasty to drink it is wonderful for use in things like laundry and dish washing. Of course you can also drink it and know for certain that the water contains almost no traces of any sort of contamination (short of whatever may be introduced on site).

      Hydrogen fuel systems are safe and easy to repair. They have almost no moving parts. They are safe because hydrogen as a gas is non-toxic (unless taken in massive doses, but seldom does it stick around to allow that) and though it can ignite it does not burn like other fuels. Pressurized tanks pose a small hazard risk, but no wherenear the potential danger fossil fuels have. Hydrogen when it ignites goes boom once and is all gone, fossil fuels however can burn for quite awhile. Also the pressure tanks are typically built to take abuse and punishment and not explode.

      As for how to get the hydrogen (and transport it) well those remain the greater challenges. Something to look forward to really. You can bet though that whoever comes up with an effient means to obtain, transport and use hydrogen power will find themselves sitting on a potentially spectular gold mine. And besides you know you can't wait for the day when you don't have to stop at a gas when its negative 30 degrees with a wind chill of negative 60.
    • Hydrogen can be thought of as a clean energy transportation mechanism - because is does not, of itself, pollute.

      As your question details - there are numerous options for the generation of pure H - and the truth is that a range of solutions will be used.

      If I put a wind turbine on my land to power a small H plant in my shed, to power my H Fuel Cell when I need the power, rather than just when its windy, I have a clean source.

      If I crack a hydrocarbon (be it fossil, biomass, alien eggs) to produce the H its not.

      H is an enabler for cleaner alternatives as the H specific part of the infrastructure is independent of the means of production of the H. Start building the H transport and distribution channels using hydrocarbon originated H - then move on to biomass and solar / wind / space laser when we finally get our acts properly together.

      Just imagine an iMac 3 without a power lead! Just pour some H into it every few weeks :-)
      • by markmoss ( 301064 ) on Monday January 21, 2002 @10:14AM (#2876121)
        If you are cracking hydrocarbons to get the hydrogen for fuel cells, the process _may_ still be cleaner than burning hydrocarbons in several ways:

        1) Cogeneration. Waste heat from fuel cell could be used to heat buildings, thereby using less fuel overall. This is also possible with conventional power systems (gas turbines and steam plants), but who wants to have their house or office close enough to a power plant to make this work? Fuel cells are quiet and don't emit smoke, so there's no problem sticking them in the basement in place of the furnace.

        2) Lower carbon emissions: The cracker will emit CO2; the reaction is approximately (CH2)n + n(H2O) --> n(CO2) + 2n(H2), and you get the same CO2 emission from one gallon of oil as you would by burning it. But power plants are under 40% efficient at turning heat into electricity, and internal combustion motors are considerably worse. If the cracker/fuel cell combo is more efficient, then you burn less fuel, emit less CO2, and arab shieks have to cut back on the cadillac purchases.

        3) Zero combustion pollution: The fuel cell doesn't emit smoke particles, unburned hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, or sulfur oxides. The cracker might, but it's probably cleaner than burning the fuel.

        However, the economics of fuel cells running on H2 cracked from fossil fuel are dubious. That Coleman fuel cell, without a cracker, has a capital cost over 4 times that of a motor-generator. I'm not sure about running costs; a motor-generator is a fuel hog and takes considerable maintenance, but relying on essentially sole-source bottled hydrogen is bound to be expensive too. I don't know about the maintenance requirements or lifetime of the cracker or fuel cell; I would expect the cell to be virtually maintenance free until something corrodes away and the cell is scrap, but would the cracker tend to plug up with tar or something?

        So far, fuel cells have only been viable when someone is willing to pay a lot more for a power source that you don't notice running in the basement, or for extremely specialized high-budget things like Apollo space capsules. Of course, if the H2 is electrolized from water by power from renewable sources, then the fuel cost is virtually zero. But the cost of a big enough wind turbine, electrolyzer, compressor, storage tank, and fuel cells make for an extremely high capital cost.

        Also note that while environmentalists may love your wind turbine right now, if they ever become a practical power source, they're going to be out there with picket signs complaining about your giant bird blender...
    • I envision that in the beginning, we'll use regular power plants, and that will be not quite dandy.

      However, consider miniature hydro-power installed in your local creeks. It will go around the clock, and store the hydrogen when demand is low, spending it when demand is high. Heck - I can even see almost free fuel for our cars - a windmill and some solar cells on our roofs might go a long way in producing enough hydrogen.

      The challenge is convincing Joe Average that investing in some solar cells is a good thing. Joe Farmer might have a creek through his property that he can get some power out of, but he also needs to be convinced.

      Relating to the header, if you have a renewable energy source for the electrolysis, then you can also expend energy on transportation. The question is whether the energy loss would be greater if you transported by fuel cell powered trucks, or by the power grid. If we're lucky, we might find ourselves independent of the power grid. That's one less vulnerability in our society.

