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Toyota, Nissan, others get behind fuel cell push in Japan

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Sure. This was expected.

The lack of stations is really the holdup, and that appears to be changing fast. As vehicle production picks up, more and more people will adopt, and we will move on. From the very beginning, Toyota has been planning stations according to the number of likely customers in the area. A very .... cold and practical policy that dampened a lot of enthusiasm. Not a headline grabber. Oh well.

I have stated before that I think the best way to produce hydrogen is to use "leftover" energy from coal and solar generation, which Japan already has a lot of. We have had a lot of warm, not hot, sunny days recently and I have come to wonder how the utilities are dealing with all that solar power coming into the grid and so few people using it for air conditioning. I think it might be wasted, but who knows. Everyone gets paid just the same, but I wonder about it even if nobody else does.

We have to get beyond batteries, especially in Japan. Just thinking seasonally, we have high winds not only in winter, but also in spring and late summer when we don't need air conditioning so much. There are not enough batteries in the world to store that much power to wait for summer. And Japan's solar peak is really in April and May... before air conditioning season gets started.

But if you could store all that generated resource as hydrogen, you could run your cars and your whole grid with it eventually. Or a good share of them. The capacity could be huge, and nowhere nearly as expensive as batteries. Basically, gasoline production from oil is already managed seasonally. Doing so with hydrogen is not only doable, I am sure somebody could do it starting tomorrow.

So we will start with cars and small generation and distribution facilities, but this whole thing could scale up to let renewables generate 70% of the nation's power or so, not just the 30% or so that people are seeing as the limit today. A decade? Two decades? Possible.

Who was the guy who looked at an iphone and thought "hmm. These are neat little batteries. Let's power all of our cars with them. That would be cool!" I guess it seemed like a great idea at the time, but I look forward to the day when that idea looks really really dumb. It will just be obviously dumb, like disco.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The need for vehicles equipped with such futuristic technology is expected to grow because of concerns about pollution and global warming.

Futuristic technology? Hydrogen fuels cells for vehicles were invented over 30 years ago, but the oil and car companies shelved it and nobody would invest in its development. Now, with CO2 immissions out of control they've decided to invest in it. However, I fear it is too little too late.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Serious question for anyone who wants to answer. I don't really know the answer, so feel free to play the guessing game.

As far as I know, nobody has produced a PLUG IN FUEL CELL vehicle. Now I think there are some where you can plug stuff into your car and it can provide power for home appliances and stuff like that. You can do that with some EVs and plug in vehicles too. You can use your battery or your generator to watch TV in your house if you have an extension cord, etc.

No what I am talking about is plugging in your car and charging it up to go 60 km, and then using hydrogen and fuel cell if you want to go to the next prefecture or something. How come no cars do that? I think it would be easy to do because these cars ARE electric, but nobody does it, and I am not sure why.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Very good news. It would be great to see them also working on affordable home hydrogen making units which people with solar in their homes could use.

That way, rather than selling excess power to the grid they would be making hydrogen and would ensure the hydrogen is from a renewable energy source - not nuclear, oil etc.

We produce way more solar energy than we the house uses and would be happy to be making hydrogen for ourselves or neighbours.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

"I fear it is too little too late."

I am seeing a lot of this lately. As a practical matter, it changes nothing. If it really is too late, then it is possible that whatever we do, however small, might have some effect at some time. It might make some future solution easier. Or not.

And if it is not too late, and we are simply surrendering to despair, then we would be doubly damned by posterity not only for lacking foresight and judgment, but also for lacking courage and diligence.

Given any existential threat, we should expect everyone to do their duty.

By the way the quote you referenced bugged me as it bugged you. I think people have "marketed" green technologies for the short term, and not for the long term. That leads to a lot of this weird despair and ennui among greens in the West, and a lot of sparky anti-nuclear friction. The heroes of green technology and economy are going to be Japan, China, and maybe eventually Australia and India because they are slowly but surely transforming into green economies over long-term transformations rather than quick fixes and bold (then broken) promises. You see a lot less hyperbole from China and Australia, for instance, about their solar and wind programs, but you see far more wide-reaching results, than the guy producing a few thousand hobby cars in the Nevada desert. When all the (coal) dust settles, China and India will be really green AND really nuclear, and showing environmental records that will be better than half of Europe.

The green alliance with the political left is making a laughing stock of a lot of people, and showing them to be "green consumerists". For some reason, marketing of green "products" and a lack of smart infrastructural investment has revealed the Euro-green movement as a pretty cynical ploy against established capital. In places where that capital has been used to improve infrastructure, the environment, and quality of life, Euro-greens are not giving credit where it is due. Don't bother them with data about how nuclear power and natural gas are vastly better than coal. They just want more subsidies for more "Green" consumer products for rich people.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

" on affordable home hydrogen making units which people with solar in their homes could use"

I checked these a few years ago, if you can believe it. They exist. Two problems. First, the amount of hydrogen they make is minimal. Second, they are not anywhere nearly cost effective.

