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Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles May Be the Future

Hydrogen fuel cell, better than battery?
Hydrogen fuel cell, better than battery?

While battery electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles may co-exist for some time, will one or the other dominate long-term?

With the early successes of electric vehicles (EV) like as the Tesla Model S and Nissan Leaf, it may seem that battery electric vehicles (BEV) have gotten a head start on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, but will they keep that lead? Between the two vehicle types, it does one good to note that, while both have a battery pack, the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is more akin to a HEV (hybrid electric vehicle) than a BEV.

Like an HEV, the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle has a small hybrid battery pack for acceleration and regenerative braking. In place of the internal combustion engine, however, is a hydrogen fuel cell, which generates electricity on demand to power the motor-generators. Battery electric vehicles, on the other hand, have much larger battery packs, since this is their sole energy source, and they are recharged via the power grid and, slightly, via regenerative braking.

Both vehicle types are ultra-low emissions, if you count upstream emissions generating electricity or hydrogen, and both vehicles drive essentially the same. The main differences, between hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and battery electric vehicles, are refueling, range, and price, and they could make or break either type.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, such as the upcoming Toyota FCV, refuel in a matter of minutes, just like a conventional vehicle, so the FCV has it over the BEV, which charges in hours or requires special equipment. The Toyota FCV already beats range of the leading BEV, the Tesla Model S 85 kWh, per refueling, so there’s another tick in hydrogen fuel cell vehicle favor. Regarding price, once again, the tick is in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles’ favor, with the new Toyota FCV starting at just $70,000, about the same as the 265-mile range Tesla Model S 60 kWh.

Given that no groundbreaking news regarding five-minute recharging times or a viable 400+ Wh/kg battery chemistry has been commercialized, could the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle actually be a better EV?

Photo credit: Inhabitat

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  1. sporkmarketing Bob Wallace

    “it’s about operating costs and performance.”

    Electricity is cheaper than H2 made with electricity and gasoline/diesel.

    EVs, PHEVs, and FCEVs are all EVs and have the battery/electric motor ability to accelerate quickly.  

    Using H2, even as range extender fuel means creation of a H2 infrastructure.  That’s major capital that would have to be spent.  If we used H2 range extenders then the cost of H2 would have to be very high in order to cover the infrastructure.

    Actually, I’d bet the ratio of long range driving days vs. lower distance days is lower with pickups.

    Pickup trucks are less popular based what I’m seeing on the road – lots of four door sedans with no lids over their trunks.  Those things are not pickups in my book.  ;o)

  2. Bob Wallace “Remember how Detroit gave their market to Japan because they couldn’t understand that many buyers wanted fuel efficiency and quality?”
    That certainly is the popular account of what happened. 

    While the consistent lack of quality was definitely an example of a business failure, it could be argued that it was mostly due to an approach that emphasized big advances over incremental gains. A bad process rather than a lack of effort or concern (at least to some degree).

    But as far as letting Japanese automakers have the compact car segment, it wasn’t about a failure to listen so much as it was about profits. As you likely know, the hard cost of building a $15k economy car is only slightly lower than the hard cost of building a $50k large SUV…the R&D costs are basically the same from one engine to the next, one platform to the next, etc., the factories cost the same, the workers are paid the same, etc.

    American automakers didn’t ignore consumer interest in small, efficient vehicles so much as they didn’t see much value in participating. SUVs and trucks generate considerably more profits (they always have), and that’s as good a reason as any to focus on that business.

    But to the main point – Why are pickups and SUVs going to use fuel cell stacks when using gas or ethanol would be just as easy? – it’s about operating costs and performance. A truck with an electric powertrain is going to pull a trailer far better than an ICE, and that’s a selling point for truck/large SUV buyers. A truck with an FCV is also likely to have a lower operating cost (assuming gas prices don’t fall off a cliff), and that’s something truck buyers (particularly fleet buyers) care about. Finally, I’d argue that FCV pickups would be less costly up-front than the relatively exotic options that are currently gaining steam, like expensive twin-turbo direct injection engines, small diesels with expensive emissions control systems, all aluminum bodies, etc.

    I’d also argue that pickups would be even more popular than they are now if someone could make the fuel costs more palatable.

    In any case, I see FCV powered pickups being far more likely than BEV pickups in the future. ESPECIALLY if remote hydrogen generation systems become reasonably cost-effective (rural truck owners would LOVE the ability to generate their own fuel and would likely pay a premium).

