Weekend Energy Listening: The H2 Economy vs the Electron Economy

This week's installment of the podcast is a conversation that I had with Ulf Bossel, organizer of the Lucerne Fuel Cell Forum, one of the biggest scientific fuel cell conferences going. This conference used to flip every year between a focus on low temperature PEM fuel cells and a focus on high temperature solid oxide fuel cells. A couple of conferences ago, the PEM cycle was dropped on "sustainability" grounds and now the conference is flipped between the SOFC program and a general fuel cell program.

You can listen to the conversation by clicking play in the built in mp3 player or by downloading the show directly by clicking on the link. A transcript is available for this conversation below the fold.

or download the link directly: Ulf Bossel on the H2 economy vs the electron economy (12MB, 35min)

Here are some reports that may be of interest as well.

The concept of the H2 economy has fizzled from its peak along with many stock options but it still seems to creep up every once in a while. Every car manufacturer has a PEM fuel cell program and occasionally I see an ad on TV promoting a fuel cell car which is "right around the corner". Here's a tricky ad for Honda's fuel cell car that was recently brought to my attention.

Now, the technology works, no doubt about it. If you live in the Southern California area, for $600/month you can lease Honda's fuel cell car. Last year I took a test drive in a Ford Focus with a Ballard PEM fuel cell and a compressed H2 tank stuffed into the trunk. They couldn't tell me how much it cost but I was told it was insured for $250,000. Also no mention of the lifetime, but the last person I spoke to about this who works in the business (it was a Japanese maker) tells me that they're at the 5 year mark before problems arise and the target is to double that. I have confidence that they'll be able to double it, just like they've been able to fix the sub zero freezing start issue.

The problem with the H2 economy isn't in the technology, it's in the thermodynamics when compared against battery cars (note, batteries do have their own problems). Making H2 is extremely hard to justify when you can keep electricity on the grid and charge up a battery instead. This isn't to say that H2 as a fuel is a goner all together, it just means it will have a much smaller impact than previously thought. It's the so called hydrogen economy which is a goner, and the market knows it. This smaller impact is largely reflective of the correction in Ballard's stock price that happened about 8 years ago now when they first decided to investigate PEM fuel cells for stationary power generation, a much smaller market than the transportation sector.

Disclaimer: This transcript was provided by a 3rd party and may not be 100% accurate. Please refer to the audio as well.

Ben : Joining me from Lucerne, Switzerland is Dr. Ulf Bossel who is the organizer of the European Fuel Cell Forum in Lucerne, which for me at least is one of the conferences to go to, although Switzerland's Big Macs are a little more expensive than they are in Canada. Ulf has been around fuel cells and renewable energy for a long time now, but Ulf, I think, one of your best credentials is that your great, great grandfather back in the 1830s, Christian Friedrich Schoenbein, was the first to figure out how fuel cells work.

Ulf Bossel: Yes, he is the discoverer of the fuel cell effect.

Ben : So, fuel cells obviously run in your blood.

Ulf Bossel: Because of genes.

Ben : In your genes, yes.

Ulf Bossel: Fuel cell genes.

Ben : I have one of your books that you wrote about the history of fuel cells and it was dedicated to your great, great grandfather. So, thanks for coming on the show by the way. It is great to have you.

Ulf Bossel: Oh, thank you.

Ben : So, the topic…

Ulf Bossel: It's a pleasure to have a show across the Atlantic.

Ben : So, the topic today is about sustainability and where our energy will come from for the rest of the earth's lifetime. But before we get into that, you made a really significant announcement at the most recent European Fuel Cell Forum, which was the week of July 3rd and the announcement was that any discussion of hydrogen and PEM fuel cells will not be continued. So, why did you make this announcement?

Ulf Bossel: Well, the overriding issue is the creation and establishment of a sustainable energy future. Sustainability, let me say that, it is a term which was coined by the Prussian Forest Administration back in 1790 or so and it means that one should never take more wood out of the forest than can re-grow between two harvesting periods. That means we leave nature intact and just live from nature's interest rates. We take from nature what nature can provide without harming nature. Now, in the energy field, we interact with nature in two ways. We first interact when we draw energy from nature and then we interact again when we release the products of the energy use into nature. Clearly, all fossil fuels are finite and therefore we cannot live off the fossil fuels forever. This is also true for uranium, that is also depletive in whatever time this may be, but Uranium deposits will not last forever. On the other hand, after energy use, we leave CO2 or radioactive waste behind which nature cannot absorb. Therefore sustained energy can only come from renewable sources, i.e. solar, wind, biomass, hydropower, geothermal. It means that a sustainable energy future will be based on energy from renewable sources used with the highest energy efficiency we can afford or we can accomplish between source and service, i.e. between energy harvest and energy use.

Ben : So, basically hydrogen fuel cells just…

Ulf Bossel: Hydrogen is an artificial, synthetic fuel. It has to be made from other energy. If you look at renewable energy, most of it is harvested as electricity, some as biomass and some as solar heat, but basically most of the renewable energy is harvested as electricity. Hydrogen has to be made artificially by splitting water by electrolysis. This requires more energy than you will ever recover from the hydrogen. However, hydrogen has to be compressed or liquefied for handling, it has to be distributed, and then reconverted back to, guess what, electricity. That means electricity derived from hydrogen has to compete with its original energy source, electricity. If you go through a hydrogen chain, you find that after the fuel cell only 25% of the original electricity is available for use by consumers. A hydrogen economy is a gigantic energy waste. We cannot afford this in the future. Therefore, three of four renewable energy power plants are needed to balance the losses within a hydrogen economy luxury. Because of the losses, electricity derived from fuel cells and hydrogen must be four times more expensive than power from the grid.

Ben : So, you might as well just keep it in grid form.

Ulf Bossel: Sure. People will not choose the hydrogen roots to make their own electricity, but they will take it from the grid. That means we have to extend the grid, of course. We have to develop renewable electricity generation and electricity storage systems. People talk about a hydrogen infrastructure. We have to adjust the electricity infrastructure to meet the challenges of the future.

Ben : So, why did you make this announcement now? I mean we have known about this problem for a while now.

Ulf Bossel: There is no future to a hydrogen economy because it is much too wasteful. We cannot solve the energy problem by energy waste. The energy losses are all caused by laws of physics. If you go through the entire hydrogen chain starting with AC-DC conversion, electrolysis, compression, or liquefaction, transportation, storage, re-conversion the electricity by fuel cells with subsequent DC-AC, there are additional losses in every process stage. These are all related to physical processes. This is physics, not poor handling, and as the laws of physics are eternal, there was no past, there is no present, and there will be no future for a hydrogen economy. Hydrogen economy is a structure of mind, which has no backing by physics.

Ben : Actually, I just want to clarify. When people generally say hydrogen economy, what they overwhelmingly mean is hydrogen-fuelled vehicles, right?

Ulf Bossel: Right. This is part of the game, the hydrogen-fuelled vehicles, but electric vehicles will be four times less costly to drive.

Ben : Yeah.

