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Hydrogen Vehicle Generates Its Own Fuel 662

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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  • by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <{akaimbatman} {at} {}> on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:31PM (#10461376) Homepage Journal
    Although the truck performs as planned, it's more of a demonstration project than a practical vehicle. The four solar panels and hydrogen-generating system create only enough fuel per day to travel a few miles.

    And it's not going to go any farther. On an average day, you're lucky to receive about 200 watts/m2 of sun power. The rest of the energy (about 1.3kw/m2) is lost to diffusion and blockage by the atmosphere.

    We've discussed this before on Slashdot, and it has been felt that Sun power could be a great "fuel saver" idea for hydrogen cars. But moving something the size of a modern car is going to require more energy than you can collect from sunlight. (IIRC, ~2 kw to cruise and 10kw to accelerate a small car.)

    That being said, I applaud their efforts in the direction of alternative energy sources. Hydrogen is simply not as powerful as petroleum products, but it's pretty close. Concepts like creating fuel with a built-in electrolyzer could be the key to making hydrogen cars seem just as powerful and efficient as petroleum vehicles.

    Now if they wanted to prove that hydrogen fill stations could use large Solar Power arrays to power their electrolyzer, then I'm with them all the way. :-)
    • by officepotato ( 723274 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:34PM (#10461419) Homepage
      For someone that lives in a tightly-knit community, and only drives a few miles to work and school each day, this seems like it could really be a "free fuel" solution though. Expecially with the switchable conventional gas system for longer trips.
      • by Fred_A ( 10934 ) <fred@freds[ ] ['hom' in gap]> on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:39PM (#10461485) Homepage
        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.

        Much cleaner.
        • by TykeClone ( 668449 ) <> on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:46PM (#10461571) Homepage Journal
          I live near work and walk most of the time, but there are instances when it is handy to drive because I'm planning on carrying around more than what would be easy to carry.

          There are cases where a commuter vehicle like this would make sense.

        • by justanyone ( 308934 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:48PM (#10461591) Homepage Journal
          Bicycles are NOT cleaner. WARNING: SATIRE ALERT! SATIRE ALERT!

          The power from bicycles comes from humans eating food and producing poop. The food production takes an unbelievably large amount of energy intensive fossil fuel burning machinery to produce, and quite a bit of value-add from packaging, marketing, etc. (grin).

          Likewise, the 'CLEAN ENERGY' aspect of this ignores POOP. Humans that bicycle would use more energy and create more Poop. This would in turn create proportionately more feces, which would have to be processed in an energy intensive sewage treatment plant.

          Manufacturing the bicycles, paving for the roads suitably, etc. is very inefficient and Anti-Green (shall we say RED?). The most GREEN thing we can do is stop emitting greenhouse gasses ("farts"), poop ("feces"), and consuming valuable resources by eating things. I recommend all humans should hold their breath until they die and save the planet.

          SATIRE ALERT! The above is Satire. Any correspondence between this and a valid opinion would be in the direct opposite direction, ideologically speaking.
          • by nathan s ( 719490 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:04PM (#10461803) Homepage
            Decomposition releases all sorts of gases, possibly methane and carbon dioxide [], although I'm not a biologist.

            Obviously then, dying isn't green. And since you suggested it, I can tell that you're an evil RED spy masquerading as a GREEN supporter.:-)
          • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) * on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:09PM (#10461870) Homepage Journal
            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. My metabolism doesn't just store unneeded energy and make me bloated, it's just chucks it (it's called Inefficient Metabolism) so however much you normally eat, if you don't store it, you waste anyway for whatever level of activity you engage in which may be limited to sitting on a chair all weekend fine tuning your drivers, playing d00m 3, or hitting Reload.
            • by hankwang ( 413283 ) * on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:45PM (#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.

          • by KilobyteKnight ( 91023 ) <bjm.midsouth@rr@com> on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:09PM (#10461877) Homepage
            The most GREEN thing we can do is stop emitting greenhouse gasses ("farts"), poop ("feces"), and consuming valuable resources by eating things.

            Or we could capture and burn the farts and poop. Perhaps the turbo button could be shaped like a toilet flush lever.

            Yes Ma'am, this car uses solar power to produce hydrogen. But it will also run on fossil fuels and feces. Notice the plush padding around the fecal collection bin in the drivers seat and the lighted mirror on the sun shade? Yes Ma'am, we do have one in brown.
          • by Xaroth ( 67516 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:21PM (#10462026) Homepage
            I recommend all humans should hold their breath until they die and save the planet.

