New discovery may be breakthrough for hydrogen cars

Apr 8, 2015

Credit: Virginia Tech

By Phys.org

A team of Virginia Tech researchers has discovered a way to create hydrogen fuel using a biological method that greatly reduces the time and money it takes to produce the zero-emissions fuel. This method uses abundantly available corn stover – the stalks, cobs, and husks – to produce the hydrogen.

The team’s new findings, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help speed the widespread arrival of the -powered vehicles in a way that is inexpensive and has extremely low carbon emissions.

“This means we have demonstrated the most important step toward a – producing distributed and affordable green hydrogen from local biomass resources,” said Percival Zhang, a professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, which is in both the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering.

The team already has received significant funding for the next step of the project, which is to scale up production to a demonstration size.


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55 comments on “New discovery may be breakthrough for hydrogen cars

  • ” The team already has received significant funding for the next step of the project, which is to scale up production to a demonstration size. ”

    The most important sentence in the whole article! Now for service stations and motors to use this cheap source of energy in a efficient and timely manner.



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  • Neodarwinian Apr 8, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    The most important sentence in the whole article! Now for service stations and motors to use this cheap source of energy in a efficient and timely manner.

    The Japanese seem well on with their prototype systems and experimental launch of that!

    We discussed this earlier:-

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2014/06/japan-plans-ample-support-for-fuel-cell-car-technology/

    The Japanese government is planning to offer ample support to popularize fuel cell vehicle technology as Toyota Motor Corp and Honda Motor Co prepare to launch hydrogen-powered cars in 2015.



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  • Not necessarily its often about closing the loop. In this case the corn has to absorb the CO2 from the air then we release it again when we use it to produce the hydrogen. As long as it then gets re-absorbed again by the next corn crop we’re okay. The problem with fossils fuels is not so much that we are releasing CO2 but that we are releasing long stored C02 and not reabsorbing it again. Any closed loop system should be okay.



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  • I can see some use for hydrogen in the future, but is has limits. I can’t be contained. It leaks through almost all seals. And it’s highly flammable. Dangerous for non industrial scale uses. So I like the idea, but I don’t see it winning out for vehicle propulsion over things like graphene high discharge capacitor type vehicles. (Or similar) I could see large scale hydrogen power stations. Powering the mid west of the USA with all the corn trash? It would be nice to find a way to crack the hydrogen from sea water. So I’m not going to rush out and buy shares in this one.



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  • Reckless Monkey – Precisely.

    It is the same as tropical rain forest. Leaving it there does very little over the short term. It’s only cutting it down that adds CO2 to the atmosphere. It doesn’t continually replenish oxygen as a lot of people think. Plants only absorb CO2 while they are growing. When they die, their timber rots and produces CO2, CH4 (methane, a greenhouse gas that is 64 times worse than CO2 until it decomposes) and others. There probably isn’t much more carbon in the Amazon rain forest per hectare, that hasn’t been cleared, than there was several thousand years ago. Most of the world’s coal fields were the result of peat fields not forests.

    A much bigger problem, than even fossil fuels, is the poisons we dump into the ocean every year. All sorts of herbicides and pesticides flow down rivers into the oceans and kill plankton (algae) and the krill that feed on it and thus the whales that feed on them and so on. There WAS much more biomass in a single arctic (or antarctic) algal bloom than there is in all of the tropical forests of the planet. They are disappearing rapidly and it’s not ocean acidity that is the cause. Rather, killing this biomass is the cause of rising ocean acidity.

    Let’s get our priorities right and tackle pouring poisons into the environment.



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  • john
    Apr 9, 2015 at 3:12 am

    A much bigger problem, than even fossil fuels, is the poisons we dump into the ocean every year.

    Actually coal burning in particular is a large part of that problem. It is the prime cause of mercury pollution in rivers and coastal waters as well as being the cause of ocean warming and acidification.

    All sorts of herbicides and pesticides flow down rivers into the oceans and kill plankton (algae) and the krill that feed on it and thus the whales that feed on them and so on.

    .. .. along with the greater problems of fertilizer run-off which cause plankton blooms, and the rafts of plastic rubbish which poison sea life.

