March 27, 2007 5:58 AM PDT

Priming the pump for hydrogen fuel

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.

A start-up touting technology developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory plans to announce a breakthrough on Tuesday that could make hydrogen fuel a stronger contender in the alternative-energy race.

Ecotality plans to produce a prototype of an apparatus called the Hydratus that generates hydrogen fuel, from a reaction between magnesium and water, as it's needed by a vehicle's fuel cell.

Hydratus at work

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, run for NASA by the California Institute of Technology, has developed a new version of the Hydratus that offers double the mileage of the old version, but at the same weight and volume. Ecotality, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., plans to unveil its prototype by the end of 2007, which will give the company time to put refinements into the newer version of Hydratus, according to Ecotality's CEO, Jonathan Read.

"Hydrogen on-demand is going to be what catapults hydrogen from being a great concept to a great reality," said Read.

The Department of Energy has been encouraging research in alternative-energy technologies such as that used in hydrogen fuel-cell cars, whose only byproduct is water. But large-scale implementation of hydrogen fuel faces obstacles that many critics say could be almost insurmountable.

Among the issues: It takes a lot of electricity to produce hydrogen for fuel; hydrogen fuel-cell cars can't go far before needing a refill; the U.S. has no hydrogen fuel infrastructure; and transporting hydrogen safely and efficiently could be tricky. Also, producing hydrogen via conventional means generates a lot of carbon dioxide, one of the primary causes of global warming.

The problem with compressed hydrogen
But Read points out that the product of conventional production and storage techniques--compressed hydrogen--is unlikely to find a viable market anyway. "Compressed hydrogen is the least likely to be the prevailing system when the shakeout is done and over with. It's expensive to produce, transport and store, and it's inefficient in form to produce and store," said Read.

A hydrogen fuel cell vehicle with a Hydratus on board would eliminate the need for producing hydrogen fuel, compressing it for transport and then safely storing it at filling stations, he said.

The details of Hydratus' on-demand fuel production system are proprietary to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, but Read said that the magnesium/water reaction occurs somewhere between 400 and 600 degrees Celsius. The Hydratus has a cooling system based on the controlled flow of the magnesium, which is also used to continue the reaction.

The device is similar in concept to on-demand electricity producer from start-up Signa Chemistry, which uses a controlled chemical reaction to harvest hydrogen from sodium with silica gel or crystalline silicon powder.

Besides water, a byproduct from the reaction in Hydratus is a powder form of magnesium oxide, which stays in the device until it is pumped out. Filling stations for Hydratus-equipped vehicles would use a three-pronged pump that pumps in new magnesium pellets and water and pumps out the spent magnesium oxide. The pump is safe enough to be used by any consumer, said Read, and takes about 3 to 5 minutes to fill a Hydratus to capacity.

The spent magnesium oxide powder is 99.8 percent recyclable and can be made into usable magnesium pellets at the filling station itself. Though the process for converting the spent magnesium into usable pellets does require electricity, it is far less than the electricity required to produce hydrogen fuel, according to Read. This makes the magnesium a renewable resource.

"Magnesium is the fourth most-common mineral in the world and could be extracted from the sea. It's common and available in almost all countries. The magnesium, once it's put into the system, is a contained system. So there is no need to continue mining," said Read.

Ecotality's Hydratus-equipped buses will offer a range of about 155 miles (250 kilometers), or about 15 hours of operation. The cost for fuel is about $4.80 per liter (about $17.50 per gallon), or $2.80 per liter if the filling station recycles its own spent magnesium.

Because of the limitations on driving range, Ecotality sees municipalities trying to meet clean-energy requirements, and companies with truck fleets such as FedEx, as the most likely early adopters of its technology. The company is already in negotiations with interested municipalities around the world.

Buses equipped with power systems from hydrogen technology company Hydrogenics would, when outfitted with the Hydratus, cost about $500,000 each, whereas a bus with a conventional engine costs about $300,000, according to Read.

The company is also developing other versions of the Hydratus that could be used with fuel cells producing back-up power for houses, cell phone towers and computer systems.

 
Correction: This story originally misspelled the name of Ecotality's CEO. His name is Jonathan Read.