Ulf Bossel: So, who wants to buy a hydrogen vehicle? Today, the plug-in hybrid is the proper development goal. We will have plug-in hybrids in the sustainable energy world because 80% of the driving is done for rides of less than 50 kilometers, or 50 miles. 80% of the miles are driven in short-range commuting traffic. Such short rides can all be handled with electric cars. So, a plug-in hybrid means you fill up the batteries at home, you fill them up again at work and you commute between work and home with electricity. When you take your car on longer rides or go on vacation you may fill up the tank with gasoline as long as it lasts, but with methanol or some fuel derived from biomass in the sustainable future. This is the most likely picture of the future.

Ben : I totally agree that hydrogen is much less efficient than batteries. Just from quick back of the envelope calculations, if somebody drove a hydrogen-fuelled cell car, say 35 kilometers everyday, then the amount of extra electricity that you have to use to make that hydrogen is pretty much the same amount of electricity as the per capita electricity consumption in Germany.

Ulf Bossel: Yes, this sounds right.

Ben : Quite a bit. If you went to battery cars, then you would be using the same amount of electricity as the per capita consumption of Poland.

Ulf Bossel: Yes, exactly. There are a number of studies confirming this. With the same amount of electricity, original electricity, be it from wind solar energy, with the same amount of electricity you can drive an electric car three times farther than a hydrogen car. On 100 kWh of electricity you can drive an electric car 120 kilometers while a hydrogen fuel cell car of similar size can do only about 40 km. If we want to have mobility and a sustainable future, we have to go for electric cars and not for hydrogen cars because we electric cars are less costly to operate. It is not the vehicle technology, but a question of energy cost of the fuel. Hydrogen must always be much more expensive than electricity needed to split water by electrolysis etc. That is a very clear picture. I have analyzed the situation to illustrate how much water and electricity is needed for certain hydrogen jobs. If you take the Frankfurt Airport and Frankfurt Airport is perhaps comparable to the airport at Montreal. About 50 jumbo jets leave Frankfurt every day, each charged with 130 tons of kerosene. If you replace kerosene by hydrogen on a one-to-one energy base, each plane needs 50 tons of hydrogen. As a side remark: 50 tons of liquid hydrogen occupy 720 cubic meters of space, while 130 tons of kerosene take only 160 cubic meters. We need totally different airplanes for hydrogen. But that is another story. To fill the 50 jumbo jets one needs 2,500 tons of liquid hydrogen every day. 22,500 cubic meters of water, the water consumption of a city of 100,000, must be split by electrolysis. For this one the continuous electricity output of about eight nuclear power plants is needed. Now, if the entire traffic at Frankfurt Airport was all done with hydrogen, one would need the water consumption of the City of Frankfurt plus about 25 nuclear power plants. Using hydrogen for all public air and road transport in Germany, it would take the power output of about 400 nuclear power plants plus enormous amounts of water. You need nine kilograms of water to make one kilogram of hydrogen. The Rhine river and all other rivers would be dry in the summer because the water is used to make hydrogen. So, we are really approaching limits and we have to talk about these limits before we talk about a hydrogen economy.

Ben : So, while we are on the topic of flying, what can replace kerosene though?

Ulf Bossel: Well, in my vision, the long distance transport by air, ships and also transcontinental trucks, some railroads that is not electrified will continue to run on diesel or diesel-like fuels.

Ben : Okay.

Ulf Bossel: Or kerosene. That means we have to reserve the last drop of fossil fuels of oil for these kinds of applications and we have to also reserve the diesel-like fuels we derived from biomass for these kinds of application. We should not use biomass fuels for the local transport where we can use electricity, but airplanes cannot run on batteries or solar energy. They cannot on hydrogen either because hydrogen is simply impractical for long distances. We need different planes which are so bulky that they cannot fly at high speeds, but have to fly at low speed and still, their drag is so high that the fuel consumption is up. So, the last drops of oil plus biomass fuels must remain reserved for long distance transportation by air sea and surface.

Ben : Okay. So, let us just get back to my original question, which is why did you make this announcement now? I mean why not five years ago?

Ulf Bossel: Well, the European Fuel Cell Forum is a completely independent body. We are not receiving money. We are not accepting money or asking for money from governments and other organizations because that would imply, that we cannot be critical about energy policies. But we are free to articulate our concerns. Five years ago things were not that clear, but today the facts are on the table. A hydrogen economy is in conflict with a sustainable energy future. Even the promoter of hydrogen say, "Well, it will come in 30 years or so." Patents have a lifetime of 20 years.

Ben : Yeah.

Ulf Bossel: That means all the research and development we do now will not be put to commercial use in the foreseeable future. Why spend money for a technology, which may become useful in 30 years if we are not even 100% sure that a hydrogen economy will ever come?

Ben : But is not there a risk though if you stop researching, say PEM fuel cells outright, then we might miss out on some accidental discoveries or spin-off technologies from the research?

Ulf Bossel: Well, the research can go on. I am not stopping the research. I just think that it is much more urgent to talk about the establishment of sustainable energy future. That includes implementation of wind energy, solar energy, plus all measures to improve the energy efficiency, i.e. technical advances, infrastructure and whatever else we need. All these issues have to be discussed in a broad sense by an international audience. That is much more important than talking about the details of a particular energy conversion technology and one type of energy conversion device.

Ben : Yeah.

Ulf Bossel: We have many different energy conversion devices. Fuel cells have to compete with the internal combustion engine, with gas turbines and so on. The problem with fuel cell that needs pure hydrogen, it is link to the hydrogen economy. The decision is not against fuel cells. Fuel cells are efficient energy conversion devices, but no new sources of energy. We just had a successful solid oxide fuel cell congress and we will continue this conference series two years from now. Next year we will feature the congress "Fuel Cells for a Sustainable World". We will discuss molten carbonate fuel cells, phosphoric acid fuel cells and solid oxide fuel cells Some of these fuel cells have already run 60,000 hours and more and doing well and we should continue to support these successful technologies. However, we should not push solid polymer fuel cells because they have fundamental problem which apparently that cannot be solved. Even if these problems are overcome, it will remain a standalone technology, which cannot be put into the market because there is no hydrogen fuel.

Ben : Okay, so let us start talking about the sustainable energy path for us then. I know early in the discussion you were talking about the electron economy and I know that you have written papers talking about how today about 80% of our energy is derived from chemical energy and 20% from physical sources and the future will be pretty much exactly the opposite, so can you explain that a bit? What is chemical energy?

Ulf Bossel: Yes. What people need is physical energy. We need motion of vehicles, we need light, we need heat, and we need communication. These are all physical energy. People need chemical energy only for eating and drinking. Okay, that is what the people's needs are. Now, to satisfy these needs, engineers of the 18th, 19th or 20th century have developed a fantastic technology for the conversion of chemical energy of fossil origin into physical energy needed by people: steam engines, gas turbines, internal combustion engines and so on. All these inventions are fantastic. It is a fantastic technology, but in the future this technology will run out of fuel because there is not enough of oil, gas and coal left to drive our economy. Also, we may have political issues restricting access to fossil resources. The use of fossil fuels may further be restricted to stop global warming. Anyway, the renewable energy from wind, solar and so on is mainly harvested as electricity. Therefore, as fossil resources become depleted, the chemical energy base vanishes. Electricity from wind, water, waves, solar and ground heat will become the new energy base. Once electricity has become our source energy, we should not make the mistake to convert it into chemical energy like hydrogen in order to continue with energy technologies which were developed to convert natural gas or fossil fuels to electricity or motion, but we should find the courage to say, "Goodbye steam engines. Goodbye Carnot cycles. Here we are with electricity. We don't need you any longer."