The purity of hydrogen has to be really high, so the only systems that can make it are intended for use in scientific labs. They are regulated and certified for that use. Labs only use small quantities, so that is what they are made for anyway. And labs have big budgets, so there has been no big push to make any for consumer use.

Just FYI, you should also know that HOME USE fuel cells have been on the market for at least 10 years. Google BLOOM BOX if you want a lot of English language information on a fuel-cell like contraption that produces electricity from natural gas. Some Japanese companies marketed similar devices.

And I will add to my open question above that IF Fuel cell vehicles were plug in vehicles, you could at least partially charge them easily using solar power from your rooftop array. You would need less hydrogen, and you could live a greater distance from a hydrogen filling station.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

The government decided to pay a ¥2 million subsidy towards buying a ¥7 million fuel cell car whereas people with old cars have to pay an increased tax rate because their cars pollute. Surely it would make more impact to offer poor people, who cannot afford to buy new cars, a subsidy on cheap, low pollution models rather than give all that money to the rich who don't need it.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Dual-linked engine: Water electrolysis to split water into oxygen and hydrogen; fuel cells to merge the oxygen and hydrogen back. Not perpetual, by no means, but is recyclable and exhaust is water.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Dual-linked engine: Water electrolysis to split water into oxygen and hydrogen; fuel cells to merge the oxygen and hydrogen back. Not perpetual, by no means, but is recyclable and exhaust is water.

That doesn't make sense. Splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen is an energy negative process - it requires a large amount of energy to make this process happen (otherwise we'd already be using it as our primary source of hydrogen). Burning the hydrogen on the other hand releases large amounts of energy, which is what is used to propel the cars. Putting an energy absorbing process (electrolysis) into the car would reduce the capacity of the car, not increase it.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

HelloKitty

Seems like a great idea, doesn't it? Remember cash for clunkers? If you do, then you might remember that Detroit HATED the idea of foreign car makers being, in effect, subsidized for having cars with better fuel efficiency than the old Detroit clunkers, which were scrapped wholesale. A subsidy is market intervention, and although a lot of countries kind of look the other way at subsidies designed to advance green technology, they would not stand by and let Japan throw money at the J market, which is mostly for J cars made in Japan.

All kinds of other factors are at play here. Subsidizing everything is the same as subsidizing nothing. Enforcement and paperwork costs go up according to the NUMBER of cars sold, not their value. And the shakken system ALREADY moves people in the direction of buying newer cars with better technology anyway.

I think Japan does a good job with all kinds of policies. It is not as "political" as many people might think. I genuinely believe that the government does a reasonably good job of taking care of people and advancing its policies.

Strangerland

I think you hit the nail on the head there. I think people have this idea that WOW, we can have cars with unlimited range that just run on water! It is like putting a windmill on a car and using the power to propel the car and generate wind for the windmill. .

You are right. We want to separate the generation from the use for the most part. We have a gas tank in cars, not an oil refinery, after all. People have assumed that batteries are the best way of doing that, but hydrogen appears to be better. Hydrogen can be stored in a tank, but it can be generated almost anywhere by lots of different methods. It is a whole branch of technologies, each of which might lead to even better things for humans.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Of course Toyota and Nissan are getting behind fuel cell technology, because the Japanese taxpayers will be funding much of the infrastructure, and the subsidies that the automakers will get for the purchase of these cars. The automakers get a large benefit, while the taxpayers assume much of the risk. Another fine example of crony-capitalism concealed beneath a green cloak.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Researchers In Australia have come up with a process where they make this special ammonia then from this ammonia obtain hydrogen. The whole process is way cheaper then any present method. The Japan Government where the main investor in the research.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

the Japanese taxpayers will be funding much of the infrastructure, and the subsidies that the automakers will get for the purchase of these cars.

Talk about ignorance talking.

The government is not funding the construction of infrastructure, it's the car manufacturers themselves like the article reports. The subsidies will be provided to FC automobile purchasers to cut down the cost. The FC automobile manufacturers are only getting the sticker price of the car.

The citizens of Japan benefits the most with cleaner air and don't have to worry about oil prices and FX risk associated with it.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

"Toyota and Nissan are getting behind fuel cell technology, because the Japanese taxpayers will be funding much of the infrastructure, and the subsidies that the automakers will get for the purchase of these cars."

Your use of MUCH in the sentence above really shows you don't have much confidence in the statement, right? Care to go out on a limb and just let us all know exactly how much of the infrastructure is government funded, how much automakers are getting, and what those figures might be as a percentage of what consumers are paying?

