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Fuel Cell

An Operational Hydrogen Vehicle: Hydrogen fuel cell technology is a reality, sort of.

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Automobiles powered by hydrogen fuel cells are still a thing for the future. Despite almost a decade of predictions that the technology was about to mature there are still many problems with powering a car with water split into hydrogen and oxygen. One of the primary ones is that disasters like the Hindenburg explosion are possible when hydrogen and oxygen are in close proximity to each other. There are many other technical difficulties remaining to be overcome for full-sized vehicles, although researchers continue to inch forward.

However, there is a functional, real, accomplished hydrogen-powered vehicle. It is called the H-racer, or the H2. It can go over three hundred feet on a fill-up. That’s a lot since the vehicle is only about the size of a box of matches. This toy car sells for $115 and is manufactured by a company based in Shanghai, China.

While continuing their research on fuel cells for full-sized cars, Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies is manufacturing these tiny hydrogen-powered vehicles. The main benefit of the small size is that so little hydrogen is used that even if there is a malfunction, the car will not spontaneously combust, explode, or otherwise singe your carpet. It may be kind of pricey for a miniature toy car, but one day any that survive will almost certainly be valuable collector’s items.

Hydrogen fuel cell technology uses electrolysis to separate hydrogen and oxygen from water (H2O). These chemicals are then recombined in a process that creates a DC current, heat, and water. Barring explosions, it is a clean and ideal earth-friendly power source.

Water is, of course, one of the most plentiful chemical compounds on earth, and the fuel cell’s waste products of heat and water are far less damaging to the environment than the hydrocarbons and heat produced as waste by the standard internal combustion gasoline engine. With the price of gas on the rise, all sorts of alternative technologies are inching toward market viability.

Whether the car of the future will be powered by water, sunlight, methane, plugged in periodically to the existing power grid, or by some other fuel remains to be seen. But, the gas companies are certainly aware that their long-standing importance as the primary source of motive power for the world is under assault, and will almost certainly only last for a few more decades. Maybe that’s why the current prices are so high.

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What is Flex Fuel and E85 Ethanol Gas Alternative Fuels for Cars?

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With the ever-increasing dependency on foreign fossil fuels, many countries are looking for alternative fuel sources. Recently there have been lots of discussions on alternative fueled vehicles like electric cars, hybrid vehicles, hydrogen cells, natural gas, and ethanol.

Flexible fueled vehicles have been around for quite a few years. Many car owners may even be driving a flex fuel vehicle or FFV and not even know it. But what is a flex fuel vehicle and is it a good fuel source alternative? This article answers these questions and further discusses how a car owner can tell if they are driving an alternative fuel vehicle.

What is a Flex Fuel Vehicle or FFV?

A flex fuel vehicle is a car or truck that can operate using two types of fuels. Typically they can run on regular gasoline or a mixture of gasoline and ethanol. Ethanol is an organic fuel source that is alcohol based and is fermented and distilled using organic materials. Although many types of organic materials can be used to manufacture ethanol, the most common types of materials are crops like corn, barley, and wheat.

Besides regular gasoline, the alternative fuel that can be used in an FFV is a mixture of up to 85% ethanol and the remainder regular gasoline. This fuel mixture is commonly referred to as E85. Finding a service station that provides E85 can, however, be challenging in certain geographical areas.

Identifying Flex Fuel Cars and Trucks

Flex fuel vehicles have been manufactured by car markers since the 1980’s. An FFV needs minimal modifications to operate on E85 and thus look identical to vehicles that operate on regular gasoline only. Since an FFV looks like any other vehicle, a car owner could be driving an FFV and not even realize it. Some of the methods that could identify a vehicle that can operate using E85 are

  • FFV or E85 maybe printed on the fuel cap
  • FFV or E85 maybe printed in the fuel door
  • most vehicles will have an FFV emblem on the exterior car body
  • under the engine hood emissions sticker
  • vehicle identification number (VIN)
  • contact a factor authorized car dealer

Are Flex Fuel Vehicles a Viable Alternative to Fossil Fuels?

Since ethanol is used as a gasoline alternative in flex-fuel vehicles, the cost to produce ethanol is dependent on the cost of organic materials used like corn, barley, and wheat. According to E85 Prices, the current U.S. National average price for ethanol on the date of this article is $2.63 compared to gasoline at $3.06, a difference of 14.1%.

Looking at basic economic theory, as demand increases, supply decreases and the prices tend to rise. If ethanol demand were to increase, supply would naturally decrease. This could cause a spike in the price of ethanol.

Another important consideration is the actual miles per gallon (MPG) that a vehicle gets from ethanol versus gasoline. Depending on various factors, ethanol typically gets about 27% worse MPG than gasoline. With current prices, it would cost more to operate an FFV on E85 than it would on regular gasoline. Then again, using ethanol on a wider scale could significantly reduce dependency on foreign oil.

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Alternative Fuel Saves the Environment and Cuts Energy Expenses

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Water Fuel Cells and Water Powered Cars

Every time gas prices go up, the idea of water powered cars becomes more and more attractive. Water as a fuel is not a myth, and even today there are devices, which help to convert water into fuel. There are cheap and reliable ways to convert water into fuel, and one of them is via a water fuel cell. Water fuel cells do not need special knowledge, so practically everybody can use them to convert water into fuel.