      And, in the long run, we'll eventually have cold fusion. That will certainly along with hydrogen tech enable a virtually combustion-less society in the long run.

      Then again, we just have to ask ourselves if big oil is going to see this as a business opportunity, or a business model threat.
    • Nearly all of the commercially produced hydrogen today comes from cracking natural gas.

      The other potential problem is that H2 is not terribly efficient. It takes more energy to crack the hydrogen from whatever molecule it's in than it produces when allowed to react in a fuel cell. When you look at production efficiency from the well to the tank in your car, diesel is 90% efficient, gasoline 80%, methanol 70%, and H2 60%. If you look at the complete energy chain, efficiencies of conventially fueled piston engines are about equal to H2 fueled fuel cells. If the prophecies come true, and we really do start running out of dino fuels, we'll potentially be wasting a lot of energy by using H2.

      The question is, can someone come up with a way to produce commercial quantities of H2 in a truly 'clean' manner?
      • It is only isolated for use in fuel cells. It could also be used in fusion plants. It is the most abundant element in the universe by far. If we run out of hydrogen, we've run out of universe. It is the element most used in stars to produce energy. Maybe we should take a hint.

        It is the technology that will take us to other worlds, if we ever get that far. It is the fuel that will be scooped by our ram-scoop ships as they fly to other stars. It can be mined and burned/reacted/whatever in asteroids and the power beamed to earth. The possibilities are endless.

        We are children afraid to start walking because we know how to crawl very well and we tend to fall down every time we stand up. But the world cannot survive us staying children much longer. The first steps are hard, and are less efficient than crawling. But the eventual potential is so much greater.
        • Uh, yeah, hydrogen is abundant. However, the very thing that makes it such a great energy storage medium is also the main problem: it likes to make very strong bonds.

          You can't just go plucking hydrogen as you describe. It has to be broken free from more complex molecules, and that takes energy.
          • In interstellar space. In interstellar space it's about all there is. The idea of a ram scoop ship is to extend large magnetic fields which collect hydrogen (which is just out there) and funnel it into the fusion reactors we admittedly don't know how to build yet. So you can collect fuel as you travel. The chemical bonds would be irrelevant to the fusion reactor. That to me is the ultimate dream of hydrogen as a fuel, not for use in a fuel cell but for use in a fusion reactor.
    • You left out one alternative, which is geothermal plants in remote, volcanically-active locations. Also, there isn't only one kind of fuel cell. Methanol fuel cells are effective, efficient, and clean. I have seen evidence to show that it would be possible to produce enough methanol to fuel our economy. It requires a bit of additional investment in crops, but consider that we already have an overabundance and you begin to get the picture. If we really prefer hydrogen fuel cells, biomass generation, as you pointed out, is a possibility. Presumably, biomass generation of fuel would have to be at-or-near the efficiency of methanol production, otherwise methanol fuel cells would be a better alternative.

      • Is ultimately solar power. We just need to up the efficiency in our solar cells a few orders of magnitude. Then solar energy in large isolated plants (say the whole Gobi desert) can be used directly to disassociate hydrogen from oxygen in water to produce shippable hydrogen which can be used at the place where it's needed.

        Unless we have fusion plants before the above scenario. I don't think anyone will be arguing that hydrogen is a bad fuel supply then.
        • Are you saying that solar cells are less than .1% efficient now? I don't think I get what you are saying. A few orders of magnitude in base 10 means x1000. Is solar power generation really that bad?

          • Maybe one order of magnitude, correctly. Plants are about 30% efficient. Solar cells are about 3% efficient. C'mon. I know we can do as well as grass. Ideally we'd do a couple times better.
  • ...to get the "hydrogen economy" rolling are european conditions on the fuel/oil market. A gallon, for.... hmm say $3.50. You would still be well of compared to most of europe, but people would start scouting alternatives.

    And just imagine the budget money saved from not having to wage a war for oil every 5 to 8 years...
  • you can get a 10kw deisel for that price new or 30kw for that price used. Power your block for 8k or barely push your 650w enermax powersupply'd dualie Athlon watercooled raid 5 scsi server.
  • Expensive fuel (Score:5, Informative)

    by cooldev ( 204270 ) on Monday January 21, 2002 @04:20AM (#2875348)

    The main problem with hydrogen is that it takes a lot more energy to produce and store than it generates. Electrolysis is especially inefficient and you end up polluting anyway (power plant) so it's not clean energy. The story also left out an important detail:

    . . . the company is confident a $100 refill could be delivered anywhere in the United States within two days.

    And I thought laptop batteries were expensive. At $8,000 + $100 for each 10 hours to power just a few pieces of equipment we'll all be riding Segways long before this is practical for every day use.

