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Interim Report from National Research Council Urges DOE to Continue Support of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle Research

An interim report by the National Research Council (NRC) assessing the strategy and structure of the Department of Energy’s FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership concluded that although the Obama Administration’s focus on nearer-term vehicle technologies to reduce petroleum fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions is on the right track, there remains a need for continued investment in longer-term, higher-risk, higher-payoff vehicle technologies that could be “highly transformational” with regard to those twin concerns.

In addition to advanced batteries, such technologies include systems for hydrogen storage and hydrogen fuel cells, the review panel said. The report comes in the context of the proposed zeroing-out of hydrogen fuel cell vehicle research funding in the DOE’s proposed FY 2010 budget. (Earlier post.)

For researchers, contractors, and investors to be willing to make long-term commitments to these and other potentially important developing technologies, a consistent year-to-year level of support must be provided, the report said.

...the committee is concerned about the impact of severely scaling back the DOE hydrogen/fuel cell vehicle programs. It is not yet clear that the hydrogen/fuel cell approach (or for that matter advanced ICEs/biomass, or PHEVs/BEVs) can or cannot meet reasonable emission and driving-range requirements while also being affordable to purchase and operate. Recent fuel cell lifetime and durability improvements are encouraging, as are projected lower costs. Further, even though demonstration hydrogen/fuel cell vehicles are showing safe operation at ever-increasing driving ranges with compressed hydrogen gas storage, the existing DOE hydrogen storage centers of excellence, in the committee’s view, are likely to provide the best opportunity for finding better solutions, if they exist.

Other recommendations include incorporating a broader-scope approach to better consider total emissions and the full environmental impact of using various fuels and technologies; providing temporary reductions in cost-share requirements to ease the burden on prospective researchers; and providing direct funding to struggling automotive companies to help keep important in-house research programs active.

Background to the report. The National Research Council (NRC) functions under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), and the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The NAS, NAE, IOM, and NRC are part of a private, nonprofit institution that provides science, technology and health policy advice under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln that was originally granted to the NAS in 1863. Under this charter, the NRC was established in 1916, the NAE in 1964, and the IOM in 1970. The four organizations are collectively referred to as the National Academies.

The FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership (the Partnership) as it currently exists, is a focused research and technology development program that emphasizes high-risk, high-payoff technologies believed to be essential for a transition to vastly different light-duty passenger vehicles.

The research has been directed and supported by a collaboration among the US government (especially DOE), the United States Council for Automotive Research (USCAR; its members are Chrysler LLC, Ford Motor Company, and General Motors Corporation), five key energy companies (BP America, Chevron Corporation, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil Corporation, and Shell Hydrogen [US]), and, more recently, two major utility companies (Southern California Edison and DTE Energy). The Partnership has established, and periodically reviews, a roadmap with research milestones against which to measure progress in moving toward long-term goals, which so far have focused on hydrogen/fuel cell vehicles.

Two earlier NRC reports in 2005 and 2008 assessed the structure and management of the Partnership as well as the nature, adequacy, and progress of the research activities. A third report, based on Partnership activities and progress following the 2008 report, is planned. However, the NRC noted,

...a number of recent changes in policy as well as technology advancements...will influence the long-term goals of the Partnership as well as the paths to achieving them. In response to a request by DOE that the committee start its Phase 3 work by writing a letter report on the effects of these events and suggesting corresponding changes in the program, work on the Phase 3 report was temporarily delayed. This brief interim letter report is an attempt by the committee to offer constructive suggestions for possible changes to the existing Partnership program, especially its goals and strategy.

Suggested actions. The NRC suggested an increased emphasis on the R&D needed to produce usable short-term technologies (e.g., better batteries for PHEVs, improved ICEs), along with continuing R&D on the long-term technologies (e.g., BEVs, cellulosic ethanol and other non-foodcrop biofuels, hydrogen fuel, and fuel cells). An increased emphasis is also required for technologies that will produce significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions (e.g., CO2) and the increased use of domestic energy sources, especially biofuels.

