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House Passes H-Prize Legislation; Bring on the Contenders

By an overwhelming vote of 416 to 6, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 5143, the H-Prize Act of 2006. (Earlier post.) The legislation, introduced by Research Subcommittee Chairman Bob Inglis (R-SC) and modified after its passage out of Committee, would, if it becomes law, establish a national prize competition to encourage the development of breakthrough technologies that would enable a hydrogen economy.

The H-Prize, modeled after the successful $10M Ansari X Prize—which spurred the first privately funded suborbital human spaceflight last year—seeks to help overcome technical challenges related to hydrogen by offering prizes in three categories:

  • Technological Advancements. Four prizes of up to $1 million awarded biennially in the categories of hydrogen Production, Storage, Distribution and Utilization;

  • Prototypes. One prize of up to $4 million awarded biennially that forces working hydrogen vehicle prototypes to meet ambitious performance goals; and

  • Transformational Technologies. One grand prize consisting of a $10 million cash award, funded in whole or in part by federal contribution. Additional matching funds could be awarded for development of well-to-wheels breakthrough technologies.

H.R. 5143 would authorize appropriations during fiscal years 2007 through 2016 totaling:

  • $20 million for the Technical Advancement prizes;

  • $20 million for the Prototypes prizes (awards in these two categories alternate each year);

  • $10 million for a single Transformational Technologies grand prize; and

  • $2 million annually for administrative and advertising costs.

The legislation would direct the Secretary of Energy to contract with a private foundation or other non-profit entity to establish criteria for the prizes and administer the prize contest.

In passing the bill, the House amended the version of the bill that had passed in Committee by:

  • Allowing the Transformational Technologies grand prize to be offered only once in the 10-year period covered by the bill, reducing the authorization levels in the bill by $80 million;

  • Clarifying that the Technological Advancements prizes do not have to be awarded if there are no significant advances in the two-year period being covered by a prize competition; and

  • Requiring the entity that administers the prizes to protect any intellectual property, trade secrets or confidential business information provided by prize contestants.

Hydrogen may be the Holy Grail of transportation fuels. It is clean, it is abundant, and it can be produced here at home. If we are able to overcome the technical barriers that currently block its wide-spread, practical use, the potential payoff will be huge: cleaner air, less global warming, and most importantly, an economy that is not held hostage by foreign regimes or volatile oil markets. There’s no guarantee we’ll get there, but by summoning our nation’s best and brightest to the challenge, the H-Prize will greatly increase our chances of success.

—House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY)

Contenders and the H-Prize. Compared to the Ansari X Prize competition, which required competitors to build and fly a spacecraft capable of carrying three people to 100 km and then within two weeks repeat the flight, the goals and criteria for the H-Prize (assuming it is enacted into law) are much broader, and still need to be defined. Capital requirements for inventors pitching their notions into the contest ring are likely to be lower for some as well.

While a number of contenders undoubtedly will come from the mainstream hydrogen and transportation sectors (research, academic and commercial)—just as Ansari X Prize winner Burt Rutan and his group came from the aerospace industry—the prize opens the door for the competitive evaluation of less orthodox approaches.

Two examples of such are Hydrogen Technology Applications, with its claims for electrolyzing a “unique type of hydrogen/oxygen gas”—HHO—as a potential automotive fuel with 3.1 times the energy of hydrogen; and Energy Ventures Organization, which claims to use a modified resonance field to enhance the electrolytic production of hydrogen from water.

Hydrogen Technology Applications in particular has recently generated an enormous amount of buzz subsequent to a segment on FOX News that featured its “water fuel” for cars.

As questionable as the claims around some unorthodox approaches might be, one of the most efficient ways to sort it out is in a competition just of the sort the H-Prize anticipates.

Nor is the government alone is eyeing a prize strategy to catalyze activity. The X Prize Foundation plans to roll out its own Automotive X Prize (not focused just on hydrogen).

Between 1905 and 1935, hundreds of aviation prizes stimulated the advancement of aircraft technology. One of the best known prizes was The Orteig Prize, $25,000 offered by hotel magnate Raymond Orteig to the first person to fly non-stop between New York and Paris. In 1927, with the whole world watching, Charles Lindbergh won the prize, becoming the most famous person on Earth.

Where no government filled the need and no immediate profit could pay the bill, the Orteig Prize stimulated not one, but nine different attempts to cross the Atlantic. These nine teams cumulatively spent $400,000 to win the $25,000 purse.

