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Concept Of Hydrogen Fueled Cars Becoming More Realistic


By James Donahue

February 2006


That hydrogen is readily available and when it can be captured, makes a clean-burning, non-polluting fuel has been known for a long time. What has prevented its use as a fuel for cars, trucks and home heating has been the high cost of separating it and the fact that it is a highly volatile and consequently dangerous fuel if improperly used.


Because an overpopulated world is putting greater demands on oil at a time when the oil industry is operating at peak capacity, and because of the subsequent increases in the cost of oil, the interest in finding alternative fuels like hydrogen to operate our cars is high.


The technology for building an engine that runs on hydrogen has been known ever since German inventor Rudolf Erren produced the first hydrogen engine in the 1920s.


The use of hydrogen to lift the German airship Hindenburg, and its disastrous fiery crash in New Jersey in 1937, was a major factor in putting this fuel on the back burner. That disaster, which was broadcast live on radio and well documented by newspaper photographers at the scene, stunned the world and convinced people that hydrogen was dangerous.


Critics of the concept of hydrogen fueled cars even today are warning that such vehicles could be extremely volatile in the event of road crashes and that occupants would have less chance of survival.


Now researchers at Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory and Stanford University are developing carbon nanotubes that they believe will offer safe storage systems for transporting hydrogen. They say that the concept bonds the hydrogen atoms to other atoms, rather than letting them float free as a potentially explosive gas. They say they haven’t quite perfected the nanotube storage concept but are getting very close.


The current methods of capturing hydrogen are through electrolytic, photolytic, or thermo chemical production, and all require a power source which demands the burning of fossil fuels. The amount of energy expended in ratio to the amount of energy produced has not proven to be cost effective.


But researchers at Sandia National Laboratories are coming up with a new way of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using solar energy. 


A device called a Counter Rotating Ring Receiver Reactor Recuperator rolls metal rings in opposite directions. This produces a chemical reaction that is enhanced by cooling and heating water. It thus uses high temperature solar energy to create hydrogen. A prototype to this machine is currently being built and is expected to be tested soon.


Whether either the nanotube storage units or the counter rotating ring recuperator will work is not known. What is important is that research is going on. Sooner or later, researchers somewhere are going to find a way to make hydrogen fueled automobiles work. And that could change not only the way we live, but go a long way toward cleaning up our atmosphere.


I met a team of people in Arizona some years back that was demonstrating the qualities of a hydrogen car. They claimed that this fuel burns so clean that it cleaned the air. They said the carburetor actually sucked smog filled air into the heat chamber, and burned all of the impurities with each firing of a cylinder chamber. Nothing harmful is discharged  through the exhaust system.


It strikes me that if this is true, a few hundred thousand hydrogen burning cars in the world might clean the soot, smog

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