Water Fuel Cells Can Convert Water into Fuel

The principle of functioning of water fuel cells is simple. Water consists of hydrogen and oxygen. Water fuel cells take the hydrogen from the water and convert it into Brown’s gas (or HHO), which in turn powers the car. There is a battery, which converts the water into HHO, releasing energy in the process. The process of converting water into fuel is simple and straightforward.

Advantages of Water Fuel Cells

Water fuel cells have many advantages, and it is really surprising that they haven’t become mainstream yet. But most likely the next wave of increased gas prices will amend this. Here are some of the main advantages of water fuel cells:

  • Water is available everywhere. Unlike gas, which can’t be obtained everywhere but only at gas stations, water is practically everywhere.
  • Water fuel cells are cheap. Contrary to what many people might think, water fuel cells can be found for under $200 or even less. This is not much, and after running a car on water for a month, the investment is returned.
  • Water cells are easy to install. For somebody, who has never done any DIY work, installing a fuel cell might be a bit of a challenge but even such a person will be able to install it on his or her own without lots of difficulties. For everybody else, who is skilled in DIY work, the installation of a water fuel cell will be a piece of cake.
  • Better mileage. Another benefit of water fuel cells is that they allow to use the energy more effectively and as a result get 50-60% improved mileage without the need to change anything in the construction of the car.
  • Environmentally-friendly. Running a car on water is a blessing for the environment because there are no harmful exhaust gases.
  • No breach of warranty. The installation of a water fuel cell does not require any construction changes, so there is no risk to damage the car or to breach its warranty. The same applies to the removal of a water fuel cell.
  • Cars are not less powerful when running on water. Finally, if there are worries that water is not as powerful as gas, these worries must be dispelled. Cars don’t lose horsepower because of water!

Water fuel cells are a step ahead in the direction of cutting gas expenses and saving the environment. While 100% water powered cars are still not real, using a water fuel cells to power a car is as real as it can be. Hydrogen powered cars are more realistic than water powered cars, and even today many of the leading car manufacturers offer hydrogen-powered cars, but still, they don’t have all the advantages of water powered vehicles.

 

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Storing Hydrogen for Cars

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Hydrogen is being aggressively explored in various parts of the world as a potential green fuel for powering automobiles. It is energy-rich, carbon-free and if properly exploited, may offer unlimited supply potential. Nevertheless, there are a few technological hurdles that need to be surpassed before we can reap the benefits of hydrogen as a vehicle fuel.

Probably the toughest challenge in the way of a viable hydrogen-powered vehicle is fuel storage, both onboard and at the fuelling stations. The technologies currently available are expensive, hazardous and impractical to varying extents. There are various techniques employed for storing hydrogen for automobile applications.

Metal Hydride Tanks

This method uses a combination of metal alloys that have a unique ability to store hydrogen and release it subsequently either at room temperature or upon heating. These metal alloys can absorb hydrogen like sponges and storage capacity varies with different metal hydrides. Leading examples are lithium hydride and sodium borohydride.

The main advantage of this technique is that hydrides can deliver absorbed hydrogen at constant pressure safely. However, these alloys absorb additional impurities which reduce the overall storage capacity as well as the storage tank life.

Compressed Hydrogen Storage

Hydrogen can be stored as a compressed gas under extremely high pressure. The lower energy density of hydrogen results in storage tanks almost 3000 times bigger than gasoline tanks. Moreover, due to storage as a gas at high pressures, this storage method is unsafe as well as expensive.

The safety hazards associated with storage tanks demand periodic testing of these tanks at pressures up to 6000 pounds per square inch.

Liquid Hydrogen Storage

The boiling point of hydrogen is -253 degree Celsius. For liquefaction, hydrogen has to be cooled as well as compressed. This renders liquid storage extremely expensive due to extensive energy required for maintaining high pressure and low temperature.

Additionally, liquid storage demands the tanks and piping to be insulated in order to avoid boiling of liquid. Thus storage of hydrogen as a cryogenic liquid is an expensive technique.

Chemical Storage of Hydrogen

Hydrogen is not available in an independent form and is found locked in various compounds such as methane, ammonia, methanol and off course water. For utilizing it as a fuel, it has to be separated from its parent compounds. Various techniques such as water electrolysis, ammonia cracking and steam reforming of natural gas are used for producing hydrogen from different compounds.

Other Techniques

Researchers across the world are rehearsing new technologies for hydrogen storage. A recent development is hydrogen storage through carbon nanotubes. These are microscopic carbon tubes having the size of the order of a billionth of a meter. Hydrogen is stored in microscopic pores present in between these tubes.

Another concept being explored is storage of hydrogen in glass microspheres. The permeability of these tiny hollow glass spheres varies with temperature. As the microsphere is heated up, the permeability of its walls increases and consequently the ability to absorb hydrogen.

The heated microsphere is immersed in high-pressure storage of hydrogen and hydrogen enters into it through its walls. Upon cooling, its permeability reduces greatly and as a result, hydrogen is locked inside. Hydrogen can be released subsequently by heating the glass microsphere as desired. This method of storage, if gets efficient enough, is safe and contamination resistant.

For successful exploitation of hydrogen as a vehicular fuel, it is imperative that the efforts to develop cheap, sustainable, safe and efficient storage methods are expedited. The use of lighter composite materials for tanks construction and advanced storage methods need to be prototyped in the laboratory and then successfully launched on commercial grounds.

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