Ben : Yeah.

Ulf Bossel: This is what we should drive for. We have to accept that our energy base is being changed from chemical today to physical tomorrow and conceptually, we have to be prepared to make this change and not replace the dwindling resources of fossil fuels by synthetic chemical fuels. The worst you can think of is that hydrogen is made from natural gas, which it is supposed to replace.

Ben : Yeah.

Ulf Bossel: It is really strange to hear people say that they make hydrogen by reforming fossil fuels in order to replace fossil fuels. That does not make sense at all.

Ben : So, the future of the 80% of our energy will come from physical sources, wind, solar, geothermal type things, right?

Ulf Bossel: Well, the 80% is a number, which I think is practical. Wherever people live, we can recover up to 20% of the energy needs from organic waste produced by human and animal society. It could also be residues from farming and food industry, or agriculture-produced biomass. 20% is a realistic figure, but rest has to come from physical sources. We have to install wind generators, solar power plants, photovoltaic arrays, small hydropower installations etc. to make up the rest and the difference could be about 80% of the total energy needs.

Ben : Do you think that this will provide us enough energy for our future?

Ulf Bossel: Yes, it will because the efficiency of an all electric system is about three times higher than it is today. That means we can do the same, provide the same comfort, the same quality of life, the same living standard and the same energy services with one-third of today's primary energy consumption.

Ben : Yeah, that is a good point.

Ulf Bossel: Today we derive most of our comfort from primary fossil energy with is converted to electricity or motion at fairly low efficiency. If the primary energy comes from sun, wind & Co., the efficiency is 90% between the renewable power source and people. The electricity has to pass through a number of transformers, but it is never converted across the physical-chemical boundary

Ben : And we will have to find a way to store electrons in an electron economy.

Ulf Bossel: Yes, this is right. Exactly.

Ben : And that will probably be done by, I mean it could be done by plugging vehicles, right? Just battery cars?

Ulf Bossel: Yeah. It is basically electricity has to be stored as physical energy. That can be easily done with batteries, but physical energy can also be stored with flywheels, compressed air, pumped hydro storage etc. The worst energy storage would be if we convert the physical energy "electricity" to the chemical energy "hydrogen" and then convert it back to electricity. This has a roundtrip efficiency of about 35-45% while compressed air has 75%, flywheels perhaps 80% and Lithium-ion batteries about 90%. Now, it seems to be best to store electrical energy in the form it will later be used. For instance, in a 48 Volt battery for a 48 Volt electric car. You could also run a refrigerator at night to make enough ice to keep the appliance cold for the entire next day. There are many things we can do. Electric cars will have the wonderful lithium ion batteries for high density electricity storage at low volume and weight. Roundtrip efficiency is above 90%. The batteries can be charged in very short time, i.e. in 10 minutes from 15-85% capacity given the needed power, of course. The expected lifetime is 10 years and one million cycles may be obtained. The final word has not been spoken because these batteries have not been around for 10 years. We now use them in cell phones and laptops. Five years ago it took hours to recharge the cell phone and one charge lasted only a few days. Now the batteries are recharged in a few minutes and last for a week.

Ben : Actually, the lifecycle of batteries is something that I am pretty interested in because I personally do not think that they can compete with a diesel engine, for instance, in terms of the lifetime.

Ulf Bossel: Well, they may have to last a lifetime of a car. We are used to replace car batteries every five years.

Ben : Yeah.

Ulf Bossel: And a car, you might say, is sitting there, on four wheels for 10 years, but it is actually driven for about only two hours a day. 3000 hours is the typical lifetime of a car. The question is do batteries deteriorate when the car is not driven? With the lead acid batteries, this was the case. It is no longer the case with lithium-ion batteries. Anyway, I can see that the energy storage problem can be solved by keeping electric cars grid-connected when they are not driven. Now, that sounds strange, but a car is normally driven two hours a day, so it is parked for 22 hours at home, at work or somewhere else. What we need is at home and at work are inductive power transfer platforms. While the car is parked, the battery is recharged. The meter is in the car. At the end of the month, the meter is read and you pay for electricity received from the grid. Such system would create a huge electricity storage capacity. Batteries are filled with surplus power at night, during windy days, on weekends etc. If the wind is not blowing strong, then batteries are charged to only 80%, but every car remains in a drivable condition at any time. You do not have to go to a gas station to fill up a battery. You park your car at home, turn off the key and then the batteries are charged automatically. Of all I have said, this is the only vision I have. All the rest is derived from physics, but this is a vision, is doable even today. It can be a bit more sophisticated in that the power company automatically recognize the car and does the bookkeeping for you. You do not have read a meter, but the power company is controlling the charging of your car and at the end of the month will send you a bill for the kilowatt-hours transferred to your car.

Ben : So, basically in conclusion then we are going to have to use a variety of renewable energy sources in the future because we are running out of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels will not be available in the quantities that they are today, so we are going to have to be using renewable energy sources. The organic fuels that are available will not be available in very large quantities and so we better find the most efficient way to use them.

Ulf Bossel: Yes.

Ben : And one of the most efficient ways of using the organic resources is actually through a fuel cell, like a high-temperature fuel cell.

Ulf Bossel: Yes. Right, right. Organic fuels derived from biomass or the last natural gas or oil flowing through pipelines, have to be converted with highest efficiency into electricity and heat by co-generation. For that, solid oxide fuel cells, high-temperature fuel cells, are the best because they can convert hydrocarbons directly without the need of a reformer. Because solid oxide fuel cells are always superior to PEM fuel cell and reformer. This is another reason why we should discontinued to push the hydrogen technology, because PEM fuel cells run on hydrocarbon fuels cannot beat solid oxide fuel cells with respect to overall system efficiency. Most of the waste heat from PEM fuel cells is too cold for practical use. So, I cannot see that the polymer fuel cell have a great future in today's energy system. It makes sense in a hydrogen economy, but because of the physics a hydrogen economy may never be established. The future has to be built on renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Ben : Let me just read from one of the paragraphs of one of your papers in the conclusion. You wrote, "The key points is the transition from a chemical energy base built on fossil fuels to a physical energy base built mainly on electricity from renewable sources. The transition is predetermined by the laws of physics. It could not be avoided or significantly delayed by politics. However, the transition will proceed more smoothly if all players agreed to move in to the same direction."

Ulf Bossel: It is my intent now, to provide some insight into the physics so that people can recognize the "light at the end of the tunnel." Only then can we join forces and go together into one direction rather than trying find solutions by trail and error. At the moment, time and money is wastes, because the solutions are know and the technologies are available. We do not have to invest in research on technologies which cannot provide sustainable solutions to the energy problem. If one considers the overall mass and energy balances, ideas like "clean coal", "nuclear fusion", "oil from tar sands" etc. sound like bad jokes. One cannot solve the energy problem with processes whose energy input exceeds the energy output. The energy problem has to be solved soon by energy efficiency and energy from renewable sources. We have not much time to waste.