  3. sporkmarketing Bob Wallace

    It’s often the case that auto manufacturers are the last to know what the public wants.  Remember how Detroit gave their market to Japan because they couldn’t understand that many buyers wanted fuel efficiency and quality?

    SUVs seem to be leaving us.  They’re being replaced with “crossovers”.

    There’s another option for larger pickups – PHEVs with either a ICE of fuel cell range extender.  

    But consider this further problem for H2 fuel cells.  If pickups drove 50% to 75% on electricity and cars moved to ~100% electricity, where is the market for H2 that would pay for the infrastructure?

    Why wouldn’t we simply use something easier to market such as ethanol or gasoline?  We could tolerate ~12% of our driving with petroleum and still easily hit the 2050 40% to 70% CO2 emission decrease.

  4. sporkmarketing Bob Wallace Brian Keez

    ” a 50kWh battery pack is awfully small”

    Tesla 265 miles with an 85 kWh pack.  3.1 miles per kWh.  50 x 3.1 = 155 miles, plus more miles due to less weight.

    The ‘threshold of acceptability’ for an EV that can be reasonably driven all day long is around 175 miles, my guess.

    Drive 175, charge 20 minutes, drive 155, charge, drive 155.  485 miles with an acceptable number of breaks.  More range would be welcome, but most people would consider that a reasonable range based  on fuel savings.

  5. sporkmarketing Bob Wallace

    I suppose it depends on how one defines “fully committed”.  

    Companies that are selling EVs include not only Tesla and Nissan, but Ford, GM, Daimler, BYD (and a few other Chinese manufacturers), Fiat, BMW, Citroen, Mitsubishi,  Renault, and Volkswagen.   As well as some minor companies.

    How many companies will be selling FCEVs in 2015?

    Car companies are not the ones investing in battery research.  Battery companies are doing that.  Most car companies have already invested enough to produce at least one EV model.  

    Musk is not doing battery research.  He’s building a massive battery plant (or plants) that will scale up current technology in order to bring prices down.  And he’s designing his plant(s) so that they can switch technologies as better batteries emerge.

    I agree that most car manufacturers are holding back on EV manufacturing numbers.  They’re likely waiting for someone else to do the heavy lifting of battery price reduction.  Nissan is the exception with their own battery plants.

  6. Bob Wallace As unbelievable as it seems, an ICE built on an established modular platform as a $3-4k cost all in (that includes amortizing R&D costs). The trick is to build hundreds of thousands of the same engines. That’s how you get the ridiculously low prices on all components, etc.

    As for refill time (aka range anxiety) being a red herring, I’m not convinced. A lot of automakers seem to think it’s a deal breaker, and they’re in the business of determining car consumer preferences.

    Finally, I haven’t mentioned this previously, but it’s incredibly important: Battery packs don’t seem like they’ll work for trucks and large SUVs. They offer too little range, they detract from the vehicle’s performance due to their considerable weight, and – most importantly – a payload ruins their performance. I can’t pull my boat with a BEV pickup, because I can’t get all the way to the reservoir and back without stopping for a charge.

    Thus, even *if* BEVs are cost competitive with ICEs, they won’t work for trucks and SUVs without considerable improvements in energy density and cost reductions. A car buyer can get by with a 60kWh battery pack, but a Tahoe or F150 buyer is going to want 3-4 times that capacity…and the cost of that vehicle will be considerably more than a 100kW fuel cell stack and a couple of hydrogen storage tanks.

    FCVs are definitely going to have a role in the future. The only question is, are they going to dominate all production (my guess) or are they just going to own half the market (trucks and SUVs).

  7. sporkmarketing Bob Wallace Brian Keez

    13,000 miles per year.  1,083 miles per month.  36 gallons of fuel with a 30 MPG vehicle.  $120 at $4/gallon.

    $3k – $4k for the engine.  Plus fuel, cooling and exhaust systems?

    ” a 60kW fuel cell stack will cost $3000 or less by 2017 – assuming high production volumes (500k units, if I recall)” 

    EV manufacturers have stated that once EVs reach the 500k units per year (or a bit higher) EV prices will drop to ICE levels.

    I don’t think any of us can guarantee that EV or FCEV prices will drop to or below that of ICEs.  Both might.

    As long as FCEVs don’t fall significantly below the price of EVs then fuel costs will kill them.  Refill time is a red herring.  For FCEVs to dominate they will have to be quite a bit lower priced, EVs are cheaper and more convenient to drive.

