Many would argue that the Dutch are an odd bunch, but the (perhaps, sole) benefit is that ‘odd’ often also means “able to think out of the box’. And I can confirm they really are odd – I am, after all, Dutch myself and therefore living proof of the oddity of the Dutch.
We all know that the car industry is feverishly developing the car of the future, and, not insignificantly, the power source that needs to go with it. Currently we have extensive experiments with purely battery-powered vehicles – the gorgeous but pricey Tesla products being the most visible ones, but more goodness is rapidly coming – as well as hydrogen-powered vehicles, and of course hybrids.
The common denominator here is, of course, electricity. There is no doubt that electric vehicles are extremely efficient, with a compact drivetrain and control electronics. Tesla has shown the world how downright superior electric vehicles can be over fossil fuel powered vehicles. The question is, where will that electric energy have to come from? Can it perhaps be generated on-board, or are we necessarily limited to batteries-only powered cars?
Bring in the odd guys
A Dutch inventor may have been able to rearrange that current energy picture quite a bit. H2Fuel – a form of hydrogen powder, with a twist – has been developed by inventor and scientist Gerard Lugtigheid, and may indeed have some major consequences for all mankind. Some of the largest companies in the world – leaders in energy and fuels – are on board already. Investments are to be in the billions, or so the word goes. More about that later. At the very least this does not have the makings of a Rosch-type water monstrosity that simply can’t work. It does remind me however of other hydrogen miracle claims, which make me feel somewhat uneasy.
The standard hallelujahtm
Clean energy, in unlimited supply. That is the promise of hydrogen in powdered form, entrepreneur Gerard Lugtigheid claims. The patent he filed a few years ago with his company H2Fuels Systems in Voorschoten, the Netherlands, slowly seems to gain a foothold – because, they claim, it really works, and better than previous scientific research indicated. It’s all about Hydrogen – H2 in chemical terms – for everyday use. The word is that Toyota, Honda, Mercedes and BMW this week joined the group and made a pact to put forward, in the coming years, the advent of hydrogen as an energy source for cars. As mentioned earlier, even major players like Shell and Total see the end of petrol and diesel approaching rapidly and took steps, joining forces and investing. Together they put as much as $ 10 billion on the table to help the world towards the hydrogen car.
The idea is to relegate the plug-in cars, be it hybrids or purely battery-only powered cars, to history. That’s quite a statement.
It is clear that the automotive sector is at a crossroads. What is the fuel of the future? Petrol, diesel and LPG have had their day. They are polluting and digging for oil and gas meets with increasing difficulty, environmental concerns – justified or not – and, of course, costs. Some say that faith in purely battery-powered cars is declining. Although much less polluting, and vastly more efficient than anything running on fossil fuels, the range is in most cases rather limited, the batteries are expensive and, so claim opponents, their production is not environmentally friendly. Therefore, Hydrogen, or so they claim, is the magic word. Currently, several Hydrogen projects are still in an experimental phase.
Pros and cons
The claimed widely touted advantages: super clean and no CO2 emissions (although, I hasten to add, all that water vapor is a very powerful greenhouse gas as well – much more so than other greenhouse gases. Oops, nobody ever mentioned that, as far as I know).
The disadvantages: hydrogen gas is very volatile, and a very small amount already requires a huge tank, for which there is not really place in a car. The gas must therefore be compressed under very high pressure (up to 700 bar). Researchers are still determining if it is safe enough, and if that is, most importantly, an affordable and feasible way.
What’s up doc
The invention of Lugtigheid allows energy to be released from powered hydrogen, with a twist. Hydrogen powder in itself is not new. It was already well-known prior art. However, the way energy is produced is new and revolutionary. So what’s the twist and the secret? As is well-known, Hydrogen is an energy carrier. In order to release that energy a chemical process is required. Lugtigheid used for this purpose an acidic sodium-boron-compound (NaBH4). This process takes place under the hood of the car, in his vision. The secret is what he calls Ultra Pure Water. The hydrogen, in the form of the powder and ultra-pure-water is fed into the (conventional) tank of the car in a form of a slurry-like substance, that can be handled as a thick conventional fuel (like a thick form of diesel fuel); a bit of a mud-like substance. Therefore, the existing conventional refueling infrastructure can be used.
According to Lugtigheid the acid together with the ultra purified water starts the energy reaction and abundant electricity is produced – which is what actually powers the car. He mentions that in the nineties the US government was already experimenting with this process. Problem then was that the yield was found to be low. The inventor made a breakthrough by adding his Ultra Pure Water to the powdered hydrogen. Hmmm. Interesting. Me likes. But not enough data.
The interesting part is of course that existing infrastructure can be used. The global construction of hydrogen stations is not needed. No expensive and potentially dangerous pressure tanks are required. Also, the inefficiencies (and dangers) of compressing the hydrogen are no longer part of the equation.
A pair of test trials will start next year, it is reported. Calculations and projections so far have shown that the price for a kilo H2”mud” Fuel would be, for the consumer, about 1.65 euros. An average car with H2Fuel could be powered for roughly 240 km on one kilo of charged hydrogen. That’s cheap, so it’s likely that this fuel would be taxed to the max, of course, but it is rather revolutionary. It is said that there is concrete interest from the industry, including energy companies, oil companies and chemical companies in the process. Several foreign research institutes are very curious as well.
As I said in the beginning, the Dutch are an odd bunch. But this oddity (who’d thunk it – hydrogen mud) may have quite some merit. If anything, it proves once again that we live in interesting times.