            I could not agree more! Save the planet! Kill yourself!

        • by azaris ( 699901 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:48PM (#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 bfields ( 66644 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:00PM (#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 [] and bikewinter []. Also I wrote up some suggestions on riding in winter [].

            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

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

              Most definitely. I live in Ottawa Canada, which is recognized as the second coldest national capital []. Believe me, in the deepest darkest coldest parts of winter there are die-hards still commuting to work with studded tires and good storm gear.

              Never underestimate what the die-hard group of cyclists will do. Once in the midd

          • Regarding cold weather and snow, I doubt this truck would work well. First, they generate hydrogen from water, which could easily freeze. Second, it is solar powered, and sunlight is much reduced in the winter.

            If it is too dangerous to bike, it is probably too dangerous to drive also. Bikes can be fitted with studded tires that dig into the ice.

            Also, if it is only a few miles a day, walking is an adequate substitute, in any temperature.

            The best practical use I can see for this is hauling large amounts
        • by NanoGator ( 522640 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @03:35PM (#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.
    • by carlos_benj ( 140796 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:36PM (#10461449) Journal
      Our average day here in the Phoenix area is a little better than the average elsewhere. Still not enough to make this practical for now. If this is the same guy I talked to a few years ago, he's building a hydrogen "refinery" and they're looking into all kinds of ways of generating hydrogen for automotive use.

      He had a hard time getting his truck to pass emissions at first since the exhaust was so much cleaner than the air around the test station. The machine just said he registered "off the scale". Finally got a waiver from the state.
    • Make the car a not so asshole american version removing at least 2 tons from the weight to be moved. Now put the solar panels on the roof of the house as well as the other equipment saving yet more weight and space plus gaining a lot of area for solar panels.

      So what you got? Free fuel when you park the car at your house. Will enough be generated? Well depending on the money and eviromental cost of the setup it might make a difference not just because of less fuel consumed but also in less fuel consumed get

      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:29PM (#10462122) Homepage
        Part of the problem with this is thus:

        Best (expensive!) solar cells on the market available for the average person efficiency: ~25%
        Best electrolysis conversion efficiency: ~80%
        Best fuel cell efficiency: ~70%
        Best overall net efficiency: ~14%

        Note that this doesn't factor in important things like compressing the hydrogen into tanks. I'd imagine you'd probably lose another 20% or so of your energy in that process.

        Combine this with the low energy input imparted by the sun to an area the size of a car's roof, and there's not much going for this plan. Having an unfoldable sun-umbrella might make it slightly more realistic, but not very.

        Even when you get your hydrogen from oil, you get a well-to-wheel efficiency of about 58%, vs. 88% for normal and hybrid cars. And you still need regenerative braking and the other hybrid improvements if you care about energy efficiency, which means that you still need the batteries (electrolysis isn't that fast!).

        All in all: good motive, dumb concept. If they wanted a more realistic approach, they'd solar cells on the house hooked up to batteries in the vehicle (battieries have notably higher charge/discharge efficiency, and are less likely to explode... lower energy density, of course, but higher power density).
    • Build solar powered hydrogen plants on the house for small hydrogen burning scooters?
    • by 955301 ( 209856 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:47PM (#10461589) Journal
      Just have a group of other cars follow it around with mirrors pointing more light on the solar panels.

      Problem solved.
      • Excellent idea! :^) But perhaps a slightly more realistic solution would be to have the solar panels mounted on your roof or in your yard, where there is more surface area available. They could generate hydrogen all day, and when you got home in the evening you could transfer it to your car.

        Combine that with advances in solar panel efficiency (both in terms of watts per square meter and watts per dollar) efficient automobile designs (so that less hydrogen is necessary), commercial renewable hydrogen gen

      • "Just have a group of other cars follow it around with mirrors pointing more light on the solar panels."

        Why? Just sleep in the shade until it's sunny enough, and/or you think you're recharged.