  8. Bob Wallace If this is truly the cost difference between fully charged and half charged (7 cents vs 15 cents), we’re talking about the price of a cup of Starbucks coffee each day (assuming 50% vs. 100% charge on a 85kWh battery pack). A lot of people won’t think twice about it.

  9. Bob Wallace You might not be aware, but the only automakers fully committed to BEVs are Tesla and Nissan. All the other majors are either a) invested in FCVs b) hedging their bets or c) waiting to see who wins.

    To my knowledge, Toyota, BMW, Honda, Hyunda/Kia, VW, GM, Ford, and Daimler are all invested in FCV to the tune of a few billion. That’s not a lot of money in the auto industry, but it’s not like these companies are willing to throw that kind of cash around on a whim.

    We can argue whether or not these automakers are band wagoners or innovators or whatever, but money talks. I see a lot more new cash invested in FCVs than BEVs…that’s not a good sign for the future of the BEV.

  10. Bob Wallace Brian Keez So a 50kWh battery pack is awfully small – I’m assuming it’s 60kWh or bust for any decent range BEV car.

    However, to address your question, it’s my opinion that powertrain costs for the typical vehicle represent 15%-20% of MSRP, and that about half of these costs are the same for BEVs, FCVs, and ICEs (all cars need axles, transmissions, drive shafts, etc of some kind or another). Thus, we’re talking about roughly 10% of a vehicle’s asking price goes towards the ICE.

    NOTE: I know I said “my opinion” here, and a lot of people are going to discount this statement precisely because it is my opinion. All I can say is that this is my wheelhouse (I run an automotive parts marketing company and have some good contacts).

    The bottom line is that an auto manufacturer’s cost for a basic ICE (and I’m talking about a mass produced engine based on a modular family) is $3-$4k, with some hybrids and diesels stretching up to twice that amount. If a battery pack is going to be $7k, it’s going to be at a $3-4k cost disadvantage (wholesale), which is a $5-8k disadvantage retail. 

    To put that retail cost difference in terms that consumers will care about, a BEV is going to cost $150-$250 more per month to buy than an equivalent ICE…and $150-$250 buys an awful lot of gasoline. Not to mention, an ICE doesn’t have any range limitations, doesn’t require an expensive home charging system, doesn’t need to be plugged in every night, etc.

    As for FCVs, the NREL estimate is that a 60kW fuel cell stack will cost $3000 or less by 2017 (see myth #2 here – https://parts.olathetoyota.com/fuel-cell-myths.html), assuming high production volumes (500k units, if I recall). This means that FCVs are already cost-competitive with ICEs at scale – we’re just waiting for hydrogen fueling infrastructure. And NREL says the fuel cell stack cost could be as low as $1800 at that volume (especially if catalyst cost savings keep coming).

    …which is why Toyota dropped BEVs and has gone full bore with FCVs. The math is already better, and we haven’t even begun to see the refinements automakers will make.

  11. sporkmarketing Bob Wallace

    I suspect we agree “in theory” but disagree only on details. 

    Some drivers will be more ‘risk takers’ than others.  One driver with a 25 mile daily routine might set their minimum to 50 miles and another to 100 miles.

    Rural drivers will be no different.  A RT to the grocery store is 150 miles for me.  A RT to the mail box (box, not Post Office) is 7 miles.  My charger would learn/be taught that I need a minimum of 30 miles which would take me to a friend’s house for dinner or to the expensive country store if I have to have milk.  And that somewhere 7 to 30 days after I go to town I’ll need a full 200 mile charge.

    There’s still dispatchable load for the utilities to use even in my rural case.

    Obviously there will be a few people who need to be fully charged every day.  They’ll have to pay full price.

  12. Bob Wallace Agree wholeheartedly that dispatchable load has value, but I don’t know that your “average” consumer will appreciate the value if it limits their options. City residents will probably be OK with it, but suburban and rural residents probably won’t go for it. What if there’s a traffic jam? What if I want to run across town for dinner? Etc. Etc.
    I guess I’m agreeing with you in theory, but I have my doubts about consumers embracing the idea of even *more* limited range in exchange for a small price discount.

  13. sporkmarketing LoneWolffe

    So 90% of all EV drivers would disable their smart chargers in order to enjoy 15 cents per kWh charging rather than 8 cent charging?

  14. sporkmarketing

    #2.  With an EV there’s no need to stop for a charge except on the rare day one is on a long trip.  And then the stop (based on Tesla’s superchargers) is more like 30 minutes.  That’s your meal/pee/check your messages stop that you’d need to do after filling hydrogen tanks.