Prior to his flight, the press of the day characterized him as a daredevil, an amateur, “the flying fool,” and a “lanky demon of the air,” he was actually a skilled professional and military aviator. Many of the other Orteig Prize attempts utilized heavy, multi-engine planes with large crews. Lindbergh’s meticulously planned single-engine/single-pilot strategy was a radical departure from the conventional thinking of the day, but his innovative thinking and careful preparation won the full support of the Spirit of St. Louis Organization.

—“History of Prizes,” the X Prize Foundation

For legitimate startups, out-of-left-field inventors and those otherwise without exposure to and connections in the mainstream but with real solutions, contests and trials such as these could prove invaluable. For a world requiring real solutions to pressing energy and transportation problems, the prizes could be equally valuable.

Comments

Patrick

Is it April fool's day? "A unique type of hydrogen/oxygen gas HHO"...hmmm sounds like water to me.

How about they do a H-prize for someone that can show a good distribution method for hydrogen which is safe, cost effective and doesn't leak H2 gas (which will potentially destroy the ozone layer if leaked in any significant quantities). Additionally, they should have the prize show where all the energy will come from to produce the hydrogen for all vehicles in the US. The US fleet of ground vehicles (excluding trains) consumed roughly somewhere around 40 trillion joules of energy (from petroleum based fuels) in 2004...creating hydrogen to fuel the same fleet will add an even greater energy demand.

Cervus

I also have to wonder what the effect of a few million cars emitting water vapor would have. Isn't it a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2?

Hydrogen is just a way for our politicians to say "See? We're doing something!" without rocking the boat.

Joe

"I also have to wonder what the effect of a few million cars emitting water vapor would have. Isn't it a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2?"

Water vapor is a green house gas? LOL

Max Reid

There should be roughly 500 hydrogen powered vehicles on the road today or may be 1000.

Hybrid vehicles should be 700,000 +.
So far only individual groups were converting HEV to Plugin HEV, now there is talk about Toyota offering Plugin Prius and if it comes to market, it will be a big hit.

So where will Hydrogen powered vehicles stand.
A big question mark.

dursun

Go google "Bread and Circuses" or "panem et circenses" as it was first known in Latin.

Cervus

Have a look at this, Joe. [Wikipedia]

Water vapor is a natural greenhouse gas which, of all greenhouse gases, accounts for the largest percentage of the greenhouse effect. Water vapor levels fluctuate regionally, but in general humans do not produce a direct forcing of water vapor levels.

Assuming hydrogen production somehow becomes widespread and its use as a tranportation fuel practical, what effect would several million H2O-emitting vehicles have?

An Engineer

Hydrogen may be the Holy Grail of transportation fuels. It is clean, it is abundant, and it can be produced here at home. If we are able to overcome the technical barriers that currently block its wide-spread, practical use, the potential payoff will be huge: cleaner air, less global warming, and most importantly, an economy that is not held hostage by foreign regimes or volatile oil markets. There’s no guarantee we’ll get there, but by summoning our nation’s best and brightest to the challenge, the H-Prize will greatly increase our chances of success. —House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY)

This guy is the House Science Committee Chairman? If I was concerned before (about our total lack of leadership on this issue), now I am downright shocked.

What is next? How to power the future off the hot air emitted by Congressmen?

Icelander

Isn't [water vapor] a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2?

Yes, it is. However, unlike carbon dioxide, water vapor can condense and fall out of the atmosphere at levels we see on earth. Also, hydrogen powered vehicles can capture the water they create and store it until it needs emptied.

How about they do a H-prize for someone that can show a good distribution method for hydrogen which is safe, cost effective and doesn't leak H2 gas (which will potentially destroy the ozone layer if leaked in any significant quantities).

Why distribute and store hydrogen as a gas? You're thinking of it in old-fashioned terms, just like the groups who tried to cross the Atlantic in huge aircraft. Create the hydrogen at the distribution point and only store enough to meet daily peak demands.

Additionally, they should have the prize show where all the energy will come from to produce the hydrogen for all vehicles in the US.

Wind, wave, hydroelectric, geothermal, solar, nuclear. Increasing demand for electricity to produce hydrogen combined with a carbon tax will lead to more demand for clean electricity production.

I'm just hoping this thing doesn't lead to a system that requires a garage. Having the ability to refuel your car at home might be great for some, but I don't have a regular parking space, let alone a garage, and I don't think the city would like to have hoses full of flammable gas going down the block.

An Engineer

So near and yet so far!