    There WAS much more biomass in a single arctic (or antarctic) algal bloom than there is in all of the tropical forests of the planet.

    There is indeed greater CO2 absorption by algae in the oceans than in the forests. The tropical forests do however absorb a large proportion, and retain it in their biomass while it is slowly recycled.

    They are disappearing rapidly and it’s not ocean acidity that is the cause. Rather, killing this biomass is the cause of rising ocean acidity.

    Actually the rising acidity kills off the biodiversity leaving only algae.

    http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/04/ocean-acidification/liittschwager-photography

    Let’s get our priorities right and tackle pouring poisons into the environment.

    That does indeed need to be tackled, but is more of a local threat in specific areas, whereas CO2 emissions and global warming are global issues threatening the entire planet far into the distant future.



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  • 10
    bonnie says:

    @5:20pm

    As long as it gets reabsorbed again by the next corn crop we’re ok.

    Would not a major hiccup be if corn yields are negatively affected by strange weather patterns / climate change?



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  • Another potential application is in high velocity aircraft or space craft.

    http://news.discovery.com/space/private-spaceflight/the-spacecraft-of-tomorrow-130219.htm

    To date, tests for Skylon’s air breathing SABRE rocket engines have proved rather successful; based on a unique design which constantly cools incoming air, SABRE engines have effectively double the efficiency of existing jet engines.

    ANALYSIS: A Rocket Called ‘Liberty’ Rises From Ares’ Ashes

    Specifically developed by Reaction Engines Limited, these engines would give Skylon a top speed of over 30,000 km/h, enabling a suborbital journey from London to Sydney, Australia in approximately 4 hours. As well as being capable of reaching mach 5 for surface to surface transport, these engines allow Skylon to leave the atmosphere and enter orbit; the initial goal is to provide a cargo transport system to carry goods up to space stations by 2022, with intentions to later modify the vehicle to carry passengers.

    Using hydrogen-oxygen fuel in space and hydrogen-air mix in the atmosphere, this engine has the best features of aircraft and rocketry.



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  • An aspect of fertiliser run-off may be that concentrated food production and distribution processes are driven by the artificially low cost of fossil fuelled transportation. Plus subsidies for agricultural production, particularly corn in North America.

    If not for the transportation externalities then it might not be economically attractive to attempt to employ relatively expensive chemical fertilisers to increase already marginal production in necessarily remote areas (with sufficient low cost land with fertile soil and access to water) that must depend on very low cost subsidised transportation over relatively long distances.

    The reason that alternative energy technology is expensive is mainly because innovations haven’t yet happened because fossil fuel technology is based on fossil fuels appearing to be very much cheaper than they really are. i.e. externalities appear as if they can be discounted in the short run because in the long run we’re all dead. Only fly in the ointment is that our children’s children hopefully won’t be dead.



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  • Hi there Pete H,

    haven’t seen you post in ages. Agree with what you are saying although the alternatives are rapidly getting cheaper and cheaper, pay off times for photovoltaic are now quite reasonable although more work has to be done on energy storage.



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  • What you are saying about rainforests is mostly correct I think but you are missing that these trees are not all the same age. So trees are constantly dying much of the rotting trees does get turned into methane but much also gets sequestered into the ground by insects like termites and other animals. Meanwhile the area cleared by falling timber does make space for new timber to grow and hence absorb co2 from the atmosphere, in fact many plants will compete for the light and grow as rapidly as they can. So taken over the whole forest there will be a largely balanced system with some release of methane and some sequestration underground. Cutting it down and burning large amounts of it as you correctly point out is releasing large amounts, unless it is balanced by a equal amount of absorption then you have a net imbalance.

    I’m far more concerned with digging up and burning of coal (which again as you correctly point out is largely from peat bogs).

    As for the krill and ocean acidification. I think you are wrong here. The mixing of co2 and water to produce carbonic acid is easy to test with ph paper and a soda stream, test water and get a neutral indication, put in squirt of c02 and test again and it will read acidic. I’ve done this experiment with my science students easy to test for yourself.