    I agree that FCEVs came out of car companies, not fuel companies.  Some years back we simply didn’t have the battery technology we have today and H2 FCEVs looked like our best way to get off petroleum.  But batteries did improve.

    Take a look at the number of car manufacturers who are marketing or about to market an EV.  Then count the number of car manufacturers who are about to market a FCEV.   That’s telling.

    Then subtract out all the FCEV manufacturers who started their fuel cell program several years ago to get the number of manufacturers who are now jumping on the FCEV band wagon.  Are there any?

  15. sporkmarketing Brian Keez

    ” $120/kWh, which makes a 200 mile range battery pack about twice as expensive as an ICE.”

    Does it?  At $120/kWh a 50 kWh battery pack would be $6k.  Can you build a decent sized ICE and its support systems (fuel, exhaust, cooling) for $3k?   

    To get FCEVs down to ICEV prices would mean some very significant fuel cell cost drops.  Who is in a position where they can realistically say fuel cell prices will drop faster than battery prices?  It’s going to take a lot of manufacturing volume to bring fuel cell prices down and there won’t be any FCEVs in showrooms until 2015.  Getting to 100,000 vehicle per year volumes won’t happen in two years.

    I agree that purchase price is very important.  But as important are monthly costs.  If someone is paying twice as much per mile to drive a FCEV that will make up for some of your hypothetical monthly lower FCEV payments.  (And I really doubt FCEVs will reach ICE levels sooner than BEVs.)

  16. LoneWolffe sporkmarketing Bob Wallace What if you got that dreaded midnight emergency and your gasmobile tank was close to empty?

    Set a minimum charge that gets you to the hospital, your ailing relative’s house, or whatever midnight emergency you can imagine.  

    What if the garbage company paid people for their neatly bagged garbage set out on the curb on the appointed day?

    Utilities are likely to pay for dispatchable load.  And pay enough so that if you need to use a ‘supercharger’ once in a while you’d still be well ahead.

    And, remember, if you get a late night call telling you that you’re going to need to drive further than expected the next day you could call your car and tell it to fully charge.

  17. Bob Wallace sporkmarketing Come to think of it, that’s how Tesla markets its cars. If you look at the “monthly price” on the page, that includes “refueling savings”, dropping the payment below what you’d actually pay in cash to Tesla. The savings come from somewhere else, the utility company. Perhaps true enlightenment, on the part of potential BEV owners, is seeing those savings’ impact on the whole cost per mile.

  18. sporkmarketing Bob Wallace Yes, but I’m talking a few years down the road when we have affordable ~200 mile range cars.  

    Some people have 5, 10, 20 mile normal driving days.  Having a 50 mile charge (with a rapid charger not far away if their plans change) will be fine with them.  That leaves the utility 150 miles of charge to use to spread load over days. 

    The average US driving day is under 40 miles.  Someone with a 50 mile normal day might set a 100 mile minimum and let the utility determine how much of the last 100 is charged.

    If the wind is going to be high on Tuesday night then use that extra supply to charge a bunch of EVs above the owner-determined minimum charge.  That then gives the utility the ability to skip charging those EVs for a few nights.  (150 reserve miles would last a 20 mile a day driver a week.)

    If drivers want to fully charge their car each night, that would be an option.  But they wouldn’t get whatever the utility was offering for serving as dispatchable load (probably lower charge rates).

    Dispatchable load has value.

  19. sporkmarketing LoneWolffe true, perhaps it wasn’t the best example. mostly, i was thinking about how people’s minds have to change. still, there’s trash everywhere in the world, a testament to how many people’s minds have YET to change.
    it will require a great leap for BEV owners to accept grid-based charging structure.

  20. LoneWolffe I’m sure that you could put 100 BEV owners in a room and convince 90 of them that they should let the power grid set their vehicle’s charge level.
    I’m also sure that, as soon as all 90 of these “enlightened” consumers got home, they’d plug in their cars and disable the smart setting so they got their charge. 🙂

    While I appreciate your point about pollution (I’ve seen this myself in Central America), but I’m not sure it’s a good analogy. Part of the reason that most people in the USA don’t dump trash in public places is the fear of getting ticketed. Until we make it illegal to charge your BEV however you like, all consumers are going to give themselves permission to break the rules.

