Meanwhile, BlackLight Power's breakthrough electrochemical technology to produce hydrogen in abundance has been validated independently in academia (not to mention attracting six licensing deals for their technology).
Obama administration shuns hydrogen, but car company thinking 'long term'
By ALAN OHNSMAN and MAKIKO KITAMURA
Honda Motor Co. is backing hydrogen power for the cars of the future, waving aside a decision by the Obama administration to drop the so-called fuel-cell technology in favor of battery-run vehicles.
"Fuel-cell cars will become necessary," said Takashi Moriya, head of Tokyo-based Honda's group developing the technology. "We're positioning it as the ultimate zero-emission car.
Honda, the only carmaker to lease hydrogen-powered autos to individuals, opened a production line last year in Tochigi prefecture to make 200 fuel-cell FCX Clarity sedans, the model being leased in a trial in Los Angeles.
The Obama administration sought to eliminate hydrogen-station funding and instead lend $1.6 billion to Nissan Motor Co. and $465 million to Tesla Motors Inc. to make electric cars, and give $2.4 billion in grants to lithium-ion battery makers.
"Honda has a propensity to think very long term," said Ed Kim, an analyst at AutoPacific Inc. in Tustin, Calif. "It's also part of the company culture that if they've made a decision they think is correct, they'll really stick with it."
Honda is not alone. Toyota Motor Corp., Daimler AG, General Motors Corp. and Hyundai Motor Co. say hydrogen, the universe's most abundant element, is among the few options to replace oil as a low-carbon transportation fuel.
U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in May his department would "be moving away" from hydrogen as it's unlikely the U.S. can convert to the fuel even after 20 years. Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn predicts electric vehicles may grab 10 percent of global auto sales by 2020. Honda hasn't announced plans for a battery-powered car.
Hydrogen, made mainly for industrial use from natural gas, costs about $5 to $10 per kilogram for vehicles in California, more than twice an equivalent amount of gasoline. The Energy Department estimates future prices for hydrogen will fall to $2 to $3 a kilogram, Toyota said.
Toyota President Akio Toyoda said Aug. 5 his company plans consumer sales of fuel-cell cars within six years. Toyota, like Honda, is making "exponential progress" with fuel-cell technology, Justin Ward, manager of Toyota's U.S. advanced powertrain program, said.
Battery-powered electric cars are farther along in the market. Mitsubishi Motors Corp. started selling the i-MiEV last month. Tesla sells a $109,000 Roadster and Nissan unveiled its first electric car, the Leaf, this month. It plans limited sales of the model in Japan and the U.S. next year.
Honda says hydrogen vehicles match the refueling style drivers are used to: filling up in minutes at a service station. Nissan's Leaf recharges fully in 30 minutes with a fast-charger, or up to 16 hours on a household outlet, said Tetsuro Sasaki, senior manager of Nissan's battery test group.
The Clarity is available in the U.S. only in Los Angeles, where drivers can use about 16 hydrogen stations. The 5-passenger car has a top speed of 100 miles an hour and goes 240 miles, more than double the 100-mile range of Nissan's compact electric car. Through July, Honda leased cars to 10 drivers for $600 a month.
BlackLight Power has this week had its controversial technique for generating hydrogen fuel from water independently validated by US-based Rowan University, as the company seeks to challenge critics who have accused its technology of being unfeasible.
The firm has also posted two research papers on its web site, designed to help non-believers confirm the viability of its approach for themselves.
Although Rowan University co-authored an earlier paper with BlackLight, its
latest round of experiments were undertaken without any intervention from the firm.
The aim was to establish whether or not BlackLight had discovered a new low-energy form of hydrogen dubbed a "hydrino" and whether it could be used to generate energy on a continuous basis.
According to BlackLight, hydrinos are formed when hydrogen is released from an in-house-developed solid fuel at 50°C using a chemical catalyst. The process generates 200 times more energy than if electrolysis is used to extract hydrogen from water, BlackLight claims. The resulting energy takes the form of ultraviolet light, which can be converted into thermal power.
But the firm also attests that it requires very little heat to reverse the process to create the solid fuel again. The only element that needs to be replaced to restart the cycle is hydrogen, which can be released by electrolysing water.
To prove the point, the Rowan University researchers made 10 solid fuels from commercially available chemicals and tested the process for three months. They confirmed the existence of hydrinos and found they were able to generate between "1.2 and 6.5 times the maximum theoretical heat available through known chemical reactions".
Randall Mills, the firm's chairman, chief executive and president, said the results proved "the feasibility of using the solid fuel in a recycled manner as a replacement for fossil and nuclear fuels in power plants. These developments are anticipated to result in a significant decrease in the time to commercialisation".
Despite ongoing fears that the technology appears to be reliant on re-writing chemical laws, the company has attracted some high-profile backers recently, confirming that it has already signed six technology licensing deals with utilities and real estate firms that could deploy its generation systems.
Italy has come up with world’s first hydrogen power plant. This power plant is situated in Fusina, near Venice in the Veneto region of Italy. Enel is constructing this power plant producing no undesirable greenhouse gases. It is Italy’s largest power company with a track record of fifty million power and gas customers. Enel is procuring hydrogen from an accompanying production from Polimeri Europa’s petrochemical plant. This hydrogen will be brought to the establishment by especially built pipelines. Polimeri produces a wide range of petrochemical products, and its ethylene-cracking process will be responsible for the hydrogen feedstock. This hydrogen power plant will be operational in 2010. It will provide power to 20,000 households.
This hydrogen power plant is an off shoot of the Environment and Innovation Project known as Hydrogen Park. 7.4 billion euros will be assigned for the whole project by 2012. Another 40 million euro plant will be established on the line of Enel’s existing coal-fired power station in Fusina. It will have an investment of 4 million euros from the local Veneto region. According to Enel this power plant will save the emission of more than 17,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. This power plant has a capacity of 12 megawatt and burns hydrogen gas in a turbine developed in partnership with General Electric.
UPDATE : New commenter Greg Blencoe visits with a link to his hydrogen information and advocacy blog, Hydrogen Discoveries. Thanks Greg.