SKRMETTA: Louisiana Should Look To Hydrogen To Fuel The 21st Century

While there is a federal push to eliminate petrol-fueled vehicles, it should be recognized that there will be a solid place for gas and diesel engines in our economy for many decades to come. That does not mean we should not work to accommodate the desires of the market for people who want transport that is driven from other sources of energy.

But let’s accomplish this task with the best possible technology available and the least economic impact on our citizens.

Building a solid plan for energy security requires us not put all our eggs in one basket. The same goes for transport. This federal government rush to drive consumers into battery powered vehicles is more than just risky, it’s outrageously expensive, environmentally imperfect and unnecessary. Instead, let’s think about how to take a bigger, better step for Louisiana.

As we all know, Americans love new tech. Just try to keep us away from the latest phone or tablet or, for that matter, headsets or whatever. The list goes on and on.

But many folks wouldn’t think twice about buying an electric vehicle largely powered by the same tech as when it started out in the early 1800’s – an electric battery. The same goes for trains, also invented in the same time period and, although largely improved, not in widespread current use. Even Elon Musk freely admits he is “re-inventing the electric car.” It’s nothing new, just a re-tasking.

There hasn’t been a lot of fundamental change with electric vehicle technology, either on the road or the rails. And while there have been tremendous performance improvements over the centuries, when you get right down to it there is no quantum shift. It’s still the same basic tech concept.

What’s worse is that battery-powered vehicles are environmentally problematic as they largely run on electricity generated from sources such as coal, nuclear, and natural gas; along with a smidge of intermittent wind and a trickle of solar. If you’re looking to trade out fossil fuels for “renewables,” a battery powered electric car is a terrible way to do it – as you’re just trading direct use of fossil fuels in a gasoline-powered car for indirect use in an electric one. Battery cars put a greater demand on the grid and increase emissions from power plants.

And the environmental downside to electric vehicles gets larger when we factor in the environmental issue of the plagued quest for the rare materials required for the batteries, battery fatigue and degradation culminating with the eventual toxic disposal of batteries.

So how can Louisiana, Texas and the nation satisfy the market demand for non-petrol burning combustion engine cars? Is there an answer?

I think there is. We change the paradigm by shifting away from battery power to electric cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells (HFC). And they do so with no battery.

Hydrogen vehicles use a relatively simple, though advanced, technology. In an HFC engine, hydrogen flows through a fuel cell containing an oxidizer. The chemical reaction creates an electric current, which drives an electric motor, one on each of the vehicle’s four wheels. There is no combustion.

The byproduct of the reaction of hydrogen, and the oxidizer, is simply water. Hydrogen is unique in that upon oxidization, or combustion, it creates water (hydrogen is from the Greek for “water-former.”) Water drips out of the exhaust.

The HFC car is a zero emissions vehicle. It never needs a charge from the grid. Just a tank re-fill, like any petrol-based car, in five minutes or so at the filling station. Then, for most of these HFC vehicles, they have a range of 300 – 400 miles of normal driving. And that’s it. It’s just a car. There is no learning curve. Just hop in and go.

It’s odd that battery powered vehicles, governed under the Federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards, under the oversight of the Secretary of Transportation, are not fully penalized for consuming from their fossil fuel sources of electricity (coal/natural gas and sometimes diesel). We should consider that an HFC vehicle has no combustion, zero emissions and are seemingly the only vehicle propulsion system that should be completely exempt from the CAFE burden. And that could help Louisiana reduce its burden on electricity generation and emission levels from power plants.

My own interest in the potential of hydrogen as a future fuel is not altogether new. Decades ago, during my freshman high school Physical Science class, we were offered the opportunity to submit experiments to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to be carried out in the soon-to-be-launched Skylab. We all thought it would be fun if we could have our experiments chosen for Skylab. I submitted one on the use of hydrogen.  It was a lot of fun to participate in that program and I hope NASA keeps up these activities in our schools.

But NASA was already way ahead on the uses of hydrogen in space, including the use of its new technology, the hydrogen fuel cell. Thanks to the work of British engineer/scientist Francis Thomas “Tom” Bacon. Tom perfected the design of the hydrogen oxygen fuel cell. He perfected this device to create electricity and water for use during the Apollo missions. Bacon was invited to the White House whereupon meeting President Richard Nixon, Nixon stated “Without you Tom, we wouldn’t have gotten to the moon.”

This technological leap forward made the difference.

The value of Tom Bacon’s design, to our world, is that hydrogen is the most abundant element on our planet. We use it in industrial processes, as well as new power plants are beginning to use hydrogen as a portion of their fuel mix to reduce emissions.  We won’t run out for the predictable future and it will balance overall fuel prices by spreading demand.

By using hydrogen as a fuel source to create current for electric cars we can provide electric vehicles with virtually unlimited fuel for people who want zero-emission vehicles without succumbing to the financial disaster of the federal goal to launch a massive buildout of electric infrastructure to accommodate battery powered vehicles. The feds have let it be known that beyond the move of shifting the entire federal vehicle fleet to battery operated vehicles, that this is just the first step to a national plan to wedge the entire nation into battery-operated vehicles.