  21. @weapon In order:

    1) True, but irrelevant. Consumers don’t make transportation choices based on emissions or efficiency. If they did, we’d all use bikes and public transportation. 🙂

    2) Range problems are easily solved – just fill up! That’s the point of FCVs…you don’t have to stop and pick your nose for an hour (or more) while you wait for a charger. You just pump some more hydrogen in the tank and keep on trucking. Additionally, you can expect Toyota’s US model to have a longer range and a lower asking price too.

    3) See point #2 – range isn’t an issue. Just refill the tank.

    “FCVs are just a distraction by the fossil fuel industry” – I see this sentiment all the time, and all I can do is shake my head. Tens of billions of dollars have been committed to this “distraction” by companies that have absolutely nothing to do with fuel production. If Toyota, Hyundai, Honda, VW, Ford, GM, etc. are all mineral companies bent on perpetuating natural gas production, they’ve done an amazing job of disguising themselves as car companies that make their bones building what consumers love.

  22. sporkmarketing Brian Keez Actually, upfront pricing goes far beyond BEVs, but every form of technology. There’s two reasons to buy a Tesla, iPad, or Bulova: 1) technological superiority, or 2) it’s cool.
    For the rest of us, who can’t afford those things, we’re left with Toyota, Android, and Timex.

  23. Brian Keez This is a common argument, but it’s based on a logical fallacy. Specifically, consumers (en masse) don’t care about efficiency – they only care about cost.

    While most BEV advocates assume that the vehicle’s up-front costs will continue to fall, the predictions seem to be that battery packs will be pricey for the immediate future. The rosiest predictions for Tesla’s gigafactory are $120/kWh, which makes a 200 mile range battery pack about twice as expensive as an ICE.

    FCVs, on the other hand, are likely to be cost-competitive with hybrid ICEs by the close of the decade (a VW exect recently told Automotive News he thought hybrid ICEs and FCVs would be cost-competitive by 2017). If a gasoline gallon equivalent amount of Hydrogen is identical in cost to a gallon of gas, FCVs will be slightly more appealing, as they’re more fuel efficient than gasoline.

    But if a gge of hydrogen is 20-30% lower than gasoline – and an FCV is cost comparable to a hybrid ICE (which seems to be the industry’s feeling), consumers will see FCVs as the cheapest option.

    Will they care that BEVs are more energy efficient? Only if a BEV can be cost comparable to a hybrid ICE, and I see no one making that prediction.

  24. sporkmarketing Bob Wallace You’re absolutely right, consumers are not logical. Still, we need to adjust our thinking.
    For example, on a somewhat unrelated note, where I live in Perú has an appalling sense of how to dispose of trash. It freaks me out every time I see people dump trash into the river, everything from household trash to auto parts and televisions. And then they have the nerve to complain about the contamination that the mines are effecting.

    The same use to be true in developed countries, such as the United States, and now it is illegal to dump trash in the river. “What? You mean I have to put it in a bag and wait for someone to pick it up? I have to pay for someone to pick it up? I have to pay for bags?” We adjusted.

    BEV owners will learn to adjust, as long as their cars are charged. On the other hand, I do wonder about the dreaded midnight emergency, where you might need to get into your car and go somewhere. Because it’s not the normal routine, might you end up with an uncharged, and therefore useless, BEV in that emergency situation? Of course, that’s the 80/20 or 99/1 rule, right? I wonder how that might be addressed.

  25. Bob Wallace I understand the grid benefits of selective vehicle charging, but I can tell you as a veteran of the auto industry that people who plug in their cars are going to expect them to be charged, at least until a car with a 50% charge can go a couple hundred miles.

    Quite frankly, this is why I find a lot of the conversations about BEVs so difficult. BEV fans are sort of oblivious to the realities of consumer behavior. Consumers are knowingly going to plug in a car that might not be charged? Consumers are going to accept the notion that they can’t charge their long-range EV for days because the grid was at capacity? Consumers only care if they have enough battery range to get home (aka minimum range)?

    I appreciate the logic, but consumers aren’t logical. They never have been. Any predictions about BEVs that don’t reflect consumer behaviors and norms are – at best – exceedingly optimistic.

  26. Got an interesting email from Toyota, and I thought I’d share it with everyone:

    Hi Benji,

    I know The Green Optimistic is dedicated to providing information about green technology and I wanted to respond to your article <URL snip> where you ask if FCVs might be better than EVs. 

    We think so and here arehttps://parts.olathetoyota.com/fuel-cell-myths.html.

    If you find our list interesting, we are hoping you will share it on your site as a resource for readers. Additionally, we’re hoping our list might generate additional conversations or even debates on the topic.