Ben : Just one last question. What type of responses have you been getting to your announcement?

Ulf Bossel: Positive. Very, very positive. People have told me that they will come to Lucerne next summer, because we are now talking about energy politics. Of course, there are some others who would like to present their good PEM solutions. Indeed, the advances in the PEM area are fantastic. I have highest respect for my fuel cell colleagues. But it does not make sense to develop fuel cells for which the fuel is not available and will not be available in the near future. I fear that all the wonderful PEM fuel cells and the PEM fuel cell vehicles will all end up in technical museums.

Ben : Okay, well, thank you so much Ulf for coming on the show. It is great to talk to you.

Ulf Bossel: Okay. Thank you and it was a pleasure.

Ben : Bye-bye.

Ulf Bossel: Thank you. Bye-bye

Electric cars and renewable electricity production generate synergies: as said here if you’re driving your electric car 10% of the time, it means that 90% of the time it is in garage or parking so it is available as a source of electricity for the grid, as “V2G”: vehicle-to-grid. Since wind or solar are intermittant this generates synergy.

For example the 56 kWh Tesla battery pack is enough for 4 to 5 days of my personal electricity consumption, in France we consume about 20 kWh per day per capita on average but I'm about half of the average for my electricity consumption :). A 100 km battery pack will be about 20 kWh, so all in all about half a day of consumption with an electric car for every two people.

These battery pack look expensive but you can make money out of them by buying electricity from the grid when it’s cheap and selling it when it’s expensive (taking into account conversion loss but it's not that big as mentionned).

Series hybrid with an on board fuel based electricity generator (methanol, natgas, whatever) for extending the range look like a reasonable solution to me and it's definitely not sci-fi right now. Except no auto constructor seem really interested in putting one on the market ...

What an intimidating display of stupidity congenial to fossil fuel tax revenues, a seven-word phrase that now-a-days is abbreviated as "green". The first really wrong thing is this:

after energy use, we leave CO2 or radioactive waste behind which nature cannot absorb

The suggestion that nature cannot absorb radioactive waste is false. Our year-2108 descendants will inherit lands in which, buried a kilometre deep or less, are 250 *billion* watts of radioactivity -- and this may include, halfway down or a little further, our radioactive legacy to them, now approaching 0.3 billion year-2108 watts, in sturdy containers.

Failure of those containers would present the same sort of threat of radioactive contamination of the land above as the threat from saltshakers sunk in the Titanic, should they break, of salting the oceans above. In other words, the containers' failure would be harmless; more shortly, they would be failsafe.

CO2 and its evil cousin CO are more of a problem. Both have actually harmed people, and carbon monoxide does so frequently enough that it probably will kill someone today. Dividing fossil fuel government revenues by the count of such fossil-fuel-related deaths yields a per-death revenue of a few tens of millions of dollars.

Nature's accustomed CO2 absorption mechanisms can be sped up by us, and the money cost of providing this help will be large in absolute terms, but not as large as the public revenues that are already associated with CO2 production, nor even as large as the above-linked subset of those revenues. Governments are collecting an ash-pickup fee that is plenty big enough to pay for the ash pickup, but spending it in other ways that government personnel find more pleasant.

--- G.R.L. Cowan, H2 energy fan 'til ~1996

A little harsh and out of context.

He was applying the definition of sustainability as the Prussian's used it to our current energy production. Their time frame was 2 harvesting periods. Yours seems to be quite a bit longer.

Not too harsh and definitely not out of context.

If the author understands H2 energy and plug-in hybrids, he should not speak on subject which even most climate scientists do not understand. Doing so only casts shadow of doubt on his testimony.

CO2 and its evil cousin CO are more of a problem. Both have actually harmed people.

It should be noted, that CO2 probably saved today many lives, perhaps up to 7 billion, effectively anyone who needs to eat to survive. Out of the 3 substances most essential to daily life, namely O2, H2O, CO2, the CO2 is the most benign as harmful substance. While O2 is responsible for all fires and H2O for all floods and drownings, harms caused by CO2 are anecdotal.

Besides enabling daily activities ( by becoming our food), CO2 also saves lives by contributing to Greenhouse Effect, although such contribution is much smaller than from H2O and Oxygen. Unfortunately, no feasible increase in CO2 can increase GHE warming enough, so that cold deaths diminish to the level of heat deaths - or anywhere near.

And a message to the CO2 revenue collecting governments, wanna-be governments and irresponsible, greedy CO2 regulators:

--------------= HANDS OFF OUR AIR ! =---------------

H2 economy = future fantasy.
Electron economy = expanding reality today.

V2G is the fastest, most practical, way of reducing fossil fuel dependence for transportation while preserving and enhancing current infrastructure.

H2 economy = future fantasy.
Electron economy = expanding reality today.

While I agree that hydrogen gas is a particularly bad idea for a fuel there's no such thing as an electron economy for two reasons:

Batteries store energy in chemical, not electrical form. Fuel cells differ from batteries in their consumption of reactant and release of waste product; batteries use a redox reaction which is completely contained within the battery. There's nothing in principle preventing you from discovering a fuel cell that's just as efficient as a battery given a good choice of reactants; doing so could eliminate a lot of dead weight by increasing the proportion of reactant to material needed to convert it into electrical power. If you've got some religious objection against storing electrical energy in chemical form like the interviewee in the podcast I suggest you ditch the battery in favour of the capacitor.

Using electron economy to describe electrical power is a misnomer. Electrical energy is potential energy created by separating positive an negative charges and is stored in the electric field between positive and negative charges, it is not an inherent property of electrons. Transmission of electrical power does not occur by sending electrons over to someones house via a cable where their energy is somehow consumed and the electrons sent back to the power station to be recycled; the electrons in an HVAC line just jiggle back and forth a very short distance at 60 Hz and never reach consumers. The conduction band electrons in a good conductor move in response to an electric field to exclude it from the conductor, which has as a consequence that they create a potential difference over the appliance that is to consume electric power.

V2G is the fastest, most practical, way of reducing fossil fuel dependence for transportation while preserving and enhancing current infrastructure.

As long as batteries, with proper maintenance, get only about a thousand recharge cycles it does not sound very promising.

As long as batteries, with proper maintenance, get only about a thousand recharge cycles it does not sound very promising.

Many of the new battery technologies go way beyond this, although in view of the vast expense these start up companies don't guarantee the long life they are seeing in their testing.
Altairnano, and 123 are amongst the lithium technologies with much longer life, whilst Firefly with their foam lead acid and also the combination of capacitors on regular lead-acid to avoid deep discharge also do this.
Lifetime for all these appears to be somewhere in the region of 5-15,000 discharges, at least in equivalent figures because the lead acid capacitor combination anyways avoids this.
Ample for V2G, and likely to be longer than the life of the car, in any case.

I just had a little discussion with a hypedrogen advocate, where he claimed that 85%-efficient electrolyzers and 60% PEM FC's make Bossel's claims faulty.