        Learned that from my dog -- he can't drive worth a shit (I think the wind speed affects either his vision or concentration when his head out the window), but he does has a firm grasp of energy states.
    • The article also mentions if the hydrogen tanks are charged from an external source, it can go as far as a conventional vehicle. The big deal here is it's capable of producing it's own hydrogen/fuel, even if only a little bit at a time. If fuel stations were set up to use larger solar arrays than would fit on a car, or even power from the grid, much more fuel could be produced. If I'm not mistaken, the byproduct of hydrogen combustion is water, so assuming a closed system, it would theoretically have the
      • The article also mentions if the hydrogen tanks are charged from an external source, it can go as far as a conventional vehicle.

        I understood that perfectly.

        The big deal here is it's capable of producing it's own hydrogen/fuel, even if only a little bit at a time.

        Nothing new here. The idea has been considered many times, but rejected for its low energy yield. The project is cool, but it's not groundbreaking.

        If fuel stations were set up to use larger solar arrays than would fit on a car, or even pow
    • by evilpenguin ( 18720 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:04PM (#10461812)
      The 200w/sq. m is based on monocrystalline silicon PV. This is the cheapest but also almost the least efficient PV solution because the actual absorption is in the indirect bandgap energy of silicon.

      There are thin-film PV solutions with much higher efficiencies (and much higher costs, and much higher toxicity involved in production). But there is also research going on on other semiconductor materials the hold out promise of high efficiency at fairly low cost. (I don't think we'll ever make thin films where there aren't some danged scary chemicals involved.)

      Even so, your point is well made. Insolation is such that even if you could acheive 100% PV efficiency, you would still only have about 2kW/sq. meter.

      Any realistic ground-based fuel production will require large arrays of PV. You'll need a lot of area to power your car.

      But there are plenty of people powering their homes entirely off PV (entirely is a bit of stretch -- they use Propane or other combustion for a lot, including, often, for refrigeration).

      People also have entirely solar charged electric cars, but again, they require a fairly large of field of PV panels. The real advantage here is that the efficiency of hydrogen as the energy storage is much greater than the efficiency of chemical batteries.

      And, oh yeah, there are 100% solar powered cars right now that run on what they generate at the moment. But these are the cars in the American Solar Challenge [] which are a long way from practical household commuter cars.

      But we have barely begun to put resources and research and capital into energy alternatives. I have always said that it wouldn't begin until oil prices went way up. I'm not even sure that we'll a lot of progress now. But I'm quite confident that the stability and price of oil will not steadily increase anymore. We're already seeing wind power become a fairly significant energy source. PV will follow. I think it will become common for homes to have grid-intertied solar power systems.

      Alternative fuel cars are coming. Hybrids are just a first step. I don't know which technology will catch on, fuel cells or hydrogen combustion, but I'd bet we'll see petrochemical powered vehicles in the minority in my lifetime.
      (I'm in my late 30's).
      • 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 SIGALRM ( 784769 ) * on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:31PM (#10461379) Journal
    Built for less than $10,000, the project has caught the attention of experts in alternative-fuel research
    I find it curious that the commercial fuel/automotive manufacturing sector can't (or maybe won't) make significant, transparent headway in the arena of alternative fuels and vehicles. No conflict of interest, is there? Couldn't be that they already have made advancements, but have kept their R&D under wraps.</sarcasm>

    Recycling fuel is anathema to the petroleum industry--BP commercials ("it's a start") aside.
    • by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:39PM (#10461480) Homepage Journal
      Well, one caveat of private research, you only hear about their successes, never their failures. For instance, for a university, a truck that goes a few miles is quite an accomplishment, but could you imagine the PR disaster if Ford unveiling something like this?
      Not saying you are wrong, I agree that private sector research and development has lagged for a long time(well, ever since the term ROI became a buzzword really, everyone is focused on short term) but I don't think it's fair to say they are doing nothing, they just don't publicize as much as universities do.
    • What about FutureTruck? [] Or the GM HyWire? [] How is it a conflict of interest for auto manufacturers to build fuel cell/diesel/hybrid vehicles?
      Yes, their project was built for I think this is a step forward but to sit there and claim that there's some kind of conspiracy is laughable. To produce a viable alternative to the combustion engine takes time. It took us over 100 years to get engines that last 100K miles, while at the same time get 30 miles to the gallon, and go 0-60 in around 7 seconds (2004 Hond
    • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:50PM (#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 LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:02PM (#10461790) Homepage Journal
      "I find it curious that the commercial fuel/automotive manufacturing sector can't (or maybe won't) make significant, transparent headway in the arena of alternative fuels and vehicles."