    • When was the last time you used a diesel generator for everyday use? Many people use generators for emergency use, not as a constant power source for their home or business. Furthermore, electrolytic production of hydrogen is primitive, as you pointed out, because it is the first step in a progression towards better production and consumption tech. We need to explore the potential and produce both better equipment and more efficent means of generating their fuel.
    • by horza ( 87255 ) on Monday January 21, 2002 @09:55AM (#2876075) Homepage
      The $100 within 2 days anywhere in US is a premium service. There is nothing to stop you buying an electrolysis kit, some solar panels, and generating your own. Or find a local supplier that will provide cheap bottles of hydrogen. After all, any local business can buy a [peakscientific.com] hydrogen [spacesyste...tional.com] generator [schmidlin-lab.ch]. Alternatively you can buy an all-in-one solution the regenerative fuel cell [protonenergy.com].

      Interesting items from the DOE hydrogen faq:

      How much energy is required to produce hydrogen via electrolysis of water?

      "The energy required to produce hydrogen via electrolysis (assuming 1.23 V) is about 32.9 kW-hr/kg. [...] For commercial electrolysis systems that operate at about 1 A/cm2, a voltage of 1.75 V is required. This translates into about 46.8 kW-hr/kg, which corresponds to an energy efficiency of 70%.

      "Most of the hydrogen produced today is consumed on site, such as at an oil refinery, and is not sold on the market. From large-scale production, hydrogen costs $0.32/lb if it is consumed on site. When hydrogen is sold on the market, the cost of liquefying the hydrogen and transporting it to the user must be added to the production cost. This can increase the selling price to $1.00-1.40/lb for delivered liquid hydrogen. Some users who require relatively small amounts of very pure hydrogen (such as the electronics industry) may use electrolyzers to produce high-purity hydrogen at their facilities. The cost of this hydrogen, which depends on the cost of the electricity used to split the water, is typically $1.00-$2.00/lb."

      My fuel cell Segway will leave your old battery model at the lights.

      • You make some good points, but regenerative fuel cells aren't relevent to this discussion. By definition, regenerative systems do not make hydrogen fuel available. They just use hydrogen to store electrical power. This is a useful technology -- it could help make solar power commercially viable -- but it's not something your neighborhood hydrogen vendor could use.
  • Not bad (Score:2, Informative)

    by RennieScum ( 118197 )
    Great idea. This could power a house, and as the distribution system for hydro gets more developed, the price will drop, as will the cost of use.

    One of the reasons the damned things are so expensive (but cheaper per kw that solar iirc) is the catalyst used is usually platinum, which is horribly expensive and rare. People aren't certain if they can get the amount of platinum to do mass production of larger units. Luckily, other alloys can do the job, but with some lost efficiency.

    Fuel cells are highly efficient, and farily cost efficient (not like, say, *coal* is). It' s main problems is the hydrogen. But this is more of a factor that limits their use in vehicles [google.com] then for home use.
  • by markj02 ( 544487 ) on Monday January 21, 2002 @04:26AM (#2875369)
    Hydrogen in bottled form is, of course, fairly common and fairly safe, but it may simply be too inconvenient for this application. For something that heavy and big, maybe it would be more better if it could run on alcohol ("a bottle of vodka"), bottled gas, or some solid hydride that is activated with water and later recycled.
  • The Greenvolt units mentioned in the article require a special, dry anode and cathode, which are activated by adding salt water. The by-product of this, aside from electricity, is pure hydrogen.

    I wonder, how many Greenvolt units would be required to produce the fuel needed for the Coleman unit? That would be so cool, running one off of the "waste" of the other :)
    • That would be so cool, running one off of the "waste" of the other
      Trying to invent a perpetual motion engine again? Fuel cell tech is just a variation of the motor driving a generator to power the motor. The net losses bring these to a halt fairly quickly. It will never have a net gain of power. All conversions have some loss to them. None are more than 100% effecient.
      • A bit like progressively converting foreign text to English and vice versa through Google/Babelfish to see how good the translator is by measuring the rate of deterioration, you could couple a generator and fuel cell together and measure how long they last. Current electrolysis is around 70% efficient so this would quickly become biased towards generators that can still operate efficiently under low power, which is *not* the same as being the most efficient generator. Still an amusing idea though.

      • No, I'm not trying to make a perpetual motion machine here. The net effect of running the Greenvolt unit is that it creates saltier water. The Coleman unit likely creates plain water. Add the two and you still have residue - salty water, in excess of what's needed.

        What I'm trying to show is that it's a cool way to get even more electricity from the Greenvolt units (which are fairly low-power, a couple of amps at 6 to 12 volts), by turning the "waste" into fuel for another stage. Reduce, re-use, recycle indeed.