I noted that 86% efficient EV drivetrains leave the hydrogen cycle in the dust, and even with a 50%-efficient CAES system (no issues of geography to worry about) the EV system using energy from storage is only a few percent worse than the hydrogen system at its best (85% electrolyzer minus 6% compression losses times 60% PEM FC).  The rest of the time, the EV is not only far better, but it can buffer the electric grid in ways the hydrogen system cannot dream of doing.

Even 85% electrolyzer efficiency and 60% PEM FC's sound optimistic to me. The electrolyzer sold by Hydrogenics is about 75% efficient. It is possible to run an electrolyzer at very high efficiency though by running at low currents. The trade off is that the hydrogen is produced at a slower rate.

I think some good well-to-wheel numbers can be found here. I know Tesla Motors may have an agenda but I calculated the "wind-to-wheel" efficiency of Honda's FCX to be 0.87kWh/km, Tesla calculates it to be 0.79kWh/km. My numbers include 10% transmission losses, 75% electrolyzer efficiency, 85% compression efficiency (maybe this is too low, I used 6.1kWh/kg H2 for compression), then I assumed 1% (by weight) H2 loss during storage, 1% (by weight) H2 loss during gas fill up and the Honda FCX tank-to-wheel efficiency of 0.49kWh/km (which is based on the car being able to drive 190miles/3.8kg H2 which I read once in a review).

I'm not sure buffering the grid with batteries is cheaper than stationary SOFC fuel cells. Seems like SOFC or phosphoric acid FC can last much longer and has a lower cost per watt hour over 20 years. Has anyone seen a comparison? I didn't see one in his reports but may have missed it.

If you had a parking lot full of batteries (in the EVs), you might as well use them by plugging into the grid. It would be a control engineers dream job to set up.

SOFC's wouldn't be used to buffer the grid, their role would be to run off of biogas or gasified fuel in place of a gas turbine.

Ben nailed the issue in his reply, but I'm going to expand on it.

I'm not sure buffering the grid with batteries is cheaper than stationary SOFC fuel cells.

The point is that the power-handling capacity of a national fleet of (PH)EV's dwarfs the generation connected to the grid.  This allows a large number of plugged-in vehicles to compensate for wide swings between immediate electric supply and demand without adding a cent to capital costs or fuel bills.

Consider the US light-duty vehicle fleet, roughly 200 million strong.  If we conservatively postulate that each one has an engine of 100 horsepower (75 kW), the total power is 7.5 terawatts.  Total nameplate grid-connected generation in the USA is on the order of 1 terawatt.  If the US vehicle fleet could be plugged into the grid as generators, they could back up the entire world (for as long as their fuel held out).

(PH)EV's must have batteries with enough power capacity to perform acceleration and regenerative braking.  Depending on the design, they may be able to charge and discharge at rates from 10 kW to 100 kW.  This is considerably greater than the power which can be handled over a likely charging connection (220 V 30 A, or 6.6 kW) so the connection is the limiting factor.

If we assume a fleet of 200 million vehicles, 80% plugged in at any time, and 6.6 kW apiece, that is 1.056 terawatts of power-handling capacity attached to the grid.  If they are taking power at an average of 120 GW, that is 120 GW of spinning reserve you don't need because you can turn off their chargers briefly (reacting much faster than any turbine) and make up the lost energy later.  You can run most of the chargers on low until the incoming cold front hits the wind farm, and then crank them up to absorb the surge in power (allowing wind to supply much more than 20% of total grid demand).  Given a huge mass of demand which mostly needs a certain number of gigawatt-hours (plus or minus) between now and the next rush hour but isn't sensitive about exactly when or how fast, the grid manager would be able to do his job much more efficiently and more cheaply than is possible today because so much of the hardware for vehicles is available at no additional cost.

Didn't mean to write a book, sorry.

If the US vehicle fleet could be plugged into the grid as generators, they could back up the entire world (for as long as their fuel held out).

Wow! That is impressive.
What a pity it could back it up only for half an hour.

What breaks grids is lack of spare capacity in an emergency. That's one of the things Poet was implying in his post. Distributed, non-central, spare capacity is the best form of hardened infrastructure you can have.

Another problem with grids tied to renewable energy is underutilization at peak periods where the energy simply cannot be used. If PHEVs become a means of storing this over production, then your need to build other expensive storage is reduced.

I know he was referring to peak load. Usually, half an hour would be sufficient. Besides supplying all of the electricity for half an hour, it could also supply the missing 10% of the electricity for 5 hours.

Or alternatively, I could chose not to connect to the grid, and in case of outage run my car as a generator for all of my house. And you bet that then I will really save the electricity, when I know that I have only a few hours worth of energy in the batteries, and I still want to drive somewhere.

Just the way he put the global numbers looked so enhusiastically, as if we could supply the world from our car batteries :-)))

I thought it was really funny.

When the marketplace and governments first started to notice that we'd better find an alternative to oil fast, the initial kneejerk reactions were twofold; hydrogen and biofuels. Now, both of these are swiftly being left behind due to inherent problems in thermodynamics and EROI issues. Both GM and Toyota have quietly announced they are moving away from hydrogen and are now looking at batteries to power their new cars.

I was at the Palm Springs conference a few years ago when Ulf made his hydrogen inefficiency argument. There were a lot of groans. I have since come to the conclusion that Ulf really believes all this and I have watched eager followers glomm onto it and sophists such as the "Hype About Hydrogen" fellow regurgitate it to no end. But Ulf, despite his structured argument, fails to understand that the foundation of his hypothesis is false because efficiency calculations incorporating renewable energy are easily altered by simply adding more of a limitless resource.
For instance, if hydrogen production via electrolysis is calculated to be, say, only 30% efficient after amoritization, Ulf would say this is true regardless of the source of power. And should you add another fossil fuel plant to deliver twice the power, the efficiency remains 30% and twice the amount of hydrogen is produced at twice the cost. This cost will increase over time as the fossil resource diminishes because fuel must be constantly purchased. Therefore the cost of the hydrogen must accordingly go up.
But Ulf's argument falls on its face when renewable energy is used. If you have a process that is inherently 30% efficient but you double the delivered power at negligible cost after amatorization, the cost of the product is essentially cut in half. The result is the same as if the efficiency had doubled. By doubling delivered renewable power again, you suddenly have free hydrogen.
Free hydrogen.
That, my friends, illustrates a rather dramatic flaw in the anti-hydrogen economy argument.
Furthermore, Mark Jacobson and Christina Archer at Stanford have determined that accessible wind power alone can provide five times mankinds' present energy budget. The basic energy measure Ulf uses is an amount of liquid fossil fuel and the amount of work it delivers today. Other energy carriers such as batteries, methane, biofuel and hydrogen are then compared and efficiencies are calculated. However, in the future, the measure of energy will likely be the gallon-equivalent of hydrogen.
The mis-interpretation in logic that leads to mistaken conclusions is that there is an energy crisis. But there is no energy crisis. There is an oil crisis. That one's not going away.
But a brave new world of opportunity awaits those with unclouded vision. Particularly for those following the rapid developments unfolding daily.
Richard D. Masters
International Clearinghouse for Hydrogen Commerce
hydrogencommerce dot com

ps - The water argument is nonsensical. And there is a lot of mis-information in some of the above comments about Toyota and GM's actual direction.