      That is because it is hard. Liquid fossil fuels do have a lot of advantages over every alternative fuel so far.
      1. Cost. It is a lot cheaper than any of the alternative right now.
      2. Power to weight. It beats the daylights out of batteries. Try and build a car that will go 200+ miles on a charge. It is easy to with gasoline.
      3. Density. You can pack more energy in a smaller volume than Hydrogen, Natural Gas, or Propane.
      4. Ease of use. It is a lot quicker to just fill your tank than to charge an electric car. It is a lot simpler to pump gas into your tank than to refuel a tank of Hydrogen.
      5. Infrastructure. When is the last time you say a hydrogen station?

      Bio DieselD is the best alternative fuel right now but then you have the moral issue of is it right to use that land for fuel instead of feeding people?
      Frankly the first car company that makes a car that does not use fossil fuel but works as well as gas car they will make a mint.
      The idea that all the auto makers in the world are including Japan "Japan has to import 100% of its fuel" are keeping a workable alternative powered care a secret is well into the realm of the tin foil hat crowd.
    • by plover ( 150551 ) * on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:14PM (#10461937) Homepage Journal
      It really bothers me to find people believing that the car companies aren't already researching this already. For example, Daimler-Benz (now Daimler-Chrysler) has been working on a hydrogen powered fuel cell car for over 10 years. I'm going to focus my argument on fuel cells because I'm most familiar with that topic, but most of the argument remains true regardless of the technology that the alternative fuel drives.

      Daimler's first fuel cell vehicle started as basically a large mobile laboratory in the back of a panel van (even larger than this school's truck.) They then installed one in a bus, and another in a minivan, and they now have one in a car the size of a Cooper Mini.

      The problem isn't getting a vehicle like this on the road. The problem isn't even getting a fleet of them deployed to a single commercial customer (like a bus transit line.) The problems they're encountering now is scaling the entire transportation system so that Joe Sixpack can afford to buy one, drive it home, and fill it up every week.

      The most efficient fuel for fuel cell (electric) cars is raw hydrogen. Compressed hydrogen would require an entire new infrastructure to deliver, and would be probably the most hazardous product ever sold to consumers. Liquid hydrogen would be even worse, because of the dangers inherent in delivering tanks of products at 3 degrees Kelvin. So, because of the fuel delivery problems one of the first compromises they had to make was to figure out how to fuel these vehicles with easily delivered, stable-at-room-temperature liquids, instead of compressed gasses. That took time and research. The next problem is that the catalyst required to crack the liquids into raw hydrogen is based on rare precious metals like platinum. Besides taking enough metal to make these engines prohibitively expensive, there simply isn't enough of it on earth to build the number of vehicles that a big car maker like Chevrolet builds every year. So, they've had to experiment with different ways to get the liquid fuels cracked into the base hydrogen.

      The vehicle these kids built only cost $10,000, but much of the expense (solar panels) was donated. And it still won't scale, because the solar panels are already operating at something like 30% of their theoretical output. Making a vehicle go from 3 miles per day to 10 miles per day still isn't going to sell.

      And despite the best conspiracy theorists determinations, it is far and away in the best interests of a car company to be the first to market selling a truly revolutionary fueled car. Think about what would happen to Ford's stock price if they announced a "sunlight and water powered car" were available. It would truly be a license to print money. The petroleum companies could offer no bribe in the world big enough to slow down a cash cow of that magnitude.

  • i want one! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Narcocide ( 102829 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:31PM (#10461381) Homepage
    can i get mine with hoverlift?
  • Brilliant idiots... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Duncan3 ( 10537 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:33PM (#10461406) Homepage
    Solar power woohoo... lets put it on a vehicle that weighs as much as a small house!

    • by Anonymous Coward
      What the bloody hell are you talking about? A Chevy S-10 is NOT a terribly heavy truck.

      They are cheap...can be had with an economical 4 cylinder, they are easily modifiable, and have a reasonable sized bed to put crazy things cells...and hydrogen generators. You know...for doing what it does. And stuff.

      What would you prefer for this application, O wise engineer?
    • Actually, I think that this was a smart move. Want to get the average gas-guzzling American interested in alternative sources of energy? Which is a more effective illustration: a nearly transparent, one-passenger 50-pound "car" that my poodle could pull, or a '98 S10 running on sunlight and water?

      I'd say that the choice of the S10 was deliberate, and absolutely brilliant.
  • by greg_barton ( 5551 ) * <> on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:34PM (#10461410) Homepage Journal
    From [] before it was slashdotted...