    I agree all forms of pollution need to be addressed. Not only from an environmental impact point of view but also from an economic point of view, if pesticides or fertiliser is washing into the oceans from farmland that represents a significant waste of pesticide and fertiliser. Improved farm practices should be a no-brainer, and better monitoring and regulation will save us all significant amounts of money. Here in Queensland Australia our Great Barrier Reef is threatened in part due to this run off and it is threatening a significant proportion of the reef which employs far more people than our mining industry. The reef is stressed by a number of factors and that is certainly one of them.



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  • I’d agree there is a lot to be said for drastic reduction where possible. Unfortunately I live in a country where public transport is very poor. I’ve got my eyes on a $750 electric bike to ride to work every day I currently walk most days but it takes about 45 mins and I’m often too rushed. I’d ride my manual bike but I’d be all sweaty and there is no way to have a shower so I’d be stinking out the poor kiddles as I lean over them to help them with the computers every day. So for $750 I’d get a bike that would get me to work in 10 minutes I’d only need to charge once or twice a week 35km range, and I would get a little exercise (you need to peddle but it assists) and I’d save a fortune in fuel (my wife picks me up most afternoons so I can help with my son at home). But for many at least in my country work and home are far apart and there is no way short of drastically rebuilding our cities to fix this short term.



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  • I am always in favor of scientists and engineers looking for new methods of capturing and distributing energy. Hydrogen however is not really that elegant an energy source. Storage tanks have to be quite big.

    The main beef that i have with hydrogen at this point is that is just as inelegant as combustible fuels. It’s going to be produced in large quantities somewhere and then distributed using trucks and pipes.

    Feeding your FCEV is a hazardous operation and is bound to go wrong once, we’re humans and bound to goof up somewhere. Metal Embrittlement might be an issue, where one tank has a weak spot and starts leaking hydrogen.

    Without this biological means of creating hydrogen, it is a very wasteful process, there are too much conversion steps required to transform energy into hydrogen and then transform it back into energy. FCEV fuel efficiency wells-to-wheels is about 15 to 25% in comparison a BEV attains 75-85%.

    As the growing population of the world is going to put yet more strain on our water and energy resources, it would be provident to chose the most efficient way. Does this mean that I completely discourage the use of hydrogen as an energy carrier? No it does not, we could do amazing things in the world of aviation using hydrogen fuel, and i think we should, since this is one of the hardest nuts to crack, the enigma of zero carbon high speed air travel.



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  • Mathijs
    Apr 11, 2015 at 3:20 am

    I am always in favor of scientists and engineers looking for new methods of capturing and distributing energy. Hydrogen however is not really that elegant an energy source. Storage tanks have to be quite big.

    The main beef that i have with hydrogen at this point is that is just as inelegant as combustible fuels. It’s going to be produced in large quantities somewhere and then distributed using trucks and pipes.

    I think the key point is that is does not produce CO2.

    Without this biological means of creating hydrogen, it is a very wasteful process, there are too much conversion steps required to transform energy into hydrogen and then transform it back into energy. FCEV fuel efficiency wells-to-wheels is about 15 to 25% in comparison a BEV attains 75-85%.

    I think this sort of development is the way forward.

    http://cleantechnica.com/2012/05/26/hypersolar-hydrogen-generator-uses-solar-nanotechnology/

    Last year the solar company HyperSolar, Inc. filed a patent application for a solar powered system that creates renewable methane gas from water, which it has been testing out at California’s Salton Sea. Just last week, the company announced that it has completed a proof-of-concept prototype for a solar-powered hydrogen generator, so this looks like a good time to check in and see what they’re up to.

    http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlepdf/2014/ee/c4ee01453g

    Design and cost considerations for practical solar-hydrogen generators



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  • Ah, phil, we meet again.
    I admit, the private car as public enemy #1 has become an obsession. I agree that the car is a wonderful invention and that recent sustainable technologies rid it of some of its worst effects but its the whole concept of the individual in (more or less) a ton of steel, plastic and rubber that is so troubling. Daleks all?
    Here’s a recent hopeful sign that I am not alone in this, that there is a dawning realization that the proliferation of private cars in our cities (no matter what the fuel) is the new tobacco. I’d go so far as to say that private car “devotion” is like religion, irrational, divisive and poisonoous (not to mention it origins in fascism). Just been listening to Kasey Jones the ex-Jehovah’s Witness and her eloquent openly secular talk so brutally overpowered by, what else? … the roar of traffic.