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55 comments

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Primary causes of global warming ?
I LOVE how CNET just jumps on the envirowhaco bandwagon and states that CO2 is a PRIMARY CAUSE of global warming, as if:

1. Global warming is a FACT - which it is NOT. The evidence does NOT support warming caused by man. the overwhelming evidence points directly at our local furnace (i.e. STAR) called the SUN.
2. That somehow man hasd caused a buildup of CO2, when this can be easily refuted with some relativel simple science measuring the comparative release of "greenhouse gasses" from volcanic eruptions. (a single LARGE eruption of an average volcano - releases more CO2 than man could muster over decades) The FACTS dont't support the "man did it" camp. Our influence contributes, but it's a TINY portion of the overall equation, amounting to less than 1/10th of 1%.

GO ahead folks, follow like the nice, docile sheeple that you are and allow this facade to lead us all towards the great Socialist police state you really want. This is all about control and power. If you can't figure it out then you deserve what's coming to you.

I'm all for preservation of resources, good stewardship of our environment, higher efficiency in energy use etc.. But let's get real. We CANNOT and will NOT ever be able to effect Earth's Global climate on a large scale unless you want to unleaseh several thousand megatons of surface nuclear detonations to create a "nuclear winter".. Beyond this, all the talk of carbon sequestration, blah, blah, blah..is just more smoke and mirrors so the average doofus can't see the power plays being made to control us. (Save the children, save Mother Earth 'Gaia'-- Hilarious)

God already foresaw this time in history.

CNET - You are hilarious. I LOVE reading this drivel as it's very entertaining. Another publication kowtowing to the New World Order freaks.

Keep up the 'good' work.

ROTFL ;-)
Posted by enscorp (49 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I love losers like you
Actually I do not, you are exactly what is wrong with the human species and why it may go extinct sooner than necessary. Every scientist in the world, except for a small handful in the employ of oil companies, states that global warming is a fact and that it is a fact it is being caused by human generation of green house gases. Volumes of research and data are published to this effect. But of course you are much smarter than all these scientist aren't you. Next you will be telling us all how the universe is only 6000 years old, people lived with dinosaurs, ad the earth is actually flat. Go ahead and wrap yourself in the warm blanket of your own ignorance and your deep trust in the fascist corporate system. Your post would be entertaining if it were not so pathetic.
Posted by expatincebu (156 comments )
Link Flag
That's right,
You're absolutely right, always right, obviously no one can talk you down from your moral high ground. Keep being right, because that's all that matters... how right you are. There is no way anyone on the planet knows more than you. You are supreme in your knowledge. In fact you are so right, you don't even merit the company of the rest of us mere mortals. You're rightness is so vastly superior to science and emperical evidence that obviously it is everyone else that is flawed. Keep it up, you right moraled, right thinking better than science, right minded supreme being that is so much more correct than me.
Posted by cellojazz (5 comments )
Link Flag
AMEN!!!!
Carbon Dioxide one of the primary causes of Global Warming? Since when?
I haven't seen a Scientific Law, just Babel, theories, first there's a Thesis then a Theory then when the Theory is proven it becomes Law, (Like Newton's Law of Gravity). All I've seen it's Crystal Ball future computer Models, that do not even take into account the past (the fact that earth has gone through cycles of Warming and Cooling before and as recent as 200 years ago).
You know Science is not up to a Vote, Science is or it isn't. It is Binary 0 or 1, it's true or not. People can say the earth is flat or that the earth is the center of the universe like the catholic church said in the middle ages, All that it takes is an individual like Galileo, Copernicus or Columbus to prove them wrong (sometimes being laugh at or prosecuted in the process). So when I see a bunch of some called Scientist in consensus all I see is a Political issue with a Social Agenda, Not science.

Follow the Money folks, That's is what this Global Warming nonsense is all about.

