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Discussion Starter #1
Nuclear future

The one thing about nuclear reactors that nobody wants to talk about is that they have, as a design specification, about a 30-40 year lifespan, and then the concrete core becomes too radio-active to safely control the reaction. The control rods lose their ability to absorb the excess nuclear particles between fuel rods because the concrete surrounding all of this assembly becomes sufficiently radio-active to promote more interaction between the fuel rods.

Since there are no practical plans to solve the "decommissioning" problem (one of those problems the engineers just left to the future to resolve), it will be interesting to see corporations decide to stop making money producing electric power from an unsafe nuclear plant and start spending money decommissioning it.

Virginia has four nuclear reactors at two sites. The two Surry reactors were built in the 1960s. They are due for decommissioning any year now. I haven't heard any plans for Dominion Virginia Power to begin taking these plants offline.

If all four reactors are online at peak power, the rough numbers I've heard state that they can produce about 80% of the power for the state of Virginia. Meanwhile, since they are often offline for maintenance, they produce less than 20% of the electric power for the state. That's still a lot of money being made from these plants, and money makes business decisions.

Three Mile Island was a small, quiet warning of things to come. As the old plants get older and money-driven decisions are made, we're going to experience lots of reasons to not invest in more nuclear plants over the next decade.

I don't believe that corporations are "greedy". Rather, I believe that they tend to measure their success or failure with the only form of number they understand: money. They can measure money and show it on charts that affect the decisions the committees make. Safety and the environment are harder to measure and usually don't factor in to business decisions unless voters make legislators enact laws that give lawyers the opportunity to make money forcing corporations to recalculate their figures based on how much it will cost them to ignore the environment or safety. Use money to change decisions, since money is the only thing these corporations understand.

It's not greed. It's lack of vision.

That's why I applaud Honda for making the Insight, and I applaud California for making the laws that convinced Honda that they could make money based upon the technology that is in the Insight.

I wish they didn't stop making Insights and instead worked a little harder marketing them as extremely fun to drive. More people are willing to spend over $30,000 for the 240 hp S2000 than to spend $19,000 on an Insight, and they both seat 2 and have comparable storage, though the Insight gets twice the gas mileage, and really is a lot of fun to drive.

Oh well.

Will M
driving my 1992 Civic with 208,000 miles on it, waiting for the red 2003 Insight I ordered to replace the silver 2000 Insight recently totalled when broadsided by an SUV.
 

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Re: FCV engines don't have to be as large

Delta Flyer said:
I recall an article that Ford had an expermental FCV Tararus. While the internal combustion engine is 135 hp., the FCV version needed only 100 hp for the same performance. Maybe someone could clarify.
Electric motors produce maximum torque at minimum RPM. In fact, at stall is when the motor produces it's highest torque level. This is different than the gasoline engine, which needs to reach a certain RPM to produce maximum torque. So you have to "oversize" the gasoline engine so it can get the car going from a stop. But with a motor, you can accelerate an automobile with HP rated far less. The motors sold for electric car conversions are way down in the 25-35hp range.

I've built a few two-wheel electric vehicles and would like to try my hand at an electric auto someday, but the Insight makes me very happy for now. If Honda ever comes out with an electric, I'll sure give it serious consideration.

I DO sometimes with the Insight were a parallel hybrid. It would be nice to be able to get to the next gas station on electric power if one ran out of fuel....

JKB
 

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Honda did have an EV, the EV Plus. They are using the same vehicle for the FCX, in fact I think they recycled some of the ones that came back. I believe they had the program going in AZ and CA for a couple of years. They only leased them really to get some experience going with them. They did use a nickel metal hydride battery pack though and had like a 100 mile range.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Re: FCV engines don't have to be as large

jameskb said:
I've built a few two-wheel electric vehicles and would like to try my hand at an electric auto someday, but the Insight makes me very happy for now. If Honda ever comes out with an electric, I'll sure give it serious consideration.
I'm less enamored with all-electric vehicles, since light batteries with sufficent capacity are remarkably expensive and cheap batteries with sufficient capacity are remarkably heavy. Add that electric vehicles don't reduce pollution. They just move it to wherever the electric power is produced. Add the efficiency loss of typically burning fuel to make steam to power a turbine to power a generator, plus energy loss through transmission to the place you plug in the electric vehicle.