I believe you are in error.

But Ulf... fails to understand that the foundation of his hypothesis is false because efficiency calculations incorporating renewable energy are easily altered by simply adding more of a limitless resource.

Your argument assumes that the only resource of interest is energy.  Your hypothesis is false; the limiting resource in this case is capital to build the systems to capture energy.

If you have a process that is inherently 30% efficient but you double the delivered power at negligible cost after amatorization, the cost of the product is essentially cut in half. The result is the same as if the efficiency had doubled. By doubling delivered renewable power again, you suddenly have free hydrogen.

This argument appears to start with the faulty assumption that RE systems don't wear out, and goes off into realms I can't follow.  It isn't even wrong, it's just incoherent.

One assumption by Bossel is not necessarily correct:
that H2 can be made only by electrolysis, with its
intrinsic inefficiencies.

Nate Lewis and others at Caltech are researching
the direct production of H2 via photoelectrolysis
using nanorod technology. See http://nrg.caltech.edu/.

Whether such research will lead to cost effective and
scalable solutions, I don't know. But there is nothing
in the physics that prohibits it.

Artificial photosynthesis with efficiencies greater than
chlorophyll based are also being researched for direct
fuel generation.

Interesting. Do you have any links to the artificial photosynthesis?

Artificial photosynthesis - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Progress toward Artificial Photosynthesis?

In addition to the one given by DaveMart,
the Caltech link has a talk on the subject.

One assumption by Bossel is not necessarily correct: that H2 can be made only by electrolysis, with its intrinsic inefficiencies.

For "not necessarily correct" read "wrong". When I was still a hydrogen fan I would probably have jumped on that, rather than the first really stupid thing I saw. At jolisfukyu.tokai-sc.jaea.go.jp one can see some recent work on the sulphuric acid decomposition part -- probably the hardest part -- of the I-S process.

It of course has its own intrinsic inefficiencies, but given high-grade heat, such as a solar concentrator gives, they will be less than if that same heat had gone through an electricity generation step to power an electrolyser.

--- G.R.L. Cowan, H2 energy fan 'til ~1996

Yes. Though I was thinking of solar or wind as the energy source, as was explicit in Bossel's talk.

There are other high temperature catalytic schemes to produce H2, e.g., http://www1.eere.energy.gov/hydrogenandfuelcells/production/water_splitt....

How amenable are these to solar/wind energy?

Nanorods are very interesting, but they're at least 20 years away from going into commercial-scale hydrogen production systems.  We need to do something about petroleum dependency now (actually, ten to twenty years ago).  We are going to deal with this crisis with the technologies we have, not the ones we wish we had.

I'd also like to caution everyone to look beyond the specific technologies being promoted and ask, cui bono?  Who benefits?  In the case of hydrogen, the beneficiaries include large-scale fuel and chemical industries; they can use e.g. coal gasification to get into the game, and the shift to solar production from nanorods comes "someday".  If we put in a trillion dollars of infrastructure to support hydrogen, we're certain to be using it 50 years from now unless it is so inefficient or polluting that it collapses under its own weight.

There is also another truth:  if it costs a trillion to put in, the public is going to pay for it one way or another.  The beauty of the electric grid is it's already here.

I'd also like to caution everyone to look beyond the specific technologies being promoted and ask, cui bono? Who benefits? In the case of hydrogen, the beneficiaries include large-scale fuel and chemical industries; they can use e.g. coal gasification to get into the game, and the shift to solar production from nanorods comes "someday".

And judging by Denmark and Germany, often given the role of poster-boys for wind power, it is coal plants and NG-turbines that benefit from pinning your hopes on wind power and rejecting nuclear.

From what he writes above, Masters clearly believes in Perpetual-Motion Machines. It is generally a waste to try to explain stuff to these guys.

Antoinetta III

I haven't studied in detail Bossel's analysis, but it seems to be in agreement with what I have always suspected.

That being said, I think most will agree with the statement (necessary but not sufficient condition) that "If hydrogen is ever to be play a significant role in our energy future, specifically directed toward replacing transportation fuels as their supply diminishes, it will be required that an abundant and distributed source of inexpensive renewable energy be exploited which is significantly less capital intensive than current methods of producing renewable electricity."

The only technology I know that has that potential is the Atmospheric Vortex Engine. (Ref: http://vortexengine.ca see Business Case)

If this be true, I would humbly suggest that Mr. Masters fervently investigate this technology and form a partnership with the Principles if he ever hopes to sell hydrogen as a viable technology to replace oil for transportation, or any other purpose.

High altitude windpower would do the job, at a fraction of the cost and with far less materials than normal wind turbines:


We are not out of the woods yet.

The big problem, before they suddenly worried about the energy conversion ratio, was physical storage on vehicles. The compressed gas model was apparently the worst way of storing it. They were hoping for some synthetic or hydride matrix which could hold it efficiently.

Serious problem, all the Lithium presently known on the planet would not be enough to make anywhere near enough batteries for the exponential growth of vehicles.

It looks like it is going to be Sailing Ships and Horse and Cart again. I am ready.

I'd agree that hydrogen has serious issues, and do not see it as currently practical.

Concerns regarding lithium availability do not seem to be well founded.
They were largely aroused by Tahil's comments:

However, the rebuttal seems conclusive - see comments on the above article and also this:

It should also be noted that is seems possible to recover lithium from seawater if land supplies should run short:

Furthermore, other energy cycles are available, such as the zinc to zinc oxide cycle:
EETimes.com - Startup draws VC funds for rechargeable battery

Our very own Mr Cowan has written very persuasively about the advantages of using boron:

So there seem to be plenty of resources and plenty of storage mechanisms for energy, once it is generated.

There also other promising rechargeable battery technologies apart from Lithium-ion. For example silver-zinc.


Besides energy efficiency being mostly negative for H2, there is also the little issue of a total lack of infrastructure for H2 distribution. I see advocates of the so-called "hydrogen economy" as basically disappearing over the next few years as EVs and PHEVs take over the world.

Also, something many don't realize, but for the first million or so EVs, we don't really have to do anything either to the grid, or to generation as there is a huge amount of spare capacity, but in terms of a day-to-day market and off peak at night. This is what 'balancing the load' means that has been bandied about now and again. Aside from the real issue of general load growth, EVs represent no threat to the current generation of electricity.

My view is that we should look to France where all EVs are nuclear powered...no fossil involved in generation of power.

On transportation technology...the conference really wasn't very bright. Almost dismissing bio-diesel out of hand is silly, especially the industrial algea R&D going on. Secondly, there is also the highly cool technology of developing totally synthetic diesel using large amounts of electricity, CO2 from the air and water, and not at the rate discussed at the conference. We can actually use nuclear energy, especially advanced nuclear plants like the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor to create our own fuel for vehicles.

Personally, I see battery advancement over the next 5 years as the make or break scenerio for EVs. They have to hit 100 miles and, do it for a vehicle less than $30,000 and we can finally turn the tide on CO2, Carbon and other nasties from fossil fuel burning.

David Walters

Neither does one have the infrastructure for the large scale use of small thorium reactors. So what's your point?