P.S> By the way I should have got a Pattern 20 years ago when I had the same idea of Self contained Hydrogen Fuel generator/Engine. :)
Posted by HalJordan (3 comments )
Link Flag
More evidence
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://today.reuters.com/news/articlenews.aspx?type=domesticNews&#38;storyid=2007-03-28T214507Z_01_N28326235_RTRUKOC_0_US-CALIFORNIA-WARMING.xml&#38;src=rss&#38;rpc=22" target="_newWindow">http://today.reuters.com/news/articlenews.aspx?type=domesticNews&#38;storyid=2007-03-28T214507Z_01_N28326235_RTRUKOC_0_US-CALIFORNIA-WARMING.xml&#38;src=rss&#38;rpc=22</a>
Posted by enscorp (49 comments )
Link Flag
Well enscorp sure set me straight! After 4 years of undergraduate and 4 years of post graduate education (in science) and after studying the results of decades of debate, enscorp has changed my thinking completely by reminding me that if Rush Limbaugh says it was the sun all along, who am I to judge.
Thanks, enscorp!
Posted by theoldsameplace (8 comments )
Link Flag
I might be compelled to listen to this argument if it came from people with a background in science. Real science, not sociology or political science. One thing is likely true... the Earth will recover and restore its natural cyclical balance. The only outstanding question is how many will survive the interim. 4 billion? 3 billion? I think even 3 might be generous when all is said and done, most will probably die from disease and famine in the next 200 years or so.
Posted by chlimouj (40 comments )
Link Flag
Hypower Fuel already has a working Hydrogen generator
Hypower Fuel already has a working Hydrogen generator, they are working on a webcast to showcase this technology. You can read the article at <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://biz.yahoo.com/bw/070322/20070322005196.html?.v=1" target="_newWindow">http://biz.yahoo.com/bw/070322/20070322005196.html?.v=1</a> or go to there website at
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.hypowerfuel.com/home.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.hypowerfuel.com/home.html</a>

It should be an amazing future
Posted by apptec (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
600 degrees(c)?
I'm sure the geniuses have figured out how to heat the magneseum / water to 1000 degrees(f)... but it would be nice to know roughy how the blast furnace/laser contraption is powered/started up?
Posted by densbtly (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It is simple science!
Chemical reaction of Mg and H2O create the heat to sustain the system. I imagine only a small battery needed to start vs. large bateries needed to turn over 8 cylinders. This is good science...
Posted by conceptguy (3 comments )
Link Flag
18 a gallon!
Holy Mother of God! Ethanol is much much cheaper and ANYONE can make it. Why would we focus on magnesium aided hydrogen as an energy carrier which much cheaper and better ones exist RIGHT NOW? I mean I don't think ethanol is a cureall, but for once maybe Bush is right it is a good hedge against $4.00 a gallon gas. And it is a renewable resource as well.

Ralph
Posted by rtaite (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
much cheaper? Anyone can make it?
It's cheap cuz the governent subsidises it. Anyone can make it if they use fuel to grow corn, transport it, ferment it, transport the ethanol, blend it with gasoline, and transport the blend to gas stations. And for all this effort, it packs less punch in your car than a gallon of gas.

Oh, and this all affects the price of corn, which will continue to rise as demand increases. Yeah, great solution to $4.00 gas.
Posted by shoffmueller (236 comments )
Link Flag
Maybe, but how much do you need?
$18 a gallon is right, but I don't think the article mentioned how much of it you need for one full tank.

If it's 5 gallons and the rest is water it's still cheaper than gas... Getting some efficiency numbers would be nice.

IB
Posted by InnocentBystander (7 comments )
Link Flag
A litre of Hydrogen is equal to a Gallon
A a litre of Hydrogen produces as much power in an fuelcell/electric motor setup as does a gallon of gas in a combustion engine!!!

Therefore a recycled cost of $2.30 for a clean non oil fuel is REALLY amazing!
Posted by conceptguy (3 comments )
Link Flag
too cumbersome
Take a look at this beauty : <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.theaircar.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.theaircar.com</a>

All you need is a solar panel to produce clean electricity for the compressor needed to fill up this beauty's tank with compressed air, cos that's what this car runs on, compressed air.
And all that comes out of the tailpipe is breathable air.

Here's a nice report on the thing:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmqpGZv0YT4" target="_newWindow">http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmqpGZv0YT4</a>

I'm getting one!
Posted by lievenv (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Check out Hypower fuels
Take a look at
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.hypowerfuel.com/home.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.hypowerfuel.com/home.html</a>
Posted by apptec (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Serendipity
Has anyone noticed the real estate loan data for 1948-2005 closely parallels the IPCC hockeystick curve?