    Thanks for your time!

    Taryn with Olathe Toyota Parts Center

    Seems like some pretty neat information, and I’ll be posting on this topic over the next couple weeks. Looking forward to your feedback!

  27. Got an interesting email from Toyota, and I thought I’d share it with everyone:

    Hi Benji,

    I know The Green Optimistic is dedicated to providing information about green technology and I wanted to respond to your article <URL snip> where you ask if FCVs might be better than EVs. 

    We think so and here arehttps://parts.olathetoyota.com/fuel-cell-myths.html.

    If you find our list interesting, we are hoping you will share it on your site as a resource for readers. Additionally, we’re hoping our list might generate additional conversations or even debates on the topic.

    Thanks for your time!

    Taryn with Olathe Toyota Parts Center

    Seems like some pretty neat information, and I’ll be posting on this topic over the next couple weeks. Looking forward to your feedback!

  28. LoneWolffe Ladson Bob Wallace From your link – “According to scientist and engineer Mark Quarto, the same NiMH conditioning technology can also be applied to Li-Ion (lithium-ion) battery packs”.

    What this guy has is speculation.  I don’t see any data.  Let’s see some rigorous lab work before we join him in speculating.

  29. LoneWolffe Bob Wallace Ladson I’m pretty sure density is the issue.  At one point there was a company talking about flow batteries for cars and you’d got to the “gas” station to have your liquids exchanged.  I don’t think that’s gone anywhere.

  30. Ladson Bob Wallace LoneWolffe As far as keeping one on the road, I’m still asking this new company, The Hybrid Shop, if their AR&D battery conditioning technology can be applied to pure electric vehicles. If they can restore 90-95% of a hybrid battery without part replacement for 33% the cost of a new hybrid battery, who says The Hybrid Shop can’t apply the same thing to an EV battery? https://www.greenoptimistic.com/2014/05/20/hybrid-shop-reduces-hybrid-battery-waste/

  31. Bob Wallace Ladson LoneWolffe Flow batteries also don’t self-discharge. I’d have to take a look and see the energy density. What prevents it from going into an EV? It can’t be more flammable than gasoline or hydrogen, right?

  32. Bob Wallace Ladson LoneWolffe Right you are; We are just glad to have Nissan quote a price.  Up until this point there was a lot of uncertainty about what one would pay to keep a Leaf on the road.

    If you like flow batteries and believe in them, have at it.  I like all batteries, especially those that will help clean up the planet and reduce pollution.

  33. Ladson Bob Wallace LoneWolffe $270/kWh is for the battery pack.  It doesn’t include the control electronics and other ‘stuff’.  

    The price for flow batteries is all inclusive.  Hard to make a direct comparison.

  34. Bob Wallace Ladson LoneWolffe As Leaf drivers know, myself included, Nissan has priced a replacement battery at about $270 a kWh; however, that’s for a replacement trade in and not for an over-the-counter buyers.  In any case, I think the high-cycle, flow battery using vanadium extracted from power plant fly ash is huge, especially when you realize there are mountains of the stuff just waiting to pollute our major rivers.  Kind of begs the question of just how valuable processing environmental waste really is.

  35. Ladson Bob Wallace LoneWolffe I just ran across this on line.  Kind of long, but interesting…

    “FREMONT, CA–(Marketwired – Jul 9, 2014) – Imergy Power Systems, a pioneer in advanced storage systems, has achieved a fundamental milestone in energy storage by developing an exclusive process for producing high-performance flow batteries with recycled vanadium from mining slag, oil field sludge, fly ash, and other forms of environmental waste.

    The achievement will have a number of significant impacts on the growing energy storage industry. Other manufacturers of vanadium flow batteries build their devices with virgin vanadium extracted from mining. It must then be processed to a 99% plus level of purity. Through an extensive R&D program, Imergy has developed a way to produce flow batteries with vanadium at a 98% purity level that can be harvested from environmental waste sites.

    By extracting vanadium from slag, Imergy will lower the cost of obtaining and processing vanadium — the principal active ingredient in many flow battery electrolytes — by 40% relative to competitors. As a result of this technology and other developments, Imergy will be able to lower the cost of its flow batteries from $500 a kilowatt hour, already an industry benchmark, to under $300 per kilowatt hour.

    Imergy’s flow batteries from low-grade vanadium will also be capable of storing more energy per kilogram than conventional vanadium flow batteries by more than twice, giving cell phone operators, solar power plant developers, microgrid owners and other customers more flexibility and capacity for managing outages, curbing peak power or reducing demand charges.”