Can anybody explain to these pinheads that the fundamental challenge with hydrogen is where all the power (fuel) will come from to make it, especially if it is going to be "clean, abundant," etc. And that is ignoring all the challenges involved in storage and transportation.

If you are going to have an "X-prize" at least open it up to every conceivable technology. Let's hope the X Prize Foundation gets it right.

An Engineer

Why distribute and store hydrogen as a gas? You're thinking of it in old-fashioned terms, just like the groups who tried to cross the Atlantic in huge aircraft. Create the hydrogen at the distribution point and only store enough to meet daily peak demands.
Great job, Icelander! You have just demonstrated that we do not need hydrogen at all: If you carry the fuel that you would use to create the hydrogen "at the distribution point", why bother creating the hydrogen? Just use the primary fuel in your application. That way you avoid the low efficiency that hydrogen production inherently suffers from. Your system is also much safer without the hydrogen.

Wind, wave, hydroelectric, geothermal, solar, nuclear. Increasing demand for electricity to produce hydrogen combined with a carbon tax will lead to more demand for clean electricity production.
Again, good idea if you loose the hydrogen. Take the "clean" electricity directly to your application and increase efficiency and safety.

I'm just hoping this thing doesn't lead to a system that requires a garage. Having the ability to refuel your car at home might be great for some, but I don't have a regular parking space, let alone a garage, and I don't think the city would like to have hoses full of flammable gas going down the block.
Again, loose the hydrogen and you are home free...

Icelander

Loose the hydrogen? Wouldn't that hurt the ozone layer? Or, at the very least, present a fire hazard?

Now, we could lose the hydrogen. But that still wouldn't solve my problem of not having a garage. I think they'd be less wary of an extension cord going around the block to my car, but they still wouldn't like it.

Patrick

Just to put it into perspective:

If you exclude manufacturing power use; residential and commercial energy use combined is just barely greater than the energy use of our transportation sector. Transportation uses more energy than manufacturing but not by much. Now when you convert all vehicles to electric you just created a huge load on the power infrastructure. Convert all vehicles to hydrogen and that load is even greater still. You would have to increase capacity by 1/3 across the entire US for electric vehicles. I'm not sure how much more you'd have to increase the capacity by to have all vehicles run on hydrogen but it will be even greater.

It would take the entire budget of the US over several years to create the powerplants to support that much energy use if we stick to renewable sources (wind, solar and geothermal). Nuclear is more cost efficient but then you face the "NIMBY" effect. In fact, a reactor was just torn down in Portland, OR not too long ago and you won't see a new nuclear reactor going up to replace it any time soon (not even a "safe" reactor like a pebble bed reactor or similarly safe reactors).

Icelander

Now when you convert all vehicles to electric you just created a huge load on the power infrastructure.

I was not aware there was a magical device to convert every car in America to run on electric power overnight.

Patrick

Icelander-

Yes that is what I said. Are you illiterate?

t

Where's the prize for a perpetual motion machine?

An Engineer

It would take the entire budget of the US over several years to create the powerplants to support that much energy use if we stick to renewable sources (wind, solar and geothermal). Nuclear is more cost efficient but then you face the "NIMBY" effect. In fact, a reactor was just torn down in Portland, OR not too long ago and you won't see a new nuclear reactor going up to replace it any time soon (not even a "safe" reactor like a pebble bed reactor or similarly safe reactors).

Depends on the technology, Patrick. Certainly if we were to produce enough hydrogen to power all transportation things would be prohibitively expensive. For all electric, things would not be quite as bad. For PHEV, the impact is apparently not that large. This from a previous GCC story:
As to the concern about the impact charging PHEVs would have on the grid, Duvall noted that a typical battery charger for a plug-in hybrid will draw about 1,400 watts of power from a 120-volt outlet and be active for about 2-8 hours per day—roughly equivalent to an electric space heater.

Several analyses by EPRI or the DOE estimate the energy demand of plug-in hybrids, even at 50% market penetration, at between 4-7% of total US electricity demand.

EPRI has reviewed the discussion draft and is of the opinion that it addresses the most critical technical challenges to the development and adoption of plug-in hybrid vehicles.Mark Duvall, EPRI
see http://www.greencarcongress.com/2006/05/congressional_w.html

So, at 100% PHEV, we are talking about a rather modest 8 - 15% increase in electrical power demand. Couple that with financial incentives to encourage people to charge overnight (as opposed to during the day), and very little increase would be necessary.

An Engineer

Where's the prize for a perpetual motion machine?
That would be a career in politics, where nice-sounding, but utterly unworkable ideas would fit right in...