There's potential with nuclear power, but it's the most toxic substance on the planet with many problems of its own. Geothermal power is temporary, since pumping cold water down into the depths cools the rock, forming an insulating layer between the water and the lava, and the heated water is sometimes radio-active.

Face it. There's no "free" source of energy. Solar is nice. I've lived with it for years, but one thing solar power can't do is provide enough power to produce solar panels. Eventually, you are back to using some other form of power.

I lived well with solar power because I took the time to figure out how much power I need, built a system for that level and then I kept to that level instead of letting my "needs" creep up over time. It takes compromises, like not having electric clocks or night-lights and other low-wattage always-on devices to keep the inverter up. Every wall socket had a wall switch so that "off means off", and at night when I went to bed, I turned off the inverter, again, so "off means off". No air conditioning. Propane refrigeration.

Unless you are rich, you can't live a care-free American lifestyle with solar power. You have to actually think about the electricity you use. Most Americans don't want to have to do that.

Wind is nice, but few places on earth have enough of it. Location, location, location. Even Denmark, where it is used more than anywhere else, produces only about 15% of its power with wind, and most people don't want to live near wind generators because of the noise.

Hydroelectric production has all the eccological impact of dams creating lakes with water levels than go up and down more than 20 feet, depending upon demand and rainfall, and they are typically used as inefficient energy storage devices, producing power during peak loads, then consuming power to pump the water back uphill when loads are less.

When you weigh it all out, the hybrid makes the most sense. An electric motor with just enough power to give low-end torque to a gas engine with just enough power to cruise at highway speeds and accellerate when revved up to high end, and a set of batteries with just enough power to drive the electric motor to get you up to cruising speed and get you up most hills. Hats off to Honda.

jameskb said:
I DO sometimes with the Insight were a parallel hybrid. It would be nice to be able to get to the next gas station on electric power if one ran out of fuel....

JKB
I prefer Honda's approach. It makes the transmission simpler. Note that the Toyota Prius, a parallel hybrid, doesn't offer a manual transmission for just that reason, since the Constant Velocity flywheel on the automatic transmission simplifies the dual-power-source related problems. Of course, then you are stuck with automatic transmission and the inherant lower gas mileage and less impressive accelleration.

That's a high cost for the rather limited benefit of driving you to a gas station if you run out of gas and still have any charge left in your batteries. It's enough for me that the "It's time to fill up" light comes on the gas guage many miles before gas is needed.

Will M
 

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I build fuel cells.

For whoever was wondering about how a fuel cell works: It is simply a standard electrochemical cell which can be refueled (hence the name). In a normal dry cell (like an AA, or a D-cell), a chemical redox reaction induces an electrical current for a given amount of time. Once all the reactants have been depleted the cell is 'dead' and no longer works - it must be replaced. A rechargeable cell is a little better in that the redox reaction can be 'forced' in the opposite direction - that is, turning the products of the reaction back into reactants. However, they still take a long time to be recharged.

The main advantage of a fuel cell is that it provides power immediately when it is needed, as in the case of an AA dry cell. However, it also carries the advantage of the rechargeable cells - lower cost of operating because you don't need to continually buy more - without the long recharge times.

When you pump hydrogen into a fuel cell, it immediately begins producing electricity (and at damn near maximum voltage too). Within about 2 seconds the cell is at full power. The hydrogen provides an 'instant' recharge of the cell.

<--technical discourse - operation of a fuel cell-->

Basically, a fuel cell is composed of three main parts: the electrode, the electrolyte and the catalyst. The catalyst is powdered platinum, the electrode is nickel mesh coated with carbon particles (usually), and the electrolyte is usually either a corrosive compound like sodium hydroxide (the active ingredient in drano) or a certain DuPont polymer called Nafion (looks like plastic wrap).

Don't worry, your FCX won't explode in a cloud of lye (same thing - also called caustic soda) if you hit something - the space shuttle uses the alkali fuel cells. All the more modern ones use proton exchange membranes like Nafion.

Anyway. The cell is constructed as follows:

|--motor---|
| |II ooo II| |
| |II ooo II| |
| |II ooo II| |
| |II ooo II| |
| |II ooo II| |
| |II ooo II| |
| |II ooo II| |

| | = catalyst

II = electrode

oo = electrolyte

As you can see, the cell is symmetrical. The hydrogen (from a tank) goes in one side and the oxygen (from the air) goes in the other. The hydrogen 'wants' to get to the other side with the oxygen. As the hydrogen hits the catalyst, it breaks apart into a proton and an electron.