    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.


    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.

  • This concept isn't new by anymeans. The challenge to projects like this lay in the efficiency of solar cells. One would almost think that wind generators, with a combination of dynamic breaking (sticking a generator on the axles to slow the viehicle) woudl generate more hydrogen and do so more efficiently.
  • Showing my ignorance (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dark Paladin ( 116525 ) * <jhummel@joh[ ] ['nhu' in gap]> on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:35PM (#10461426) Homepage
    One of the questions I've seen regarding hydrogen is "OK, less pollution - but how are we going to get the hydrogen without using up even more energy?"

    I keep wondering why solar can't provide some of this. Build a series of solar panels, collect water (say from a local river), break down the water into H2+O, let the latter out into the air and keep the former for fuel.

    Is solar not strong enough/inconsistent enough for such an endeavor? Sure, you'd need a large area with a local water supply (again, a river might be nice), and probably a backup generator for when there wasn't enough sunlight, but overall you'd probably have a very efficient and low-pollution system.

    Though perhaps there are engineering issues I'm not aware of. Any energy geeks out there want to help me out?
    • by gatzke ( 2977 )

      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
  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) * on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:35PM (#10461432) Homepage Journal
    The truck is hydrogen-powered and creates its own fuel from solar energy and water

    National Security Risk in Sector 14

    "Come along with us sir"
    "What have I done?!?!?"
    "You're charged with subverting US foreign policy, energy policy and corrupting minors. President Cheney is most displeased."

  • by drgonzo59 ( 747139 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:36PM (#10461434)
    Doesn't it make sense to just run a small electric motor with, wich would make the vehicle weigh much less. I guess this would work only if they plan this to be an add-on modules to the already existing hydrogen cars.
    • There is no way that the current fleet of vehicles will be discarded in favor of electric cars. Conversion of the conventional fleet to hydrogen power will allow a transition to alternate fuels.
    • by Engineer-Poet ( 795260 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:44PM (#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 @01:45PM (#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:/ / Power/2-how-efficient-are-solar-panels.html

    • The answer is pretty obvious, you need some way to store that power. This sort of thing would be most useful for a farm truck that went to market once a week. Over the week it can be sitting still, maybe making a few trips around the farm to drop off hay bales or something, and then at the end of the week it can be driven into town to the farmer's market. Hydrogen is the most efficient method of storing that power simply because batteries are heavy and wear out. Plus, you can retrofit almost any existing ga
    • It would also make more sense to fabricate a lighter vehicle rather than use an existing (heavy) platform. The lighter the vehicle, the less energy it would take to move it. I was thinking, perhaps, a carbon fiber and aluminum body. But, then the 10 grand figure would increase (but it would probably be worth it as far as bragging rights are concerned).
  • by justanyone ( 308934 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:40PM (#10461495) Homepage Journal

    It seems to me the thing we need is a hydrogen to methane (natural gas) converter.

    The widely acknowledged problem with hydrogen is the storage density stinks. The tank is too big and too pressurized for safety, size, and weight concerns.

    This vehicle, and many other applications, would be well suited to having a hydrogen to methane converter. Many existing fleets use natural gas in their ONLY SLIGHTLY MODIFIED internal combustion engines.

    Methane is CH4, a fairly simple molecule; could we come up with a carbon source to use here? Ethane is C2H6, etc.

    Likewise, there are Nitrogen compounds to use. Can someone in chemical engineering comment on the possiblities here of creating more energy-dense storage using some kind of catalyst and raw H or H2 hydrogen?
    • 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:

      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 lawngnome ( 573912 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:41PM (#10461506)
    While I agree this is a nice step in the right direction - until we can get cars that 100% fuel themselves (not likely to happen) or can fill up with hydrogen/whatever at the local corner - I fail to see how these will get mass market appeal.
  • by DunbarTheInept ( 764 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:42PM (#10461526) Homepage
    As to the idea of having a solar-powered 'gas station' for the hydrogen recharging, why bother doing the solar collecting at the gas station? Wouldn't it be a lot more practical to just hook up to the electrical power grid, and then let the power company run a large farm of solar panels. That's pretty much the main reason electricity is such a useful form of energy - you can put the machinery that produces it quite far from the consumer that uses it, and thereby consolodate the energy production into a few places. And if you're concerned about the environment, keep in mind that checking for pollution at a small number of large facilities works better than checking for the sum of all pollution made by each individual's own usage.
  • by rumblin'rabbit ( 711865 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:43PM (#10461536) Journal
    This is not a hydrogen-powered truck - it's a solar-powered truck. The hydrogen is just a way of internally storing and transmitting the energy.