Finally, the Partnership should consider broadening the scope of the technical approaches being considered within each of the three major fuel and vehicle technology pathways (biofuels/ICEs, PHEVs/BEVs, and hydrogen/fuel cell vehicles). In the electric vehicle area, other storage approaches such as nano-enhanced capacitors and batteries beyond those with lithium chemistries should be the subject of basic and potential future applied research. In addition, many fuel cell approaches and hydrogen storage options should continue to be investigated, and options should not be prematurely shut down.

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Comments

Pao Chi Pien

The reciprocating internal combustion engine is a device to convert fuel chemical energy into mechanical work. Even though combustion taking place inside the cylinder, it is equivalent to combustion taking place out side the cylinder and the converted heat being transferred to the gas inside the cylinder. The heat so transferred is denoted by Q+. The ensuing expansion process converts a part of the thermal energy into mechanical work. The remaining part of the thermal energy is rejected from the cylinder at the end of expansion process. The heat transferred from inside the cylinder to the outside by the exhaust gas is denoted by Q-. By definition, the thermal efficiency is equal to (Q+ - Q-)/Q+. Heat loss during the combustion process reduces Q+. Heat loss during expansion process increases reduces Q-. Thermodynamic analysis of a reciprocating engine performance can be limited to combustion and expansion processes. The rest of processes are for logistics to replenish cylinder with fresh charge.

The necessary equations of the state to relate working fluid state at point 2 to that at point 1 are derived from idea gas law. Gases have various properties including the gas pressure p, temperature T, mass m, and volume V that contains the gas. If any two of the properties are fixed, the nature of the relationship between the other two is determined as follows. If the pressure and temperature are held constant, the volume of the gas depends directly on the mass. If the mass and temperature are held constant, the product of the pressure and volume is a constant (Boyle’s Law). If the mass and pressure are held constant, the volume is directly proportional to the temperature (Charles’ law). By combining these two laws, pV/T is always a constant when work is done on or by the gas or heat is transferred into or from the gas, as the gas going through a thermodynamic process. Because pV/T is always a constant, the equation p2V2/T2 = p1V1/T1 is true in every instance including when all gas properties are in equilibrium. Therefore, the equation p2V2/T2 = p1V1/T1 is an equation of the state to relate the gas properties in equilibrium at point 2 to that in equilibrium at point 1. According to Dalton’s law, a gas mixture behaves in exactly the same fashion as a pure gas. Therefore, the equation of the state, p2V2/T2 = p1V1/T1, relates working fluid state at point 2 to that at point 1. The pressure reaches equilibrium quickly and thus p2/p1 = (V1/V2)k can be taken as another equation of the state of working fluid. These two equations of the state must be used for applying thermodynamics to the reciprocating internal combustion engines.

National Research Council reviewed yearly progress reports of PNGV project for a decade without realizing that 80 mpg goal was impossible to reach. After spent two billions of dollars, the demised PNGV project was replaced by FredomCar project which will also fail because for both projects, thermodynamics has not been properly applied. National Research Council should recommend further reciprocating engine research by applying thermodynamics before suggesting high-risk projects.

SJC

I think we need methods that will reduce oil imports in the next 5 years for sure, not within the next 20 years maybe. I have worked and supported R&D all of my career, but there comes a time when national interests outweigh science and exploration. If it is a zero sum game, I favor near term results to reduce oil imports.

Jim

The main reason there are still hangers-on for hydrogen is that is a distinct vehicle fuel that can be TAXED. PHEVs are a nightmare with respect to that, because one can't distinguish electricity for home vs. vehicle use.

I am actually somewhat sympathetic to this problem, but that's no reason to advocate an entropically bankrupt solution such as hydrogen. Just because it is easier to tax.

SJC

I think if you fuel with natural gas or recharge a PHEV the utilities would be involved. You would want them involved because you are using so much more natural gas and electricity, they need to be in on it. Some may not like that, but that is the way it should be.