The proton can go through the electrolyte, but the electron can't: therefore, the electron goes around a circuit from the cathode to the anode (positive and negative electrodes). It is this electron that we see as electrical current.

On the other side, the proton reunites with the electron into a hydrogen atom. here, the catalyst encourages the hydrogen to bond with the oxygen, forming dear ol' H2O - water.

Whew! I had to get it out of my system, though.

Thanks for reading.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Thanks for that excellent explanation of a fuel cell. So, I'd guess that platinum, the stuff that makes catalytic converters work and costs a lot when used in jewelry, is the stuff that makes fuel cells as expensive as they are. I'd also guess that the main problem is coming up with a cheap, clean source of hydrogen that doesn't consume more power extracting the hydrogen than it provides to the fuel cell.

Cool idea, though: Immediately recharged electric battery.
 

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Nice description of the fuel cell, I learned something.


Will M said:
I'd also guess that the main problem is coming up with a cheap, clean source of hydrogen that doesn't consume more power extracting the hydrogen than it provides to the fuel cell.
quote]


Well, it takes a certain amount of energy to break the bond in water, the most likely hydrogen source. Your implying 100% efficiency or better it sounds like which is not really possible. One way of getting hydrogen from water is by electrolosis of water, which is running DC electricity through it. When the bond is broken the hydrogen atoms which want an electron go toward the negative electrode and the oxygen goes to the positive electrode. The cleanest source of DC electricity could be either solar or wind power. It would take a lot of them to produce a decent amount of hydrogen, but if your going to put it in a fuel cell car you'd be doing so emissions free.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
I apologize for sounding harsh in requiring 100% efficiency in getting the hydrogen for the fuel cells. That wasn't my intent. Nothing is 100% efficient.

The energy required to extract, refine and transfer gasoline is substantial, but the quantity of energy then gotten from that gasoline defines the economics that make internal combustion engines such a monopoly for powering vehicles. The cost of the infrastructure now in place to distribute gasoline is remarkable.

If we switch to hydrogen-based fuel cells, there are some impressive technical challenges. We need a cost effective way of pulling hydrogen out of something that has hydrogen to offer. Water sounds nice and clean, but being the universal solvent that it is, you either process it a lot to clean it before electrolysis, or you replace a lot of corroded electrodes frequently. Then there's the quantity of energy needed to produce a given unit of hydrogen.

If this was easy, clean and efficient, I suspect more of it would have already happened by now.

Then there's the problem of distribution, including infrastructure. It's one thing to produce and distribute hydrogen for current uses. Power cars with it and the simple magnitude of the change is, well, impressive. That's why several new designs get their hydrogen from gasoline, which is already so widely distributed. The problem is that by doing so, you still are dependent upon gasoline, and you don't really get impressive gas mileage compared to internal combustion. Add that it still pollutes the air.

Eventually, we also have to ask ourselves, just how much platinum is there in the world?

It's not that I don't think we can build a good fuel-cell powered car. It's that I think it is extremely difficult to build a good fuel-cell powered car and for quite a few years, impossible to do that on a large scale. This is a project that would probably take more than a decade, even if we made it a national priority, and in case you haven't noticed, we have not made it anything like a national priority. It is obvious that our higher priority is on insuring our copious supply of petrolium through military action.

I honestly think the gas-electric hybrid is the best available technology for powering vehicles for the foreseeable future. Nothing else makes economic sense. If it did, we'd be doing it, since economic factors weigh so heavily in all our decisions as individuals, as corporations or as nations.
 

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To respond the the previous comment: Platinum is not the only possible catalyst. Manganese works, as does iridium and a few modern synthetics (but none as well as Pt - no one is sure why)

Also,, the platinum is recycled out of literally everything it is used in these days. Catalytic converters are torched off of cars before they are melted down or crushed because they can contain hundreds of dollars' worth of platinum.


I think that a good way to provide a universal hydrogen infrastructure would simply be to locate a refueling station somewhere near a river or lake. The water could be pumped into the station and split using electricity generated from wind and solar cells.