Despite the obvious problem of resource availability to accomplish such an action, the larger issue to consider is the crushing message coming from Washington. They’re attempting to require states to prepare to increase generation capacity, and transmission capacity, by 33%-44% to accommodate these vehicles. That is a potentially crushing financial disaster for ratepayers that would run into the many billions of dollars.

There is a failure to recognize that attempting to complete this plan will necessarily cause a balloon of power plant emissions. This new electric generation demand cannot all be met by the use of renewables.

The experience of Germany is instructive. The Germans mandated a massive reliance on renewable energy in 2000, and then found out with each new megawatt of renewable energy it had to be matched with a backup from traditional sources of generation. In Germany that largely came from coal. Since 2000, Germany’s electricity costs have more than doubled and the end is not in sight. Germans pay more than $0.34 kw/h for electricity. To put that in perspective, that’s about four times what the average Louisiana ratepayer pays for electricity.

All of those costs of increased capacity will be borne by the consumers of this nation. And it won’t come cheap.

I think those massive costs can be avoided in Louisiana, and Texas, and we can still accomplish providing alternative fuel vehicles for our citizens who want them. We need to look past old tech and take a quantum step forward and move towards newer, better tech that provides greater value and less impact on our environment. Technology that would allow each person to choose what they want to do to help the environment and sustaining their individual burden while not causing massive debt and pollution increases for others. For those who want electric cars in Louisiana, let’s move to hydrogen fuel cell (HFC) powered vehicles.

Louisiana happens to be the perfect place for the three current manufacturers of hydrogen vehicles to not only sell their product, but also consider manufacturing vehicles here. Louisiana is unique as a location for the development and use of hydrogen vehicles. We are one of the largest producers of hydrogen in the United States (along with Texas and California). We have the best pipeline and delivery system available. And to be blunt, if the power goes out during a storm, etc, you don’t have the ability to charge a battery and evacuate. With a hydrogen vehicle that is not an issue. Consider that between petroleum products, natural gas, hydrogen and electricity; Louisiana would be in a tremendous position of fuel security for its citizens and all of its commercial purposes.

Our legislature should be closely thinking about this and working to consider the potential for our state. And these manufacturers: Toyota, Honda and Hyundai (and along with developing systems from Mercedes, Porsche and Nikola) should consider the value of sales, and more, in Louisiana.

And while you are thinking about it, give pause to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and what they are doing as they move headlong into building hydrogen fueled cars. The PRC is the largest producer of hydrogen in the world. Toyota has entered into a relationship to build hydrogen cars with the Chinese communists, partnering with Guangzhou Automobile Group and FAW Group. And while the PRC is now building hydrogen drive cars, it is exporting older stockpiles of unwanted battery tech to auto manufactures in the western world.

While I respect world commerce, I think these auto manufacturers should consider selling their hydrogen cars in Louisiana, if not actually building hydrogen drive cars here, where their technology and intellectual property would be secure.

This is not a conceptual article. On April 21 of this year, Chevron and Toyota announced the following:

“Chevron U.S.A. Inc., through its Chevron Products Company division (Chevron), and Toyota Motor North America, Inc. (Toyota) announced a memorandum of understanding to explore a strategic alliance to catalyze and lead the development of commercially viable, large-scale businesses in hydrogen, with the goal to advance a functional, thriving global hydrogen economy.”

Their announcement went on to say:

“Chevron and Toyota are seeking to work on three main strategic priorities: collaborating on hydrogen-related public policy measures that support the development of hydrogen infrastructure; understanding current and future market demand for light-duty and heavy-duty fuel cell electric vehicles and supply opportunities for that demand; and exploring opportunities to jointly pursue research and development in hydrogen powered transportation and storage.

“We are excited to collaborate with Toyota. Working towards a strategic alliance on hydrogen presents an opportunity to build a large-scale business in a low-carbon area that is complementary to our current offerings,” said Andy Walz, president of Chevron’s Americas Fuels & Lubricants. “This opportunity leverages our market position, assets, technology, and organizational capability and supports our efforts to help advance a lower-carbon future.”

“This is another important step toward building a hydrogen economy,” said Bob Carter, executive vice president, Toyota Motor North America. “Combining Toyota’s decades of experience in developing hydrogen powered fuel cell electric technology with Chevron’s deep resources in the energy sector has the potential to create new transportation choices for both consumers and businesses that move us toward our goal of carbon neutrality.”

We can look to Chevron, and its sister company Texaco, to build out hydrogen pumps at their existing fuel stations as part of their participation with Toyota.

Louisiana, and Texas, are in a unique position to lead the way in promoting hydrogen into the fuel mix. Not as a strong-arm replacement but as a valuable addition to our overall fuel security.  We need to shake off the burden of old technology that will simply impede our economy, and instead get down to embracing the science that can provide a solid future for our citizens. We can build transportation security based on economics affording citizens the choice of a larger variety of types of vehicles that can also build our economy, not burden it.

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