Now whether they tax you on that is another matter. If we want to reduce oil imports, natural gas and PHEVs make lots of sense, so I would say that they would not. At least not until it becomes widely popular and they are losing gasoline tax revenue.

Driverguy7

Just fantasizing here... suppose we take a dehumidifier, route the water from that into an electrolyzer, (hytechapps.com), route the fuel gasses from that into a) an internal combustion engine paired up with a generator OR b) a fuel cell, and what do we have? A vehicle with on-board hydrogen production, that can go anywhere, never stopping to refuel, that produces almost no pollution, and liberates America from foreign oil dependency.....hmmmmm
www.myspace.com/driverguy7 zero point energy blog

ai_vin

"National Research Council reviewed yearly progress reports of PNGV project for a decade without realizing that 80 mpg goal was impossible to reach."

It's not so impossible. GM met the PNGV goal.
Also, this DIYer- http://aerocivic.com/ -gets 95 mpg (US) at 65 mph and it only cost him $400 in materials.
And then there's the Avion which set the Guinness world record for fuel economy, way back in 1986, at 103.7 mpg. http://www.100mpgplus.com/

ai_vin

Also check out the Viking series of prototypes.- http://vri.etec.wwu.edu/cars.htm -Built as student projects at Western Washington University. The Viking IV set a record of 87. 3 miles per gallon in 1980.

SJC

The PNGV goals were difficult but not impossible to achieve. Sometimes a reachable goal stretches the abilities just enough to improve the performance. The sad part is the U.S. auto makers abandoned the idea after GWB took office and the Japanese learned from it and mopped the floor with the U.S. companies. You can lead an automaker to a solution, but you can not make them think.

Roger Pham

Pao Chi Pien is right. It would be impossible for PNGV to achieve 80 mpg for a 5-seat family car. The Prius, which is highly optimized for economy, achieves 50 mpg from an engine capable of ~39% thermal efficiency. (Tank-to-wheel efficiency was listed at 37% by Toyota, correcting for drive train friction would give 39% efficiency for the engine). So, to achieve 80 mpg in the equivalent of the Prius would demand 62% thermal efficiency from the engine, which is impossible with foreseable ICE technology.

But, since PEM FC is capable of 60-70% thermal efficiency, this goal of 80 mpg would be possible eventually. Freedom Car program is a necessary replacement for petroleum while maintain our standard of living, pollution free.

ai_vin

Er Roger, the General Motors Precept [one of the cars that came out of the PNGV] WAS a 5 seat, four door sedan and it got 80mpg. In fact on some long steady highway runs it got 90mpg. Both the Prius and the Precept were hybrids but the Precept used a diesel engine [which, as you know, has a higher thermal efficiency] and had a Cd of .163(20 percent less aerodynamic drag than the production record-holder, the GM EV1, at .19) The Prius has a Cd of .26 and is also 78kg heavier.

A fuel cell powered Precept, broke the 100 mile-per-gallon barrier with a stunning 108mpg.

ai_vin

And if that ain't enough for you; the Loremo-
http://evolution.loremo.com/index.php?lang=en
-gets 120mpg. OK so it only has 4 seats.

Roger Pham

@ai vin,
I don't know what the Precept is made from, perhaps very light materials, but where is the Precept now?

Meaning that materials other than steel may be way too expensive or labor-intensive for mass-produced automobile. Diesel's peak thermal efficiency is not much better, 42-45%, so that would not have explained the 80 mpg. The aerodynamic efficiency certainly would help, but for a mass-produced car, Cd of .26 for the Prius II and 0.25 for the Prius III is about the best you can get, given the fact that the car must have sufficient interior space. Higher Cd will limit internal space while making the vehicle longer and thus heavier.

wintermane2000

What are we realy looking at long term on fuel cells?

The power of a town in a suitcase.
The power of a city block in a lunchbox.
The power of a home in the palm of your hand.