And consensus is not science. Einstein said something like "It only takes ONE person to prove me wrong."
Posted by NoVista (274 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Something We Can All Agree On
The issue of global warming stirs up some strong feelings on all sides, but it would be prudent to look beyond that and realize that practically everybody has a legitimate stake in making alternative fuel technologies viable. Whether a person believes in the existence of global warming or not, all agree that we need to take care of the environment and that reducing or eliminating our dependence on foreign oil directly impacts our national security.

The Ecotality Blog discusses and argues these issues in great detail, with basically all views represented.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://ecotalityblog.com" target="_newWindow">http://ecotalityblog.com</a>
Posted by Doug Snodgrass (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Let a million alt fuels flow!
Just wanted to respond to a comment by a reader who suggested that ethanol is "much better and cheaper." Sounds like we are in agreement that it's a good idea to use alternative fuels and lessen our dependency on foreign oil, but in disagreement as to how to go about it. I'm in favor of ethanol and alternative fuels generally, but none are perfect; for example, some - including a former economist for President Clinton - fear that ethanol might cause worldwide food prices to spike (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.khqa.com/news/news_story.aspx?id=30855" target="_newWindow">http://www.khqa.com/news/news_story.aspx?id=30855</a>).

But if it's approached correctly, and other alternatives are used, the variety of different approaches could help solve the problem.

So, let a million (or at least a dozen or so) alternative fuels flow - including hydrogen.

Janis Mara - www.ecotality.com
Posted by Janis Mara (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ethanol and Food
Allow me to quote from your post...
"some - including a former economist for President Clinton - fear that ethanol might cause worldwide food prices to spike"

Unlikely for several reasons:

1) The best maize for ethanol production is rarely used by humans directly as food.

2) An average box of corn-based breakfast cereal sells for about $3.50 or more, but contains less than a penny's worth of corn.

3) The amount of agricultural acreage in the USA and Canada lying fallow due to price support legislation is staggering, in many cases direct cash payments for non-production is involved. In effect you are paying to keep the price of corn artificially high. Removing price supports would offset any spike created by fuel production demands.

4) The highest and best use of a resource, i.e. it's most profitable use is generally the best policy for everybody. That an economist would forget that fundamental principle is surprising, but if said economist once worked for Clinton then it?s merely typical.
Posted by Cpl_Punishment (7 comments )
Link Flag
Rule One: Avoid logical errors
Allow me to quote from the article...

"producing hydrogen via conventional means generates a lot of carbon dioxide, one of the primary causes of global warming"

Please explain how there can be more than one primary cause of anything?
Posted by Cpl_Punishment (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Read your dictionary
Primary: BASIC, FUNDAMENTAL &lt;security is a primary need&gt;

there is nothing in the definition of "basic, fundamental" that implies uniqueness.

also: DIRECT, FIRSTHAND

nothing exclusive there, either.

maybe focus less on perceived logical errors and go expand your vocabulary, hmmm?
Posted by muskratboy (349 comments )
Link Flag
Over time, one primary cause may be replaced by another primary cause.
Posted by theoldsameplace (8 comments )
Link Flag
It's Always Good To Have Alternatives
It's clear that fossil fuels have harmed the planet in numerous ways, and that the time has come for a change.

Hydrogen has long been at the forefront of alternative fuel discussion, and it's rewarding to see it get such a positive write-up.

Let's hope this alternative fuel source is given its due.
Posted by Steve Caratzas (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Did I get lost?
Hey, I thought I was going to be reading interesting posts on Alternative energy? All I see here is a bunch of ***-for-tat discussions on Global warming and who right about the causes. who care about that...lets get to the alternative energy stuff so we can get the *ell out of Iraq and leave the Middle East region alone to sort out thier own messes for once
Posted by bejota (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agree with enscorp's post. Global Warming is a man made idea about why things are as they are. When the media repeats the same message over and over it soon becomes an unquestioned established fact in today's society.
Posted by amos333 (84 comments )
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