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  • 24
    Lorenzo says:

    Plants only absorb CO2 while they are growing.

    Wrong. Plant fix CO2 when they have enough light to do photosynthesis, and release Oxygen as a byproduct.



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  • Lorenzo
    Apr 13, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    If the Hydrogen tank should ever leak, the warning buzzer would probably be redundant…

    Any electrical devices or switches making sparks would be a very bad idea! – but that also applies to petrol fumes!



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  • What a quaint idea of future cars.

    I expect cars to be half the weight built on chassis of carbon fibre with lifespans of 50 years or more. Motive power will be essentially electric and maximally silent except near pedestrian crossings. Using night time wind power for the morning journey and the midday sun for the return they will help balance the our use of renewable energy. If graphene or nano-dot batteries work giving 5 minute refueling, then fuel/recharging stations will become the key that finally unlocks 80% plus utilisation levels of renewables needing needing only hydro, geothermal and the new wave of medium and small CHP systems coming on line, the latter ready for green gas.

    Cars will self drive shortly allowing the grandparents to come visit. Taxis will proliferate as less and less will learn to drive and the insurance premiums harshly disfavour the active and unassisted driver. Traffic jams eliminated with ad-hoc convoys. Road wear (taxed by axleweight to the fourth power) will become negligible, etc. etc..

    Apart from the Wall-E vision of people not excercising (I’m a keen cyclist myself, though a knee injury has put a stop to my 11mile journey to work that way ) what is wrong with a door to door provision for the busy, the elderly, the heavily suitcased or overshopped, lost and bewildered, the precious and fractious kids, the pissed, the knee-knackered? What is wrong with CO2 neutral travel using sustainable materials of any sort? You have yet to say except…. bad driving, which can be legislated, charged and technologied away and….quiet. Quiet is good. We have 20dB better already. Now lets legislate for that also.

    London has been transformed for the better by the congestion charge on vehicles. Its busses and overground and underground trains are awesome. This does not mean equality of access though. Whilst fit healthy and unencumbered I can get around. The elderly fare less well. Resorting to cabs is a costly nightmare. Working on site in the city and leaving after midnight resulted in a cab fair of £70 to the edge of town recently. Neat, quiet, auto-convoying, self-driving taxis could be the much cheaper finishing touch. For those nostalgic for London cabbie banter, these cabs could be sponsored by Murdoch Rags like The Sun and scroll casually racist headlines….



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  • 28
    Lorenzo says:

    I like cars. I like driving them, I like looking at (the most of) them, I like their workings. And I like the concept.

    Yes, there are too many of them, but that’s a different matter. The need for a car has been preposterously inflated:
    -You don’t need a car when it rains, just an umbrella.
    -You don’t need a car when it’s chilly, just a sweater.
    -You don’t need a car when it’s hot, just a little fan and a bottle of water.
    -And yes, you don’t need a car to go to work, just a tube train or a tram that’s punctual.

    Still, the world would be a less interesting place without a Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic in it. Or a Napier-Railton. Or… the list can go on for pages.

    As Phil already told you, we have (or are developing) the technology to make the private car sustainable -and we have the resources to, perhaps, reduce them a bit in numbers, so those who aren’t interested in a car actually can avoid having ad failing to maintain one properly -with all the nasty environmental repercussions a badly looked after car has… so: why not?



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  • Lorenzo,

    I completely agree the need for car journeys is nowhere near the number actually made. Where a great many journeys have been priced off the road AND good infrastructure was already in place to pick up the slack the result (in London) has been a near universal improvement for all. BUT I work mostly outside of London and have very poor infrastructure to contend with there. (I have though been considering a Reckless Electric bike for non winter journeys).

    I absolutely adore driving. It is one of the great pleasures, though I expect that it will become an increasing expense if I want to drive maximally unassisted. I see a great increase in driving leisure activities that allow the full un-buttoned experience. I suspect also any risks to “innocent” third parties will become totally unacceptable



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  • New discovery may be breakthrough for hydrogen carsor not.