Or you can just admit you don't have any facts and you can give an idea of what an acceptable figure SHOULD be. Because, you know, Japanese voters have long supported environmental measures so one would think that spending funds on something society actually wants would be a good thing. Like solar, EVs, wind power, etc. aren't being subsidized worldwide these days?

It all seems pretty middle of the road to me. I don't see anybody getting really rich here, or taking opportunities away from the private sector. Would NO subsidies be the better policy here? I really fail to find much fault with Japanese policy either way. It is like calling Japan a war-mongering nation. People make that claim, and it really seems to make no sense at all.

John-san:

There is actually a lot of hot research in this area that I would compare to solar research. People are starting to catch on that cutting costs of hydrogen production can be done in many many ways, and where battery research is kind of waning, hydrogen research is just beginning.

Think about all the ways that hydrogen production and consumption could be cheaper. If it could be done with less heat, less electricity, organically, or with cheaper chemicals, that would be great. If it could be done on very large scales or with certain chemicals that would make it easier and safer to transport, that would be great. If it could be stored safely and easily for very long periods, that would be great. Using waste heat from nuclear plants would be another way to make hydrogen cheaply.

I think that the ammonia process you are referring to is producing a chemical that can be a precursor to all sorts of useful chemicals. Ammonia can be used as is, or to make fertilizer OR hydrogen easier. The key is that ammonia is easier and safer to transport than hydrogen gas. Having a stable precursor chemical adds flexibility to its use, which increases scale and decreases costs.

But there are some fun things I have been working with related to the use of certain petrochemicals that can basically be "bumped up" with more hydrogen, then shipped, and then "bumped down" by taking out the hydrogen. If it can be done cheaply enough, then it is a great way to ship large amounts of hydrogen using... basically... an oil tanker. There are other crystal lattices that can be used, but the materials are expensive.

The competition of ideas in this field is exciting. No matter who wins, society will reap the benefits.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

"battery research is kind of waning, hydrogen research is just beginning"

Battery research continues to accelerate, from what I can see. Why do you think otherwise?

The new Combined Charger Standard (CCS), for example, can deliver 350 kW to the new battery designs, which adds over 200 miles of range in less than 10 minutes during long trips - comparable to a fuel cell or gasoline vehicle.

By contrast, as the article notes, producing hydrogen at home to fuel a vehicle isn't cost effective today and may never be. But charging a plug in electric vehicle at home today is already far more cost effective and convenient than hydrogen or gasoline vehicles.

Time will tell if hydrogen vehicles can be produced and operated at costs and convenience comparable to gasoline vehicles. But we know with certainty that battery electrics are more convenient and cost less to operate today, and that their acquisition cost will be less than the alternatives within 5 to 10 years.

Pursue both, if you like, but battery electrics still look far more promising and even inevitable given the current state of research.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Batteries are heavy and becomes dead weight as electricity is drawn out of them. Batteries also have a life span shorter than the vehicle itself requiring to swap the batteries in midlife which becomes an environmental concern as well as an economic burden to the owner and society.

Producing hydrogen at each home may not be economical but it will be at the nearest hydrogen station in which some stations had already adopted the system. Basically they utilize solar panels installed on site and more from the power grid to create hydrogen from rain water that is stored in a tank and pump it into the storage tank.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

"Battery research continues to accelerate, from what I can see. "

Tesla pays good money to keep this PR meme going. Meanwhile, Tesla has been buying Panasonic batteries that are more or less the ones it was producing for computers a decade ago. Batteries are going to get cheaper because of some slight innovations in processes, and from a glut caused by overcapacity in the next few years, but no great innovations in the batteries themselves is coming.

Some utility scale batteries using different materials, so called flow batteries, might be used in some applications, but battery research is pretty well dead in the water. There has been no silver bullet innovation to change the game since lithium ion batteries decades ago.

I don't see what you could possibly mean by "inevitable" when an "innovative" company like Tesla cannot even make and sell its vehicles profitably. A profitable battery vehicle is the Leaf, which is not making any claims to any big innovation. Normal people with normal incomes buy and drive Leafs. They work. They are profitable. Up until not long ago, Toyota used NiCd or lead batteries, and they worked just fine. Again, a profitable application. Innovation not necessary.

Triring hits the nail on the head with "dead weight." Anyone who owns a plug in or EV knows exactly what he is talking about. Tesla is a master of installing bigger batteries in EVs to move bigger batteries faster. It is a dead end cycle. Eventually you can have cars the size of railroad cars if you want, and charge them for a week, but you still have to move all that mass. It is a loser proposition. The sweet spot is not "more battery." It is "less battery." People are so fixated on "the battery" that they lose track of "efficiency."

But it is worse than that. YOu have to generate the electricity at the same time you charge a battery. That limits your options according to generation mode and grid capacity. With hydrogen, you can generate it however you want, whenever you want, and use it whenever you want. Fill your car in 5 minutes, not 5 hours.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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