Monday, July 03, 2006

Wind Power used to Make Hydrogen

This past weekend I went with my son and his Cub Scout pack to the USS Silversides on Lake Michigan. I rode with another family to save energy, minimize pollution and to save some money. Ray, the adult driver I rode with told me he was in the submarine service. I responded quickly and told him I had spent a day on the George Washington Carver when it was at Cocoa Beach, FL. The George Washington Carver was the first SSBN. The hull was originally to be the Scorpion, but congress authorized the building of a boomer and they renamed the boat, cut it in half, inserted a missile section and it went to sea.

We were trading navy stories and then we got on the subject of energy. I wanted to go with Wind Power and he wanted hydrogen power. Well the two actually go hand in hand.

Electricity can be used to split water molecules into their basic components—hydrogen and oxygen. This process of running electricity through a solution to separate materials is called electrolysis. This is the way nuclear powered submarines stay submerged so long.

Back in 1839 Sir William Grove demonstrated that if hydrogen were mixed with oxygen the process would release electricity. In other words run the electrolysis process backwards.

Windmills make electricity and it would be easy to then split the water molecules and get hydrogen. The process is very efficient with little energy loss than any other energy conversion. Use this hydrogen to power a fuel cell and you now have a very compact fuel. In fact more compact than gasoline. This higher energy concentration then would allow a much smaller tank to be built. A smaller tank would be safer and lighter. It would also eliminate the other option of using electric batteries that are heavy, costly and have limited storing capacity reducing driving range considerably.

He told me that pilot projects had developed a safe method of dispensing hydrogen into tanks. You would need a good seal, stop the transfer process when a set pressure was reached, purge the space between the filling nozzle/valve and the cars valve before disconnecting. This might be done by drawing vacuum. In the nuclear industry we used quick hydraulic and pneumatic disconnects that were leak free.

I see this as the right step towards energy independence. This Bio fuel is not the way to go. With limited funds available, it makes sense to pursue those energy sources that are viable, cost effective, available today and do that now.


At 10:15 AM, Blogger Tom Gray said...

There is yet another way to go, called V2G, or Vehicle-to-Grid, Power. Think of it as plug-in hybrid autos on steroids. Definitely worth a look.

Tom Gray
American Wind Energy Association

At 8:12 AM, Blogger William Larsen said...

Tom, thanks for the links. I took a look at the first link. It does look interesting. What I did not find right away as how far away you could be and what the energy loss over distance was.

It would appear to be very dependent on having a grid everywhere and the infrastructure might be exposed to weather and costly. If you lost the power to the grid what happens? Can the grid be overloaded due to traffic?

At 9:27 PM, Blogger Tom Gray said...

Good questions, and I don't know the answers. But these are issues that will be addressed as the concept is more fully fleshed out. One immediate step is the plug-in hybrid, a car with extra batteries that uses still less gasoline. See the Plug-In Partners Web site for more info on that.


At 7:58 AM, Blogger William Larsen said...

Tom, I have heard and read many things about the hybrid car. I am not a big fan of this hybrid where it combines electricity and gasoline. An electric motor is great for starting a car from a dead stop to about 10 mph. A gasoline engine is pretty good, not great at higher speeds. The hybrid uses an electric source to get the vehicle going. It can also be used to break the vehicle, convert it to electricity and store the energy required to stop the vehicle to be later used to assist it in starting. Many busses are incorporating this where stop and go is normal.

When this country began using unleaded gasoline, there was a long period of time when both leaded and unleaded gasoline was available. This transition was a long time. We are running into a similar problem when transitioning from a fossil fuel based car.

I do not support ethanol or biodiesel. Electric cars have limited range. Gasoline use oil, which as China develops will be using more and more of. Some claim and most likely it is correct that oil shale will be our source in the future.

Throughout history there have been oil shortages. First it was trees, then it was whale oil, then it was coal, replaced by oil and fairly recently natural gas. The problem is all of these sources of energy require them to be burned in order to perform useful work.

What we need is a 21st century conversion process, not the same old millennia process of burning. Wind produced clean, reliable and low cost electricity. With electricity you can distribute it through current power grids and does not require an entire new infrastructure.

With electricity you could make hydrogen from water and create a dense and compact energy fuel that when combined with oxygen creates electricity to operate a car. I would much rather the transition from gasoline go along the route of gasoline to electric/fuel cell (hydrogen) rather than gasoline to hybrid to ultimately electric/fuel cell. The reason is that I believe a shorter transition period is in the US’s best interest both economically as for security.

At 3:27 PM, Anonymous Bob G. said...

OOPsie, Bill.....

The USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (SSBN 598) was the first Polaris submarine, renamed from the USS Scorpion (SSN 589), and the lead boat of her own class. She was the boat that collided with the Japanese ship NISSHO MARU in 1981.
The GEORGE WASHINGTON was decommisioned 24 January 1985 and set for "submarine reclcying" at Puget by 1986.

The USS GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER (SSBN-656) was the 37th Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine to join the fleet. This is a Benjamin Franklin-Class boat. She was decommed 18 March 1993 and subsequently scraped 12 March 1994.

Just wanted to add some history to the discussion.
Don't mean to offend anyone.


ps: I'm all for hydrogen power...where's the fuel cell tech for MY car???

At 1:24 AM, Blogger William Larsen said...

B.G. thanks for the clarification. I thought it was the George Washington I was on, but Ray insisted it had to be the George Washington Carter because it was the first SSBN. But looking at the dates of decommissioning, Ray could not have been on the same boat I visited.

As for hydrogen power, I see it going in two directions. One would be burning hydrogen and the second creating electricity to run an electric motor by combining Hydrogen and Oxygen together. I do not know where the technology stands.

Instead of spending $5 billion a year subsidizing bio fuels, I would rather see truly renewable sources of energy such as hydrogen, wind and solar.


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