This is a good idea because:

1) solar cells and wind generators don't work on cars. Neither provides enough energy density. (For the record, modern solar cars carry one person weighing less than 150 pounds, are incredibly hot and noisy, and save weight everywhere they can - bicycle brakes etc. - allowing an everyday driver to go insane from frustration).

2) You COULD use the solar energy to power electric cars by simply dumping it into batteries, but then you have the problem of recharging time.

3) There are NO emissions at all. The hydrogen is generated in a perfectly clean way, rather than using nuclear energy to split water.

Essentially, the hydrogen works as a battery in a manner of speaking - splitting the water by running solar energy through it (which takes a long time - you couldn't do it on the road, but you could sitting at a station all day) gives the resulting hydrogen potential energy. When you recombine the fuels in your car, you liberate that energy at high speed, powering your car.

You can think of the energy cycle like this:

10 MJ solar/wind energy -->(electrolysis)--> 10 MJ potential energy in hydrogen from bond enthalpies.

10 MJ bond energy -->(fuel cell)--> 10 MJ electrical energy in car

10 MJ electrical energy -->(motors)--> 10 MJ of mechanical work.

of course, this assumes that the car's electronics are all superconductive and that all the mechanical parts are made of helium.

---> As an aside note, this alternative energy scheme would work pretty well wherever you went provided that there was water. Generally, when it's not sunny enough to provide solar power, it's windy and stormy; when it's a calm dry day, it's usually sunny.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
This is a great dream, and it actually could work, so long as only one in every 50 to 100 people drove cars. That's not a very scientifically derived number, but my point is that for these clean alternatives to work, it takes a lot of sunlight and wind to make a little bit of hydrogen. This works, so long as consumption is low.

Meanwhile, consumption is not low. I wish it were. I lived for 10 years in a group house with solar power and a secret connection to another house connected to the mainstream grid. Most of our power came from that grid connection because one of my housemates liked to stay up every night until 4am running lots of lights, a stereo, and two PCs on a network. Yep. One guy, two PCs. Don't ask why.

When I moved to my own place with my own solar electric system, I lived quite well with four 75watt panels, 750 AH of batteries and a 1.5kW inverter for six years. Real people won't live that way, however. I was willing to be a wood elf for 6 years, but now that I'm married, with a 16 year old stepdaughter, I'm on the grid. I'll move my solar electric system to the workshop I'm building.

If everybody drove the electric equivalent to the Insight and limited their travel to what is necessary, a large portion of the energy needed to transport everyone could be derived from these alternative sources. Meanwhile, during our last big snowstorm an idiot in a big 4x4 cruised by our house every 15 minutes for about 4 hours a day. Cruising at 4mpg is apparently his favorite form of entertainment.

Every morning when I go to work, I park my car and walk past the same woman sitting in her car in the parking lot with the engine running, and the radio on while she reads a book. There are more people like the gas-glutton in the 4x4 and the gas-glutton in the parking lot than there are people like me.

So long as this is true, wind and sun will, at best, provide an extremely small portion of the energy consumed by vehicles.

To credit you with the best aspect of your plan: The weak side of wind and solar energy is the inconsistency of the supply in most environments. It needs to be stored in order to be usefully provided and while charging batteries works great for stationary systems like homes, portable systems like cars would be better served by producing hydrogen for fuel cells, provided that the economics can be worked out.

The problem with riverside hydrogen production is that many cities are already running into water supply problems because people move into areas for economic reasons, not ecological ones, and because we treat water like we treat energy. We clean sidewalks in front of stores by hosing them down daily. We water our lawns. We overpopulate areas. In summer, many locations like mine run extremely low on water. Adding a new economic incentive to use up even more water is not a good thing.
 

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well, there is really no other perfectly clean way of getting hydrogen for use in a fuel cell. Perhaps we will develop nuclear fusion - then we have yet another use for hydrogen! we can fuse it and make electricity to extract more hydrogen! Which we can then fuse and make more electricity! and so on!

Like it or not, WillM (and I have nothing against you) our planet is 75% water. It's the most obvious natural resource to be exploiting for our energy needs. Pollution is a problem, but there are more molecules of water in the sea (to butcher a common expression).

The half bakery, http://www.halfbakery.com, has a lot of creative soultions to car energy problems.
 

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OT: what to say?

Now, this gets way off topic...