    Presumably they could also have used batteries and an electric motor rather than hydrogen and an engine.

    I only bring this up because I find it annoying when people refer to hydrogen as an energy source.

    • MOD PARENT UP (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jesrad ( 716567 )
      This truck is a poor-efficiency solar vehicle using hydrogen tank as a battery to store power generated during the day.

      I still don't get why people imagine that hydrogen will solve anything. If you have to make the hydrogen by electrolyzing water, you've already lost. Water is an ash, turning it back into gases and recombining it severly limits the efficiency of your system : you're losing around one third of the energy when electrolyzing water, and losing again when making it back into water. And you stil
    • This is not a solar-powered truck, this is a fusion-powered truck. The light energy is just a way of transmitting the power from the fusion source kept at a safe distance.

      Presumably, they could have run a wire to the sun's magnetic field to induce a current rather than use batteries.

      I only mention this because I find it annoying when people don't refer to the last step in the process as the energy source.

      It's a hydrogen-powered truck. The solar plant is a nifty method of obtaining hydrogen to combust i
  • Well... (Score:5, Funny)

    by BigChigger ( 551094 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:45PM (#10461562)
    it still uses water. That's as scarce as gas in Arizona.

    • Re:Well... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by debrain ( 29228 )
      it still uses water. That's as scarce as gas in Arizona.

      Interestingly and scarily enough, (clean) water is a lot more expensive than gas. It's what, $1 for an 8 oz bottle, versus $1 for a gallon of gas?

      The developing world is interesting because they still have no notion of paying for drinking water, for better or worse.
  • Cool (Score:4, Funny)

    by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:45PM (#10461566) Homepage Journal
    And at night, they can use a lamp connected to the battery to power the solar panels on top of the car.

    Sure it would look strange, a car with a lamp mounted on the roof to shine down towards the roof surface, but think of the possibilities, we may never have to stop for gas ever again! :>

  • who remembers (Score:3, Informative)

    by pair-a-noyd ( 594371 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:48PM (#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.

  • At least, to me. Why have this stuff installed on the vehicle at all? All you're accomplishing is adding weight to the vehicle and limiting the maximum size of your solar array. Doesn't it make more sense to install the solar panels on the roof of your dwelling and put the electrolysis equipment in the back yard?

    Does anyone have complete information on building one's own electrolysers, from disassociation to storage? I really don't want to figure it out myself, I just want to build something.

  • by SirLanse ( 625210 ) <> on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:48PM (#10461604)
    Detroit sees large H2 gas stations as a hazard. They see cars with H2 tanks as a hazard. This avoids the gas stations. How about plugging this in at the house to run the electrolyzer? Or set up a solar panel at the house and fill the tank at night? Keep the regular fuel option for long trips, but use H2 around town. Very much like the hybrids use electric.
  • by WormholeFiend ( 674934 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:49PM (#10461611)
    I'd put this system on a blimp, to power the rotors.

    Given the right design, a blimp has a very large surface to put solar panels on, and it can fly above the clouds for optimal sun exposure.

    Now, cue the Hindenberg jokes...
  • by Eminence ( 225397 ) <akbrandt AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:54PM (#10461669) Homepage
    This project shows clearly, that right now the main problem is storing the energy. After all, making hydrogen with electricity from solar panels to then turn an internal combustion engine with it has to be inefficient as compared to running directly on electricity. However, you can't squeeze that amount of energy into an accumulator which would be the size of a typical (even hydrogen) fuel tank. So as long as we won't be able to make such accumulators running purely on solar energy would be hard to achieve for a normal-sized family vehicle.

    But hey, there are easier ways to make cars less polluting and everyone less dependent on oil! Take alcohol for example, you can produce it cheaply, even in your own backyard from some potatoes or grain, it is way easier and safer to handle than hydrogen and typical car engine can be easily modified to run on it. Same applies to vegetable oils and diesel engine (which was originally designed for vegetable oil).

  • by Sebby ( 238625 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:00PM (#10461740)
    Q: Have You Patented This Idea?