Nick

"...It is clean, it is abundant..."

Abundant? Certainly not as H2, but as H20, CH4, etc. etc.

Seems more likely that carbon-neutral liquid fuels (biodiesel, etc) will be the practical winners in the marketplace.

Note the difference between this competition and the Orteig prize of the 1920s: the Oretig prize rewarded an outcome (fly from NY to Paris non-stop), not the means to achieve it. The outcome we want to reward is progress towards a transportation system which reduces GHG emissions and reduces reliance on foreign oil. To reward tinkering with hydrogen economy infrastructure misses the point and skews the incentive.

Idiot_Police

When will all you morons touting "where will the hydrogen come from" realize that hydrogen is already produced in mass today. Sufficient hydrogen is produced today to fuel 250 million fuel cell vehicles. Where did all that energy come from? The bulk of that hydrogen is produced to make gasoline at refineries. Each fuel cell vehicle in operation is one gasoline internal combustion engine not in operation. As such, the hydrogen that would have gone into the gasoline can be put into use as a fuel directly.

When will you folks start to realize how convuluted gasoline production is? We pump oil out of the ground...we don't pump gasoline. Gasoline is manufactured and it takes massive quantities of hydrogen in addition to massive quanitities of oil to make it.

Additionally, as the light sweet crudes are running dry and only heavier crudes are remaining...the amount of hydrogen required per gallon of gasoline will only be going up.

Oil Bigot

I didn't believe you about the 250 million fuel cell vehicles Idiot Police. It seems like an insane proposition given what I hear in the news about not being able to produce the hydrogen. I checked the Air Product website though, and sure enough they concurred.

Here's what they said in their FAQ:

"There is a large infrastructure of hydrogen today to meet the needs of industrial applications including metals processing, refining, chemical production, fats and oils production, and electronics processing. About 45 billion kilograms (50 million tons) is produced every year—enough hydrogen to fuel 250 million fuel cell cars. Some of this hydrogen is being used to fuel vehicles."

I found that here:
http://www.airproducts.com/Products/LiquidBulkGases/HydrogenEnergyFuelCells/FrequentlyAskedQuestions.htm

Mike

GCC: "Hydrogen Business Booming"
http://www.greencarcongress.com/2006/05/hydrogen_busine.html

An Engineer

Hey IP,
Before insulting all of us, how about engaging that idle organ between your ears?

Of course refining crude into gasoline involves hydrogen. However, the whole point of the H-prize is to get us off crude. Or did you miss that?

You also seem unclear on the fate of the associated carbon when hydrocarbons are reformed to produce hydrogen. To fix that, a chemistry lesson:
CnHm + nH2O -> nCO + (m/2 + n)H2
CO + H2O -> H2 + CO2
In other words, not exactly carbon-free. Not GHG free. You call that a solution, officer?

I don't think anybody here wants to see us use fossil fuels until those are exhausted (hence the name Green Car Congress). But perhaps you have spent too much time policing the idiots to notice such details.

So go ahead, tell us: Where will the hydrogen come from? Not from crude, that would be no improvement over today's situation. Coal? Natural gas?

Waiting for your wisdom...

Nick

IP:

From your airproducts.com reference:

"...The majority of merchant hydrogen is produced by a process called steam methane reforming..."

Below that a pie chart, which shows sources of H2:

methane: 48%
oil: 30%
coal: 18%
electrolysis: 4%

So, as I said, H2 is not abundant *in nature*. Fossil fuels are (or have been) abundant, and yes you can produce H2 from them, along with CO2, etc. From the figures above it's clear that not more than 4% of current hydrogen production is potentially carbon-free, and the real figure is undoubtedly some small fraction of that.

The goal is (or should be): creating a transportation infrastructure with a zero, or at least much reduced carbon footprint. Does the 'hydrogen economy' accomplish that? Certainly with current sources of hydrogen it won't, although perhaps one could argue that methane to H2 + C02 is better in a well-to-wheels comparison than gasoline production. I don't know if that would be an improvement, but it certainly isn't carbon-neutral.

tom deplume

We have been injecting fossil water into the atmosphere since we started burning coal. Burn any hydrocarbon (nat gas, oil, coal) and CO2 and H2O is generated.

Mark

I know it sound's futile, but I going to call my Senator tomorrow to have an amendment added to the Senate version. One that includes a 4 passeger electric car that can travel 150-300 miles on a charge as well as charger that work as fast as a gasoline tank fill-up, 5 minutes. That would make the H-prise worth it.

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