Once upon a time, about 300 years ago, creative thinkers developed machines that used natural resources as fuel. This sparked the industrial revolution and the largest societal shift in 5,000 years. Despite pollution and other consequences, industry continues to churn out millions of products. We’ve become a product-dependent society and enjoy easy access to them. But there are no true happy ever afters. Our natural resources are non-renewable and we are slowly depleting them.
Babies born today may face deeper resource crises in finding new energy resources as they reach adulthood. Current research is focusing on ethanol, solar, and wind energy but these are more supplemental than primary sources. What will be the next alternate fuel?
Creative thinkers are seeking easier, renewable resources to drive energy needs through the 21st Century and beyond. For over 60 years, scientists have been exploring the use of Hydrogen as a way to harness energy. They’ve spent huge sums of money trying to use hydrogen as an alternative to power cities and countries. One of the newer projects is on a smaller scale but an important one. Manufacturers are seeking a way to make electric cars more attractive and are using new hydrogen fuel cells to power all forms of vehicles. There are some kinks and tangles within the infrastructure to continue working on but car manufacturers are beginning to release electric cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
Originally cars were offered as electric or gas. Gas won out for speed and range. With fuel and gas in shrinking supply, car manufacturers and owners are seeking a next alternate fuel for cars that makes sense. Electric cars have made a return. The range of an electric car averages under 300 miles per charge. Recharging a battery may require an overnight AC connection. Scientists and engineers are moving to basics in finding the next alternate fuel for cars and, in 2015, Honda and other manufacturers will develop Hydrogen fueled cars. The main aim is to offer hydrogen-based fuel to reduce refill time to minutes instead of hours.
Hydrogen is a basic element and was considered decades ago as a next alternate fuel for powering cities and countries. It was called thermonuclear fusion. Unlike nuclear power plant today, fusion does not require radioactive isotopes that may radiate and harm an environment. Fusion is not a radioactive process. Instead of using rare Uranium and Plutonium, fusion relies on simple hydrogen to fuse into other elements to bring clean energy. Hydrogen is found in the water we drink, the air we breathe, and some of the foods we eat (carbohydrates).
Fusion is the Sun’s energy source, joining light atomic nuclei to form heavier atoms like helium. Here on Earth, future fusion plants might imitate how the Sun generates energy.
The main obstacle is that fusion requires temperatures over 100 million degrees K, releasing energy for a variety of uses, including electricity. Progress in fusion research indicates fusion to be a practical energy source some time in the 21st century. Constructing atom accelerators of considerable size around the world, cooler fusion power generators still seem many years away. Using fusion to power large areas for practical lengths still seem like fantasy.
Hydrogen (H2) is being explored and considered as a next alternate fuel for passenger vehicles. Hydrogen is one of two natural elements that combine to make water. While not an energy source itself, Hydrogen is seen as an energy carrier because it takes a great deal of energy to extract it from water. This basic element will be used in a cell, much like a battery. It will offer a power source to an electric motor. Hydrogen fuel panels offer smaller battery sizes that may be easily replaced or refueled in less than 5 minutes.
As a very basic gaseous element in the periodic table, Hydrogen has been claimed to be a good alternate source to eventually replace fossil fuel since the 1970s. The biggest problem was storing and producing Hydrogen, which usually required large tanks. As technology moved from micro- to Nano-sizes for processors and storage, finding smaller, simpler ways to store Hydrogen was becoming more likely.
A team of scientists have discovered a new material called air-stable, magnesium Nano-composites which can help in storing hydrogen without complex method. Imagine a matrix of tiny magnesium particles in a space resembling a sheet of plastic. While this research was studied in 2007, under the financial support of the United States Department of Energy, new storage technologies have been developed at a more economical price.
Hydrogen used as the next alternate fuel isn’t only for cars. The United States Department of Energy is supporting research for military vehicles at this point. Hydrogen may be used as fuel for drones and light air vehicles. In May 2013, the US Navy tested Hydrogen in an air vehicle and reached a new endurance record. This means that Hydrogen can be used as a power source in many different types of vehicles. Electric cars are the first consumables for public purchase that will use Hydrogen Fuel Cells. These are FCV or fuel cell vehicles.
Key problems, as with all new technologies, will be distribution and access to fuel recharges in making vehicles consumer friendly. Electric cars can be recharged overnight in home garages. Hydrogen requires convenient and affordable refueling at stations like gas stations. There is no data whether this car will function in electric mode only if Hydrogen is not accessible. There are no plans to make user storable hydrogen fuel cells.
Honda, Hyundai and Toyota all announced they will have hydrogen-powered cars for sale by 2015. The Honda FCEV promises significant gains in real-world performance, cost reduction, efficiency, packaging and appeal, including more than 300-mile driving range. The Toyota FCV (Fuel Cell Vehicle) resembles the Toyota Prius and is expected to roll in 2015 with new extra-light fuel cell technology. The Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell Car is being offered now as a 2014 model.
On the USA side, Ford indicates that there are about 3 dozen Ford Fusion FCV cars being used. They’ve also introduced a Hydrogen NASCAR race vehicle.
General Motors is collaborating with Honda for manufacture of a Hydrogen-based FCV in 2015.
Hydrogen aims to be the next alternate fuel for cars and the magic date is around the corner. Initial pricing is going to be high, about the price of a Lexus or Audi 5000. Science and engineering professionals are projecting new technologies that will allow a shift that will allow use with very affordable passenger cars.
Certain fuel cell structures will need further development. One day, perhaps, the cells will be easily replaced by users, as you would an ordinary battery. For now, Hydrogen Fuel Cells are still treated as a controlled substance.
The operating range on these cars average 300 miles so you might have to forget cross-country trips as far as the 2015 FCV models are concerned. Refuels will be more rapid than electric. Using the next alternate fuel system may mean a revision in how passenger cars are used but, with easily renewable fuel cells, that change may be slightly inconvenient.
Many promising developments offer options of success and failure. Using Hydrogen as a convenient and economical alternative may not offer any benefits or profits soon. Are there alternate ways?
With dwindling fossil fuels and shale deposits, the emergency is decades away. Hydrogen is an alternative for future generations whose lifestyle may be impeded by lower quantities of resources used today. Like medicine, side effects will be found. Purchasers of 2015 FCV models will be the clinical trials. Like electric cars, success of hydrogen fuel remains to be seen. In 40 years, FCV may need to be the standard.
Over the course of the 21st Century, hydrogen power research may help reduce the price of power by mile or hour of use. Hydrogen is the remarkably simple fuel that can possibly power the world in the future. It took decades to convert from gas lighting to electric lighting. It may take over 30 years to convert from traditional energy sources to hydrogen. Research is constant and much is expected over time.
Nobody in the 18th century expected that coal would have environmental consequences and that fossil fuels would be in limited supply. Looking toward the future, beyond our life spans, Hydrogen has some prospects as the next alternate fuel that touches more consumer applications. You may be driving an FCV in the next ten years. There are no true happy afters but there are possibilities under different circumstances.