        It'd likely take a whole lot of the Greenvolt units to supply enough hydrogen for the Coleman unit. I'm not really sure what could use 12 volts at, say, a hundred amps. Still, I used to run a whole computer from 12 volts, as an emergency unit (even had the monitor running from 12 volts, tho it was only a black&white VGA unit. This set-up made a fantastic Field Day packet radio machine :)).
  • by Riktov ( 632 )
    "Coleman To Sell Portable Fuel Cell Generator"?

    What, was he inspired by George Foreman's barbeque grill?
  • Why not just buy a big cylinder of hydrogen from an industrial gas supplier? I'm assuming that this device can run off bottled hydrogen and oxygen from the atmosphere.
  • by Molina the Bofh ( 99621 ) on Monday January 21, 2002 @06:55AM (#2875636) Homepage
    I still prefer Doctor Brown's Mr. Fusion, that appeared in Back to the Future III. It runs with banana peels, cans, whatever. Plus it can get you back in time.

    It has a major drawback, though. It only runs on a Delorean like this [attcanada.ca] or this [simpletonhigh.com].

  • In my opinion, Ballard's residential 1-kW Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cells are far more interesting. These units allow you to eliminate the electrical utility completely. Gas is used for heating and generating all the power the house needs.

    BALLARD POWER recently unveiled their second-generation prototype fuel cell power generator for the Japanese residential market. The second-generation prototype unit has advanced to include an electrical inverter, to convert DC to reached AC gross electrical efficiency of 34 per cent(lower heating value "LHV"). The volume of the prototype unit has been reduced by 40 per cent from the first generation, and has increased heat recovery efficiency to 47 per cent (LHV), giving total efficiency of 81% (LHV).

    As a bonus, this would also eliminate the need to have that mess of power lines on most streets in North America (although the cable companies and telcos might have something to say about this). I think this would (maybe) also help lay the infrastructure for the Hydrogen economy.

  • Cool but...why not use a hydrocarbon fuel rather than pure hydrogen? Hydrogen is for the most part merely an energy transfer device not an energy storage device. Any time you talk about the energy stores in X amount of hydrogen you're REALLY talking about X amount of energy the hydrogen is transporting from one place to another.

    To get hydrogen out of somewhere it is happy being requires energy, putting it somewhere it doesn't feel like going requires energy, and finally getting it out of the last place to stuck it because you're being finicky requires energy. Thus the energy you originally put into it to get it out of where it was happy being eventually ends up going into some eletrical thingamajig. The only way to close that loop (to make it efficient) is to get that original energy from Mr.Sun. However that part costs money AND energy because the second law of thermodynamics is not "solar panels will form out of random bits of silicon for your enjoyment".

    In the case of hydrocarbons some unsuspecting group of organisms has for millions of years toiled away to put energy in the form of hydrogen into a substance. Said hydrogen is pretty happy there so it is cheaper to just move the hydrogen's home (the hydrocarbon) and evict it later when you have it near the site of energy conversion. Since the toiling is already done (in true open source fashion pun intended) why not use that pent up energy in the hydrocarbon to produce some emergency energy. It'd be much more marketable. You go to a gas station, fill up a propane tank, hook it to your fuel cell unit and energy issues forth as the liquified propane decides without the stopcock in the way it is free to expand to limits never before sought by propane molecules. Hydrogen's energy loop is much shorter than that of hydrocarbons meaning it costs you the user more per unit of energy to use some form of pure extracted hydrogen until solar power systems reach efficiencies and prices that can be more easily marginalized.

  • Thats right! Someone in the Slashdot audience can win a shiny new dollar (Yeah! AUDIENCE GOES- Ohhhh! Aaaaaahhh!) from "El Camino SS" when they can guess the closest date (without going over, of course) to when the first US Senator says some total irrelevency like...

    "Hey, we need to regulate this, after all, we don't want another Hindenburgh on our hands!"


    "The last thing we need is someone turning this into a bomb, I mean, you know, its got hydrogen in it, so I'd say we don't exactly want any hydrogen bombs around here.... that would be devastating."

  • of my electric car?? ANd jsut plug the car into it?
  • Electric cars have been around for over 20 years and now that excellent hybrid gasoline/electric cars are hitting the market, the oil industry bought the rights to the NiMH battery technology and is using the courts to stop or slow down one of the big hybrid auto manufacturers.

    Do you really think the oil industry would allow fuel cells to undermine their business? I think they will stall it until they figure out how to make oil burning fuel cells dominant.

    I do hope you are correct but we'd be lucky if 5 years from now more then 1% of new homes are built with fuel cell heating/power systems. What ever happened to GE's fuelcell home power systems?????
  • The Coleman unit is still vaporware; you can't get it yet. Besides, at $8K, it's way overpriced. The Fuel Cell Store doesn't actually offer anything that really generates useful power, just demo kits. Greenvolt's units have rather small power outputs.

    There's a real market for something that runs on natural gas, produces 1KW or so, and is priced around $1K, as an emergency power source.

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