Will M said:
Every morning when I go to work, I park my car and walk past the same woman sitting in her car in the parking lot with the engine running, and the radio on while she reads a book.
Will,

I see many people just like her in parking lots all over the place. What do you say to them?

Once or twice, I approached the non-driver of one of those vehicles and asked why they did what they did. I usually get only blank stares.
 

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*ta-da*

Algae seem to be the solution for everything. Gotta love the little buggers. You can skim cellulose off pools of algae and make t-shirts and paper; you can eat it; you can make hydrogen from it and power your car; you can terraform planets....
 

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Separatin H2 from H20 uses LOTS of electricity

Macwarrior said

Like it or not ...our planet is 75% water. It's the most obvious natural resource to be exploiting for our energy needs. Pollution is a problem, but there are more molecules of water in the sea.
The issue isn't the availability of water, it is where will you get the electricity to separate the H2 from the O? Nuclear, coal, oil can do it, but at a tremendous pollution cost. The administrations push for the hydrogen economy is really a push for
1. nuclear &
2. lowering air pollution standards for coal
(the Bush administration knows we are soon approaching Hubbert's Peak for world wide oil production).

This is easy to rationalize once you believe we are in the end times, so who cares about the ecology?[/b]
 

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Discussion Starter #17
Re: Separatin H2 from H20 uses LOTS of electricity

mjrogers said:
Macwarrior said

Like it or not ...our planet is 75% water. It's the most obvious natural resource to be exploiting for our energy needs. Pollution is a problem, but there are more molecules of water in the sea.
The issue isn't the availability of water, it is where will you get the electricity to separate the H2 from the O? Nuclear, coal, oil can do it, but at a tremendous pollution cost. The administrations push for the hydrogen economy is really a push for
1. nuclear &
2. lowering air pollution standards for coal
(the Bush administration knows we are soon approaching Hubbert's Peak for world wide oil production).

This is easy to rationalize once you believe we are in the end times, so who cares about the ecology?[/b]
I agree with all of this, except that I do think the availability of water is an issue for three reasons:

1. If hydrogen extracted from water is inteded to drive all our cars, we are talking about a LOT of hydrogen and a LOT of water.

2. Water in a river, lake or ocean has a lot more in it than hydrogen and oxygen. There's no way you can use water to generate hydrogen without consuming a lot of energy cleaning the water first. Water used now in conventional steam-turbines is referred to in the trade as "polisher water". The water is sent through a series of processes. Distillation is only one of several processes done to the water before it becomes "polisher water", with a ph of 7.0 and no deposits left behind when it evaporates. We don't just need energy for electrolysis. We need energy to clean the water.

3. Clean water is not equally available in all places. Tell people in the desert about how much water there is in the world. Most of the water on the planet is in the oceans, which don't happen to be near where most of us drive cars.

So, first you find a supply of lots of water not already needed to water lawns and wash cars, then you need energy to clean it and do something with all that stuff you cleaned out of the water. Then you need to extract the hydrogen and convey it to where it will be used, or convey the water closer to its use and then extract the hydrogen.

There are a lot of places in the world (even in wealthy USA) that already have problems with clean water supply because it costs too much to get water from where it is, clean it and get it to where you want it. Cleaning ocean water is already a problem judged to be too expensive just to make it clean enough to irrigate crops or for drinking, and that's not nearly clean enough to be polisher water.

I really think the issue everybody dodges is that we need to consume less. That's why I bought an Insight in the first place. Whatever your source of energy, waste less of it.

Eventually, ecological factors will become econonmic factors and future generations will waste less because there won't be enough left to waste and there won't be some new source plentiful enough to waste the same way we are wasting what we have now. The shame is that we lack the simple insight to recognize this and cut back on current gluttonous consumption, keeping in mind that there probably will be people left in the world when we die and they'd like to have some of this stuff before we use it all up.
 

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but using algie it is a natural solution to the forseen mechanical problem you have described. algie will grow in any body of water without processing and in 1 hr will convert 25%/ of the volume that it is in to H2.
 

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You don't need clean water, just filtered. And after the fuel cell uses the water to preduce its electricity, you DO get pure water - never before recycled through a living being. Solar is the solution ot all of our electrical energy needs; I keep stressing that the fuel cell is merely a really high-tech battery.
 
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