    The tone of miraculous panacea makes the lay reader feel he has read this kind of article before -probably ten years ago in some dentist’s office. The gullible soccer mom will tell her husband that they can start shopping for that hydrogen powered car come summer.

    Just give us the modest science, pros and cons, and skip the infomercial and photo of two scientists promoting their business in lab coats.

    “We believe this exciting technology has the potential to enable the widespread use of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles around the world and displace fossil fuels,”

    Let mainstream media give us the low down on what’s really happening instead of a self-promoting puff piece.



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  • If metal hydride mediated storage were used hydrogen would be super safe with controlled release and rapid upward dissipation. (Somewhere there is an old comparative video with a ruptured tank in the presence of flame. Hydrogen is benign. Gasoline not good with sustained burning and gas (propane/butane/other?) explosive.)

    Likely storage today is cryo-compressed and there is a slide here showing its various risks. They have elected not to show any as red…

    hydrogen storage for vehicles compared



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  • The need for a car has been preposterously inflated

    Need is a slippery word. We don’t need anything for which there is an adequate substitute. Yes, we could use umbrellas, and we could go by horse, or any number of other alternatives to the car.

    But I think what is needed is a slick, universal end-to-end transport solution, which is what the car uniquely provides. Mass transit is hub-and-spoke by definition, and stops being viable whenever you want to go somewhere slightly unusual, or at an uncommon time. It requires a neat coincidence of timetables to get you from door to door, even assuming you live and work within walking distance of the nearest MT stations. MT doesn’t allow the same flexibility – deciding at last minute to stop off and do the grocery shopping, or work late, or drop in on a friend on the way home.

    I think MT has had its day, at least conceptually. A dedicated public road infrastructure populated with safe, economical, fast, cheap driverless taxis of various sizes and configurations (and driverless lorries), seems to be better and more likely in the long run.



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  • Absolutely. A related problem with hydrogen is that, even when highly compressed, its energy density is so low that storing it is inefficient and very dangerous. It works well when it can be made and used simultaneously. Sadly, at the moment the cheapest way of making hydrogen is from natural gas, which has CO2 as a byproduct…



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  • Yep.

    But hyper-fast transnational and international rail (car) ferries, modularised, integrated and coordinated may fit into the mix nicely, with piped power, exceptional speeds and some of the highest energy efficiencies available.



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  • Exactly, Phil – the car is almost the perfect transportation system, but it need not resemble today’s cars…

    Driverless cars not only bring safety advantages, but on a dedicated infrastructure, they could operate as taxis, the nearest one summoned by a customer never being more than a few minutes away. If the customer is willing, they could route themselves efficiently to pick up multiple other customers going in similar directions, the cost of the journey dropping accordingly.

    Inter-vehicle computer communications means that negotiating lanes and junctions would be seamless, with no stopping, at much higher speeds than humans can do. Faster, smoother driving with multiple passengers makes for vastly more energy efficient travel and significantly shorter journey times, which means far less congestion, allowing faster, smoother, more energy efficient driving….

    Different vehicle configurations would mean a consumer could choose something to suit their requirements – perhaps a two-seat private cabin with a work table for an intercity journey? Or a family-size vehicle with luggage space for a camping trip to the mountains? Or just a cheap seat in a shared 10-seater for a typical 10 km, 15-minute commute home?



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  • Any idea of the energy required to compress hydrogen to 350 Bar???Not to mention that a 100 L tank of even a non-flammable gas at 350 bar is best described as a bomb… (100 L of compressed hydrogen has the combustion energy equivalent of 15 L of diesel, so we’d need a bigger tank than that, ideally)

    I don’t think anyone really thinks locking hydrogen down as a hydride is likely as a vehicle fuel solution. It’s like power from nuclear fusion – it’s a great idea, but there are some technical issues to be solved first…



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  • 39
    Lorenzo says:

    Need is a slippery word. We don’t need anything for which there is an adequate substitute.

    Of course, but my remarks up there were intended as containing a third of humour… I thought it was clear.
    Anyhow, if you have absolutely no interest in driving and want to be dry, an umbrella is an adequate substitute. Provided you have alternative ways to reach your destination.