What infrastructure are you talking about for the large scale use of thorium reactors?
All you need is the reactor, the infrastructure is there.
The reactors themselves are what are under development, unless you build CANDU reactors which will burn thorium just fine.

Personally, I see battery advancement over the next 5 years as the make or break scenerio for EVs. They have to hit 100 miles and, do it for a vehicle less than $30,000 and we can finally turn the tide on CO2, Carbon and other nasties from fossil fuel burning.

EVISOL-200 Inverter: US$10,000 (Retail), or
Siemens Simovert 6SV-1 Inverter: US$7,000 (Retail)
Siemens AC electric motor: ~US$5,000 (Retail) depending on model
20kWH Li-Ion Batteries: ~US$11,000 (semi-Bulk)
Sundry parts: ~US$5,000.

Add in the cost of the car itself (sans ICE and ancillaries) and we're pretty close. I haven't included a BMS for the batteries, but it seems that one might not be needed for LiFePO4 (slightly undercharging them most of the time with a once-a-fortnight slight overcharge and quarterly or half-yearly 'servicing' may well suffice), as long as the Inverter is configured to not draw the voltage down too far.

You could avoid the cost of the new car by using an old one and making a retrofit. If you used a popular model (here in Oz that's be a Commodore, Falcon, or Camry) you could reuse the same tooling instead of custom-fitting each installation.

I still think the bio-diesel may be a problem. To make it directly from Electricity puts it in the "double" conversion category. Not really a good idea. Conventional bio-diesel seems to be an "alcohol" lipid reaction which already has ethanol EROI problems.

On Lithium batteries: The fact that all the Power tools, which are very price sensitive, went that route, means it is probably the most economical EROI way to go.

I am sure the Polymer chemists will one day find a good battery. Most of "other" batteries still have serious technical or financial limitations.

I like the Lithium from the Sea idea, Costs?? EROI??

Nuclear is the only sustainable system which can save us for the next 50 years or so. All the other sustainable systems are "too little too late".

The tree huggers and the environmentalists sing a good song. The rest of us do good lip service to "caring for the future"

I am not sure any of us really gives a damn, if we did we certainly remained pretty silent while 'Capitalism" and our investments destroyed massive sections and species of the planet.

2048 is said to be when we finally destroy all the fish in the ocean, yet this week all the Western European fishing fleets are on strike demanding government help for them to destroy the ocean.

I like the Lithium from the Sea idea, Costs?? EROI??

Probably not too bad, as they are not telling us!
Companies normally act in this way when the idea looks near viable - otherwise they talk it up to get investment capital.
It is really early days in any case, as there is a lot of lithium available from conventional resources, the concern is purely for running billions of cars on the resource, and so is hardly urgent since we haven't even got a million battery cars.

These plug-in hybrids are more than a bit of a sham because the power will mainly come from fossil fuels.

For example; A plug-in hybrid gets 3.3 miles per kwh so with a short commute of 40 miles that would require 12 kwh of battery charge each day, which totals 14400 miles per year or 2/3 the current per car annual miles.

Let's assume that we have 150 million plug-in hybrids--that's 1.8 million Mwh per day. 50% of our grid electricity is from coal so that is .75 million megawatt hours per day or 270 million megawatt hours per year, which is 135 million tons of bituminous coal per year. We also get 20% of our grid energy from natural gas, which takes 33% of our natural gas production or 7.35 tcf per year.
At this point I would point out that renewables at best will
cover at most 20% of the grid in 2030 in kwhs, so 80% will still come from fossil fuels(oil,gas,coal) unless we hit a fossil Peak before then.
A ton of coal has the energy of 3.6 barrels of oil equivalent
so that's equivalent to .5 billion barrels of oil saved.
20% of 7.35 tcf of gas is equivalent to .27 billion barrels of oil.
Add these two together and you get .77 billion barrels of oil equivalent.

We use 3.5 billion barrels of oil to make 150 billion gallons of gasoline, mainly for personal transport. If personal transport got twice the gas mileage as presently with conventional hybrids(equivalent characteristics to a plug-in car) the US demand would be 1.75 billion barrels of oil. If we further cut annual miles by 1/3 that's 1.15 billion barrels of oil. (Geez, just we saved 2/3 without a single plug-in!)

So in fact at best plug-in hybrids will reduce the consumption of declining fossil fuels for personal transport by 33% in an apples to apples comparison or 1.15-.77=.38 billion barrels.

Most of the advantage came from reducing driving by 1/3 and by doubling the mpg efficiency of cars( going to conventional hybrids). Ultralight cars(hypercars) could even get the same results without any hybrid technology.
A downside is that it is shifting consumption of oil to increasing the consumption of natural gas by 6%(1.5/23 tcf/y) and coal by 12%(135/1100 tpy).

This assumes that golf carts or electric forklifts meet all the expectations of US drivers for personal transport,etc.

IOW, plug-ins with cool lithium batteries are really just a clever marketing gimmick.

Hi Majorian.
You do seem to me to have made rather a lot of unfavourable assumptions for the option you have reservations about and favourable ones for your preferred alternative, so under those conditions nothing would look to good.
For a start, you are assuming that enough oil will remain to run cars on the diet you suggest, but what we are dealing with is a situation of geometric decline, so wee might need to move to an all electric scenario, when your fleet would be motionless.
Then you take the current fuel burn of the States, and assume that nuclear power has disappeared by 2030, and put in an assumption that renewables take only 20%. Both assumptions seem doubtful if fossil fuel costs continue to increase, although cheap coal will be a temptation.
The biggest new contribution to the grid is nuclear plant running at greater efficiency, and after that wind.
EV or plug-in cars are a great fit for renewables, as they can store the intermittent power, so that in themselves they are likely to encourage the provision of renewables to beyond 20%
In the South west, for instance, if an employer wanted to show that they were green then a PV array so that employees could charge up at work would take around 12kwh for a 40 mile range, so a 2kw system should do fine, say 2MW for a 1,000 employees.
Locally generated it would not need transmission or stepping down, and could be ground based for ease of maintenance. Even now $10,000 or so per person might be the right kind of figure.
Over 10 years $1k per year is not a lot to get your employees in to work in comfort - and you can sell the surplus electric to the grid weekends.
By 2030 even modest improvements in battery technology should mean that way more than 40 miles would be fine on electric.
In Europe and Japan I actually doubt the hybrid, and think that we are likely to use EV's, which would simplify the car greatly and lead to very low maintenance.
Anyway, just a few thoughts, but I really can't go alone with your thought that EV's and plug ins are gimmicks - what's not to like?

For a start, you are assuming that enough oil will remain to run cars on the diet you suggest, but what we are dealing with is a situation of geometric decline, so wee might need to move to an all electric scenario, when your fleet would be motionless.

Remember half of our oil doesn't go to personal transport; a 42 gallon barrel of oil produces 44 gallons of petroleum products-20 gallons of gasoline,
10 gallons of diesel fuel and home heating oil, 4 gallons of jet fuel and 10 gallons of everything else. (One no-brainer is to eliminate the production of home heating fuel and replace oil heat with electric heat pumps). Reducing diesel fuel for trucks, trains and heavy equipment is going to be the big challenge and even Ulf Bossel says that stuff plus jet fuel will remain in hydrocarbon form forever.