    While lithium-ion batteries are expected (and may already be) below $300/kWh the price of storage depends on cycle rate.  The more frequently a battery is cycled the lower the cost per kWh – capital is recovered quicker.

    Lithium-ion batteries would be very expensive for long term storage, applications where they might only cycle a few times a year.  With flow batteries more tanks and liquids (relatively cheap) can be added to a storage facility.  That can provide cheaper ‘deep’ storage.

  36. Bob Wallace Ladson LoneWolffe Price and energy density are the factors in these decisions.  If EV traction batteries can be reduced in cost, and they will be, grid buffering can be accomplished easily and will provide for smoothing out the various renewable electricity inputs.  That will delete the so called fossil fuel base load need in plant power management.

    The point is not if traction batteries can be used; but, that A battery will be available for this application.

  37. Ladson LoneWolffe I doubt that EV batteries will play a role in grid storage (while they are in the car).

    There are large scale storage solutions which should be much cheaper than EV batteries.  Flow batteries and pump-up hydro, for example, can provide storage at a price we’re unlikely to see with car batteries.  

    Car batteries will probably play some role once they are removed from cars.   Even when it’s time to send that rusty old EV to the crusher there’s likely to be more than 50% of battery life left.  And since real estate for battery placement is low cost utilities (and businesses) can get a few years of service from these batteries before they are recycled.  Nissan is already planning on using removed Leaf batteries at their building sites.

    The grid role for EVs (and PHEVs) is likely as dispatchable load.  Cars spend about 90% of their time parked.  If plugged in with a ‘smart charger’ the utility can turn on charging when supply exceeds demand and turn off charging when demand is challenged.  As long as the driver’s minimum range is present when they get in they should be happy to let the utility determine the actual time of charging in exchange for very attractive kWh prices.

    With higher range (~200 mile) EVs it will be possible for utilities to skip charging for multiple days for some drivers.  Someone with a normal 30 mile driving day might set a 50 mile minimum.  That leaves the utility 75% of the battery to recharge when supply is high or the ability to skip up to five days if there’s a long cloudy/windless period.  Dispatchable load is very valuable to grids.

    Offer lower than regular grid charging and a fixed number of free “supercharger” rapid charges if their plans change and I think many will be willing to play.

  38. LoneWolffe Ladson That breakthrough will be the “Better Battery,” which will allow low-cost buffering storage for the grid and at the local grit edge, in addition to providing a sorely needed significant increase in the range of electric cars.  The cost of solar cell and wind are trending downward and upward in efficiency.  So, these technologies are moving slowly in the right directions to offset fossil fuel usage.  Also, there is a whole new world of other alternative energy generation relatively untapped, among these is geothermal, wave and river generation.  

    Disrupting the firmly entrenched rich fossil fuel industries is proving to be a difficult task.  What is amazing is they have decided to use their financial power to fight the changes rather than join in the movement and use their money to advance the technologies and to share in the profits.  I fear the reason is they would rather retain their control of the current energy market than participate in competing in a new market. 

    The “Better Battery” will happen.  Right now there are many laboratories working to develop it and they all realize the market will be huge; estimated to be in the multi- trillions of dollars.  Among the labs working on this development is the one I think has the best chance to bring the high-density battery to market. That is the DOE’s JCESR project at Chicago University, run by Professor Crabtree.  I think the best competitor to the oil industry is Crabtree’s battery produced by Elon Musk’s Giga Factory.


  39. Ladson We need some groundbreaking solar-hydrogen technology to commercialize quick. something cheap and efficient to knock Big Oil on its @$$. something tells me we won’t see it anytime soon, because Big Money seems to have its way most of the time.

  40. Oil companies see Hydrogen as the new Gasoline; they create hydrogen by heating, reforming and compressing oil and natural gas, almost the same as refining oil for gasoline.  Hydrogen allows them to maintain their control of the U.S. fuels market and to continue to set the price of fuels.  Fuel Cell Vehicles are their creation to counter plugin battery electric vehicles which derive their fuel from the grid and local renewables.  Where battery electric cars give you independence and freedom; hydrogen means you are controlled by Big Oil and they can continue their environmentally destructive processes of mining oil and gas.

    “Mining oil and gas is a dangerous and nasty business that requires paid political and legal protection so oil companies can pollute and damage health, water, air and land.”