There are alot of things we would love to build but cant power... yet. Fuel cells will be able to power many of those things.

The fact is the new things we can do with advanced batteries and advanced fuel cells are worth trillions each.

They will change our world. Sooner or later.

I personaly hope both do it asap.

ai_vin

@Roger
"The Precept uses a light, stiff space-frame body structure constructed of aluminum stampings, extrusions and castings. Exterior panels are made of aluminum and composite materials. Bumper beams are fabricated with carbon fiber."
Other weight savings were technological:
"Since the weight carried by the front tires has been significantly reduced, no power steering is necessary. Computer-controlled air springs maintain a level ride height irrespective of passenger and cargo load changes. The springs' source of compressed air can be tapped to inflate the Michelin Proxima low rolling-resistance radial tires. The Precept's aluminum wheels each weigh only 3.8 kg, distinguishing them as the world's lightest 16-inch wheels. The friction brakes for the Precept save even more weight. An advanced brake-by-wire system uses a small electrically powered hydraulic pump located in close proximity to each brake caliper."
http://media.gm.com/se/opel/sv/news/pr_old/pressrelease_261.htm
Where is it now? Well where is the EV1? The simple fact is highly efficient cars are designed by engineers
however it's the stylists that design cars, not engineers, because management knows different styles are needed to get different people into the showrooms. Engineering logic dictates the forms a car can take converge on the most efficient. That doesn't leave much room for styling.

sulleny

The idea of solid state (technically gaseous state) conversion of an energy carrier like H2 to energy will always be attractive when compared to electro-mechanical. At some point SOFCs fed by an NG reformer will become a viable Combined Heating and Power device. There is already a home unit on the market. As cracking water for H2 becomes a less onerous task these fuel cells will play a role in transportation and CHP.

@Jim:

Don't think that the grid utils and government aren't actively working on ways to tax your electric usage. Taxing energy sales has become an organ of government and they will not give that up without a struggle. Unfortuantely for the tax man there are technologies percolating just out of view that make production of excess heat, H2 and flux-derived electrons ubiquitous.

SJC

SOFCs use natural gas directly, the heat of the stack reforms the CH4 into CO and H2 which are both fuels for this design. This is one of the reasons they are so nice for home and building CHP.

You can use the heat of the stack to heat water, building air and the temperature is high enough to use two stage absorption cooling. Since you are using the heat created the efficiency can approach 90%. You get the most out of every BTU and with renewable methane you are CO2 neutral.

ai_vin

A home 'Combined Heating and Power device' makes sense if your local utility is a fossil fuel burner. But in my case it would be a bad idea; my local utility supplies me with 98% hydro power so I'd do better by replacing my gas furnace with an electric heatpump.

SJC

It depends on location and application. Now if people that do not have lots of hydro power run that ground source heat pump with solar PV panels, they are further ahead of the game.

Since 70% of the homes in the U.S. have natural gas piped in and many live in cold and or hot climates, they can take advantage of CHP. If we make renewable methane from biomass, the gas in the pipes is renewable and more CO2 neutral.

sulleny

So now the challenge is to get the NG distribs to co-finance the conversion path. That would mean they discount their rates for CHP conversions - since they will be selling more NG per customer. This combined with a tax credits for CHP purchases and economies of scale in manufacturing - provides additional incentives for home owners.

Next would be to encourage biomass feedstock partnerships for the NG companies. T Boone could be a driver in this.

ai is right that in areas like the NW where hydro is the sole power, utility supplied CHP might not make sense. In nearly all other areas of NA, especially in northern climes, the heat from NG will save on electric bills and CO2/dirty fossil.

SJC

It is my understanding that natural gas wells decline rapidly at a point near the end of their lives, they are not like oil wells that start to show decline, but keep on delivering at a reduced rate.

If that is the case, then the renewable methane can provide a more stable supply between when wells drop output rapidly and new wells come in to production. They are never quite sure how much will come out of a natural gas well until it is over.

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