So converting personal cars to (plug-in) hybrids will not solve the overall crisis because over 50% of oil
doesn't go to personal cars at all. If the government literally banned all non-electric cars we'd still be in big trouble, that's why its a bit of a sham. From a selfish viewpoint, you could ask whether you would have a personal advantage in a zero-oil world. I would say probably not other then the fact you'd have the whole highway to yourself. Remember after almost a decade there are barely a million hybrids on the roads out of 150 million cars.

Looking at Colin Campbell's predictions of US lower 48 oil production we get 3.4 mbpd--2005,2.7 mbpd--2010, 1.7--2020 and .4-2040. Alaska is currently producing .8 mbpd out of the North Slope. At the same time oil sands production will rise from 1 mbpd to 3 mbpd by 2020, plus we would head higher in ethanol production from .5 mbpd to 1 mbpd if (high efficiency) flex fuel cars are mandated. Assuming that the same fractions above hold, if we had a 3-4 mbpd oil supply and the same number of cars, that would translate into 1.5-2 mbpd of gasoline even in 2040, plus perhaps 1 mbpd of ethanol totalling 2.5-3 mbpd for cars or .9-1.1 billion barrels per year which fairly close to 1.15 billion barrels I calculated before.

All I am saying that just cutting average mileage by 1/3 will save 1.2 billion barrels~1/3 or 3.2 mbpd and then also doubling the real world mpg will cut another 1.2~another 1/3. Making the cars a plug-in hybrid will
cut mere .4 billion barrels~ another 1/10.

So how important is the plug-in hybrid idea?

There is a lot more of the world than America - as I said, I doubt that elsewhere the emphasis will be on plug-ins, but on pure EV's.
In Europe we don't have access to the same supplies as America.
I don't expect to see everyone driving around in EVs and seamlessly moving on from ICE cars, but for the world in general, whatever may be the particular case in America, this would seem to be the technology which will provide essential transport.
From China to Europe I expect EV cars to fill that role.

And looking beyond 2030 or so, it would seem that that is the only practicable way of retaining any mobility.

To address a few points:
1. Biodiesel currently just means pouring rapeseed oil into the tank.

2. For next 50 eyars nucear and Coal.
Coal, if you care for EROI.
Nuclear, if you want lower radioactive emissions.

3. As for planet species, each and every special person and his survival is what counts in time of crisis. All the other species are nice to have, if we can afford it. Tree huggers are puting the cart before the horse.

4. We won'd destroy all ocean fish, because once they become rarer, the EROI of fishing becomes prohibitive. Besides, current high CO2 levels accelerate ocean lifecycle and fish production.

You guys have this all wrong. Hydrogen won't compete with the "electron economy", it'll compete with biofuels.

Batteries are great, but the problem is they have limited capacity and relatively long recharge times. Hence the PHEV--all the beneifits of an electric car plus all the beneifits of a conventionally powered vehicle. PHEVs need a power source for the generator, which while in the near term will probably be from fossil fuels, that will need to be replaced by a sustainable fuel. Hence you can use hydrogen, ethanol, or biodiesel. In this matchup, fuel cells are definately at least competitive.

Also, hydrogen can be competitive in uses that batteries don't have the capacity to adaquately compete with. I'm talking about locomotives, long-haul trucks, ships, heavy machinery (construction/farm), etc. In locomotives, for example, since the power to the wheels is electric while diesel is used as a generator, all you'd need to replace the diesel engines with a fuel cell--no messy drivetrain "revolution". For most of these uses, hydrogen would be competing with biodiesel.

So hydrogen does have a potentially bright future, just not as a primary transportation fuel for light vehicles.

But maybe it is you who is missint the point.
It is hydrogen tank which has a long recharge time.
And it has a low capacity - per volume - even liquified.
Add safety issues - hydrogen is not just flamable, it is explosive.
Add generation losses
Add necessity of high compression and weight of hight pressure tanks
Add lac of infrastructure, compared to electic receptacle...

Actualy, there is only one technology that can pack hydrogen dense enough, make it easy to recharge at atmospheric pressure, in liquid state, normal temperatures, relatively safe yet still flamable enought to power engines, with all the infractructure already in place.

That technology is packing H2 with Carbon, into linear chanis between septane and decaoctane, with preference to octane (gasoline) or decahexane (diesel). Call it carbon hydrogenation.

I'm not disagreeing with you that electric will be the future energy source for most daily light vehicle use. I'm saying that hydrogen fuel cells could (emphasize could) be very competitive as the backup fuel in PHEVs and in uses where batteries don't make sense like locomotives, long-haul trucks, ships, and farming/construction equipment.

Also, the figures given for hydrogen production are misleading. Seeing as that for the forseeable future, the vast majority of electricity and conceivable sources of hydogen are from fossil fuels, you'd have to compare the production of electricity to steam reformation of hydrogen, which is actually signficantly more efficent than electricity production for either coal or natural gas. If what I read is correct, steam reforming of natural gas is 70%-85% efficent, while even the most efficent natural gas combined cycle plant is only ~60%. All things considered, electric is probably still substaintially less efficent, but by comparing it to electrolosys isn't fair because electrolosys doesn't currently make any sense economically to do.

One idea that I came up with recently was making micro steam reformers in buildings/houses that already have natural gas lines, using the hydrogen to refuel PHEVs and using the excess heat to heat the building.

They are not yet using FC's to run cars from home, but they are being used in Japan to heat homes:
Japan plugs into fuel cells in homes - Green Machines- msnbc.com

They are looking at them in the UK too:
Big power companies invest in mini generators | Business | The Guardian

Yes you are correct.

Thermal generation of electricity is incredibly inefficient and transmission also results in losses. I have seen some fuel cells recently that use natural gas to generate both electricity and heating at the owner's home resulting in something like a 40%-60% efficiency gain.

Natural gas infrastructure can to some degree be used to transport hydrogen. As an interim technology they could be used to transport a blend of hydrogen and natural gas sometimes know as Hythane. This is a low emission fuel and especially low in local pollutants such as NOX. You could cook your food, fill your car, heat your home and generate your electricity from the same pipeline combining these technologies.

That technology is packing H2 with Carbon, into linear chanis between septane and decaoctane, with preference to octane (gasoline) or decahexane (diesel). Call it carbon hydrogenation.

There are some folks looking at marrying up nuclear powered hydrogen and heat production(needs high temperature gas cooled reactor for the right temperature range) with carbon from coal to produce synthetic hydrocarbons.

Sounds like GreenFreedom or H2CAR.  You'll get more miles out of your investment with electric vehicles.

Just a little wake-upper here.

I have just watched on CNBC an intelligent Australian investment manager (talk about Oxymorons)

In passing, he mentioned that he had just returned from Vietnam. He said he was amazed at how suddenly full of vehicles their place had become.

With a straight face he said "Oil will certainly reach $200 in the near future.

I am in what they call the "Motor bike" capital of the world. (Dumaguete) 5 years ago one could lie down in the main street. Yesterday trying to get into town was like a Californian gridlock.

Asia is expanding at a rate which can never be comprehended by a Westerner. I think Oil at $1000 is coming.