  41. LoneWolffe Bob Wallace Much is made of range, and EVs will need to get well over 100 mile ranges in order to gain wide market acceptance.  I used 200 miles, the number could be lower but probably doesn’t need to be higher.  (That’s a “threshold of acceptance” number, more range would be fine but not required.)

    Americans seem to think that they need a car that will take them hundreds of miles without stopping but, in fact, we use that ability rarely.  Take a look at how few of our driving days pile up even 150 miles.

    People may stop to charge more often on a >150 mile trip with an EV but they won’t be stopping any of those other days to fill their tanks.  They will simply park and charge.  (I suspect we would quickly move to wireless charging.)  The small inconvenience of long distance stops will be outweighed by the larger convenience of routine charging.

    Musk has stated that the material cost for lithium-ion batteries is less than $100/kWh and that he can get the battery price down close to $100/kWh with mass production.  That’s what is needed for an affordable, “200 mile range” EV.  He seems to have a route staked out.  

    Toyota could possibly gets sales volumes up and prices down but they’re still stuck with higher operating costs.

    Either way, it looks like we’ve got a way to get off petroleum and cut our carbon emissions.  It’s going to be interesting to watch how things play out.

  42. Bob Wallace That’s what people don’t realize. They look at the “short range” but never realize that they’ll almost never use it in one trip. The main thing, even for people that realize this and can accept the minimal limitations, if cost.
    The question is, who’ll make it first? It seems that it’s the Toyota FCV and the Tesla Model “E” vying for this spot. Toyota’s HFC technology is top-notch, and doesn’t count on mass-production for the price. Tesla’s whole business plan relies on the economics of scale to get battery prices down.

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

  43. H2 FCEVs might dominate if EV batteries don’t drop enough in price to make 200 mile EVs affordable.  (About the same price as a same-model ICEV or FCEV.)

    With 200 mile range and rapid charging one could drive all day and arrive just a few minutes later, if later at all, as someone driving a FCEV.  

    Drive 200, charge 20 min, drive 180, charge, drive 180.  Do the eat/pee/walk the dog/check messages/nap stuff during charge breaks.  A 560 mile driving day.

    Someone driving a FCEV will stop 5 minutes to refill and some of those other 35 minutes doing the eat/pee/walk the dog/check messages/nap stuff

    If we get affordable 200 mile EVs then they will win because they will cost 2x less per mile to operate.

  44. LoneWolffe Brian Keez ‘A Cost Comparison of Fuel-Cell and Battery Electric Vehicles’ by: Stephen Eaves*
    , James Eaves –  http://www.metricmind.com/data/bevs_vs_fcvs.pdf  I haven’t researched it in a while but there are other sources and it just adds up when you look at the entire process to turn H into electricity.

  45. To back-up ‘weapon’ – A contrast in ‘upstream emissions’ between an EV and FCV;

    60 kWh
    to the wheels of a 100% BEV requires 79 kWh of electricity.
    60 kWh to the wheels of a fuel cell vehicle requires 202 kWh
    of electricity.  Very expensive and wasteful.
    FCV’s will keep the
    consumer in the exact same, overly expensive position we are in today

  46. The answer is BEVs will win by a long shot.
    There is a few mistakes that should be noted.
    1) Fuel Cell Vehicles upstream emissions is comparable to gasoline vehicles when not using renewable energy. (Which based on Fuel Cell lobby request that 90% of funding go to fossil fuel based refilling seems to be the case). Even on renewable energy, Fuel Cells are worse than BEVs in emissions due to worse efficiency.
    2) The range of the Toyota FCV is yet to be seen, so far the only numbers Toyota published are based on the Japanese JC08 test is 435 miles.

    Tesla has not taken the JC08 test, and Toyota FCV has not taken the EPA test so we can’t compare directly, but there is another vehicle that has taken both.
    The Nissan Leaf 2013 model has 75 miles EPA range and 141 miles in JC08 test. If we apply the same formula to the Toyota FCV based on the Leaf, when/if it takes the EPA test (I say IF because Toyota first needs to get an NHTSA safety exemption to even sell in the US). The Toyota FCV will most likely have an epa range of 232 miles. (They might use a bigger tank for US market to make it 265 miles just to be competitive)

    3) FCVs are far more limited by range. Why? BEVs will get to 400wh/kg. But will safety laws allow FCVs to go over 10,000psi compression?

    FCVs is just a distraction by the fossil fuel industry. They know the cheapest way to make hydrogen is through fossil fuels and that is what they will push.


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