According to a February 2022 report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), of the 4.12 trillion kWh of electrical power generated in the U.S. in 2021, 899 billion kWh or 21.8% was generated by coal-fired generators. All fossil fuels, led by natural gas at 38.3%, produced 60.8%. Renewables (wind, solar, hydroelectric, and thermal wells) accounted for 20.1% and nuclear 18.9%.
All Electric Vehicles (EVs) with minimal exceptions get their battery charges from the electrical grid, so by extrapolation slightly over one in five of all EV cars are coal-powered and will remain so until either vehicle or power source technologies change.
On January 3, 2022, Tesla announce that worldwide they shipped one million new electric cars in 2021. This represents an 84% increase over 2020 and well ahead of the 50% increase predicted by the company early in 2021. Certainly, this news was greeted by investors and environmentalists as being fantastic and by all automotive manufacturers as the industry’s future.
There is a persistent concern, however, that the switch to all-electric, battery-powered automobiles has downsides that are seldom expressed. One that is easy to understand is the ability of the existing electrical grids to reliably deliver the surge in required energy. While there are companies like Aardvark Electric (a firm that provides EV home charger installation in Atlanta, GA), or similar ones providing the option of charging stations at home itself, not every household or region may have the required fund or access to such amenities. Parallel to that concern is electrical energy generation, especially in locations where energy sources declared as green are not available. This leaves new, what are called polluting sources as viable alternative generation sources thus consolidating polluting gasses in many areas. Other issues include sustainability because of the dependency on scarce battery materials from insecure sources and social concerns involving mining labor in some parts of the world. Finally, there are unsubstantiated numbers on the internet indicating that total CO2 emissions in the EV battery supply chain are as high as the same vehicle being powered by a traditional gas engine.
The concerns may be effectively addressed by continuing with electric drive motors, but replacing batteries with in-vehicle electrical generating using hydrogen fuel cells. Rather than employing tanks of high-pressure hydrogen as is being done by Hyundai, Toyota, and Nissan and the associated change in fueling infrastructure, consider using properly treated water and electrolytic technology to generate the hydrogen from the water right in the vehicle. The by-products of hydrogen production and fuel cells combined are water and heat. Not the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Currently, commercially available bulk hydrogen is mostly produced by splitting the hydrogen/carbon bond in natural gas. This is a heat with catalyst process that consumes considerable energy with carbon as a by-product that must be sequestered to prevent the atmospheric release of carbon dioxide.
Using the following conversion factors, it appears that water can indeed replace gasoline.
a. 1 gal. Water weighs 8.34 lbs.
b. Molecular Weight of water = (2 x 1)H +16(O) = 18
c. % wt. of Hydrogen in water = 2/18 = 11.1%
d. Wt. Hydrogen = .111 x 8.34 = 0.92 #/gal
e. Embedded Energy in 1 gal. gasoline = 132,000 BTU
f. Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) Auto Efficiency is 20% per USDOE.
g. Applied energy in ICE vehicle = 20% or 0.2 x 132,000 BTU = 26,400 BTU/gallon
h. At .92# hydrogen per gallon, water contains 60,000 x .92 = 55,200 BTU hydrogen energy per gallon water
I. Hydrogen production energy requirement – 2.27 kWh per pound of hydrogen.
j. Hydrogen energy production parasitic loss in BTU 2.27 x 3,214 BTU/kWh= 7,296 BTU per # hydrogen
k. Net available hydrogen energy for a hydrogen fuel cell in a gallon of water is 55,200 – 7,296 = 47,904 BTU.
l. Hydrogen Fuel Cell Auto Efficiency is 60% per USDOE or 3X the efficiency of gasoline ICE vehicles
m. Comparing the gasoline consumption of an ICE engine with 20% use of 132,000 BTU or 26,400 BTU with 60% use of 47,904 BTU or 28,742 BTU for a hydrogen-fuel cell-electric motor propulsion system, the volumes of gasoline and water are close to equal.
Unavailable is a vehicle gross weight comparison when considering EV battery pack vs. filled high-pressure hydrogen tanks vs. in-car hydrogen production equipment. Presumably, the USDOE has included much of this data in its efficiency statements.
Numerous hurdles exist to turn this water as a fuel concept into a reality. The primary challenge is the energy required to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Italicized items j. and k. above are goals to be achieved and not currently available. Technologies such as refinements on PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) or newly emerging photon energy supplied by LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) could be what is needed. Existing microprocessors, algorithms, and AI technologies exist to integrate all systems. By- products of processes are heat, oxygen, and water, so a heat recovery/storage system to prevent water freezing should be doable. The water used needs to be treated with relatively inexpensive equipment currently available from multiple sources for home or service station use.
As with all status disruptions, vitally needed is someone with visionary qualities to champion and promote the concept, not unlike the late Bill Lear of Lear Jet fame or the late Steve Jobs who changed communications and music forever. As early as 1967, Bill Lear envisioned hydrogen-powered cars and patented Lear Dyne as the process, but he was far ahead of technologies now available. History tells us that Elon Musk actually applied his promotional and technological skills to an electric car conceived by someone else that went on to become Tesla. His example permeated the automotive industry worldwide causing a major shift by virtually all manufacturers to transition to EVs. There exists, however, the probability of energy shortages, specialty materials unavailability, and for certain, labor layoffs because electric vehicles are less labor intensive than their internal combustion engine equivalent.
Most electric vehicles are being produced in a sled or skateboard fashion consisting of drive wheels, directional wheels, and a low-profile battery and electronics assembly located between the two sets of wheels. The body is then dropped down from above and secured in place. Conceivably, a hydrogen-fueled electricity generating cell and hydrogen producing cell could be constructed with a similar geometry thus not requiring a complete structural change.