    Answer: NO. First of all, the idea of building a solar-hydrogen internal combustion vehicle is neither new or original. As far as we know, nobody has built one before this since the production rate of hydrogen is so low. Secondly, one of our main goals is to promote this technology, and contribute to this field without putting any restrictions on others.

  • Seriously (Score:3, Insightful)

    by over_exposed ( 623791 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:03PM (#10461796) Homepage
    Is anyone else impressed just by the simple fact that these are all high school kids? This is fantastic to see high school students working with technology like this. I applaud their efforts.
  • by tjic ( 530860 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:04PM (#10461811) Homepage
    So he's re-invented a solar car...except instead of conventional battery technology, he's using a big tank of highly flammable gas.

    Big whoop.

  • Absolute Rubbish (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:05PM (#10461825)
    Why not use Lithium Polymer batteries that can be recharged from solar cells while the car is parked, or recharged from the power grid anytime.

    The other advantage of Lithium Polymer batteries is energy can be captured from regenerative braking. Hydrogen cycle is a complete waste of energy.

    Industry should be concentraing on Lithium Polymer car battery mass production and lower costs, not riding the hydrogen fantasy that will never amount to anything for the mass public!
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:14PM (#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. [] 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 Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:21PM (#10462016)
    OMFG people!

    Have you built a car that runs on sunlight and water?

    How far did the first airplane fly?

    Are you saying this proof of concept is impractical?

    Congratulations CHS kids!
  • X Prize? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Quixote ( 154172 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:32PM (#10462175) Homepage Journal
    I think it's about time some foundation (i.e. someone other than unemployed old me) came up with an "X Prize" for these sorts of endeavors. For example:
    - the first gasoline engine to give 100mpg (sustained) in normal driving conditions (heck, even a highway) for a medium-sized sedan.
    - First electric car that can take 4 adults 300miles on 4 hours of charge

    Some good-old competition combined with good-old American ingenuity should do wonders for these projects.

  • by Nuclear Elephant ( 700938 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @03:23PM (#10462771) Homepage
    So what if you run out of hydrogen AND water, can you use the left over mountain dew in your cup, or what about converting urine?

    I'd piss on a sparkplug if I thought it'd do any good
  • by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @05:51PM (#10464519) Journal
    Hydrogen is hard to keep, not very energy dense, easily explosive, etc.

    We'd do much better exploring biodiesel [] than trying to pursue solar/hydrogen as a fuel system.

    From the article:
    There are many problems with using hydrogen as a fuel. The first, and most obvious, is that hydrogen gas is extremely explosive. To store hydrogen at high pressures for as a transportation fuel, it is essential to have tanks that are constructed of rust-proof materials, so that as they age they won't rust and spring leaks. Hydrogen has to be stored at very high pressures to try to make up for its low energy density. Diesel fuel has an energy density of 1,058 kBtu/cu.ft. Biodiesel has an energy density of 950 kBtu/cu.ft, and hydrogen stored at 3,626 psi (250 times atmospheric pressure) only has an energy density of 68 kBtu/cu.ft.4 So, highly pressurized to 250 atmospheres, hydrogen's volumetric energy density is only 7.2% of that of biodiesel.
    And that's not including the subject of efficiency. Solar/hydrogen is extremely inefficient.
    A common dream from the environmentalist community is having a solar panel on the roof of a home to electrolyze water, producing hydrogen for a fuel cell vehicle. It's a nice dream, but not particularly realistic. As a real world example, consider Honda's facility in California that requires an 8 kW solar array to produce enough hydrogen to drive one small hydrogen vehicle roughly 7,500 miles per year. Such an array could power several homes in California, but is only enough for powering one small car half the normal driving range in the US. For an average family with two vehicles that drive an average distance of 15,000 miles per year, an array of 32 kW would be needed - considerably more with larger vehicles. A 32 kW array would cost on the order of $160,000, and could not be installed just on the rooftop of a single home - it would likely require the south-facing rooftops of at least 4-8 houses to power the vehicles from one home (and that's if you live in sunny California...
    It's a neat project - I'll grant that easily. However, the end result is that at this time, it's just not feasible.

    However, biodiesel is competetive (or close to competetive) with diesel at today's prices. It requires NO modification to your car (assuming your car runs diesel, of course) and can be mixed freely with diesel.

    So, there's no penalty for using biodiesel. That's where the money should be put!

If I have not seen so far it is because I stood in giant's footsteps.