I recently wrote a piece about hydrogen fuel cells, and I happened to send a copy to my brother-in-law Oliver Winterbottom, now retired, but formerly an automotive engineer and designer. He started his career many years ago with Jaguar, and also spent many years with Lotus. He had some helpful comments on fuel cells (or as he called them, “Fool Cells”), and I have paraphrased his contribution here.
For land transport, fuel cells overcome the problem of the very long recharging time for batteries in electric vehicles. To fill up with hydrogen takes a similar time to conventional liquid fuels. This gives us emission-free vehicles on the roads — but the generation of hydrogen uses electricity.
Of course we can use renewable electricity to make the hydrogen. But the amount of energy needed to supply current transport is huge, with mega-supertankers bringing in fuel for up to 30 million vehicles in the UK alone. Wind power, even on a good day (for them) produces very little.
So to make the hydrogen, we would have to use a vast amount of electricity, of which about 90% would be “dirty” generation. Goodness knows, the lights are due to go out in 5 years’ time without this extra demand!
Hydrogen fuel cell technology works -– see the Honda FCX Clarity -– it’s a lovely car, good drive, horrendous cost! Interesting that there seems to be less R & D activity with buses, probably because there is not the volume sales return.
As for storing the occasional surplus from wind farms: First it would not be a reliable resource for vehicle fuel – wind no blow, holiday cancelled – no fuel. As I pointed out in my earlier piece, converting electricity to H2 then back again is very inefficient.
Perhaps the solution is to store the wind. Set up a Wind Trading Agency modelled on the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme. He with the most wind wins. That should strengthen some of the member states of Europe!
It seems that the UK Government is debating tax-payer support for Hydrogen service stations. This means we pay for an infrastructure to support vehicles most of us could never afford. Another eco-friendly dead-end.