    I think MT has had its day, at least conceptually.

    I’m not really sure about where you live, but I strongly disagree with you on this. If it weren’t for public, mass transport the city where I live would be… totally paralysed. Our modest 5 lines underground systems ferries to and fro millions of commuters every single day and still the roads manage to be overcrowded.

    For how complicated the planning can be, a well organized and efficient public transport system is a substantially better choice for commuting. And for long distance journeys as well, if I really think about it: mass transport is one order of magnitude cheaper. If the distance should increase, it would be faster, too, because air travel would become an interesting option.

    What the private car does peerlessly is recreation: if your expectation of the journey you’re about to do aren’t restricted to efficiency, economy and the destination, then the car has a considerable edge -if it isn’t a pile of rubbish. In other words, if you’re interested in the journey itself, then the car still has an edge today.

    I conceive that starting from a small mountain village to end up in another mountain village isn’t going to be as handy by public transport as it may be by car, but that’s more a logistical problem than an essential trait.



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  • 40
    Lorenzo says:

    BUT I work mostly outside of London and have very poor infrastructure to contend with there.

    Yes, I’m aware of infrastructural shortcomings of public transport when considered outside big metropolitan areas. Basically, the smaller the city where your aim is located, the harder it is to rely solely on public transport.

    Yet, I think the trend will have to be towards a better infrastructure, thus removing some cars from the road.

    A form of public transport, for example, is the “car sharing” format.



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  • 41
    Lorenzo says:

    Driverless cars

    I really don’t get this: if you are not interested in driving a car, what’s the matter with a bus? Or, to make things even safer (?) and eco-friendly, a self driving (or computer assisted) tram?

    (?) Since driverless cars are still not among us, I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion they are safer by default. If only because some owner will think he knows better than the manufacturer and will service the car himself equipped with an old spanner and a Haynes manual, accidents will still happen.
    And, since those things are being designed to be connected to public networks, hacking will happen…
    In conclusion, that driverless cars will be safer is a reasonable assumption, but needs to be tested.



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  • 42
    bendigeidfran says:

    A most amusing ‘car sharing’ format, for economists I mean, is the train. Here, perhaps a thousand people share the fuel, and it magically costs more than one person in a car. This is known colloquially in the UK, as ‘The efficiencies of privatisation’.



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  • 43
    Lorenzo says:

    This is known colloquially in the UK, as ‘The efficiencies of privatisation’.

    Oh, that is very internationally known. Interestingly, by the same name!



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  • what’s the matter with a bus?

    It stops half a mile short of my front door and the two suitcases are not made of sapient pearwood. My ninety year old parents aren’t wearing their trainers today. I can earn an extra sixty pounds a day with the time otherwise spent on slow coach busses. I visit clients, collect and deliver hardware. My knee still hurts. I have two jobs and no time. I’m pregnant and can’t manage the two year old. I’m new here.

    Non compliant vehicles are easily identified. Already insurance companies are reducing premiums for risky category drivers if they install real time in-cab monitoring. We have the technology already to police vehicle status compliance and implement road charging. 2G wireless nodes are $5 with near zero cost data consumption. Any tampering with the vehicle in key performance areas immediately voids insurance and any proven journey becomes an offence.

    hacking will happen

    a bit, but the £35bn pa projected cost saving in eliminating UK road accidents with the move to collision avoidance, pedestrian detection, etc. will create the budget for the tightening up of anti-hacking security, and auto-tracking machine gun enforcement at major road junctions….OK….cars just get disabled.



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  • Excellent question.

    Slides 21 and 22 have some comparative data but slidee 22 says-

    Energy demand for liquefaction is nearly being compensated by less effort for compression,
    aftercooling
    and logistics necessary for CGH
    based filling stations.

    This DOE note gives honest energy costs for liquefaction

    So currently 8 to 12 kWh/Kg and possibly with work 7kWh/Kg

    H2 energy density is 33kWh/Kg, so a good 25% of its energy density is spent already on the job of liquefaction, liquefaction being the preferred route for large refuelling stations.

    Its all still daunting and the gains shrink. The attempts to turn biomass into hydrocarbons rather than into hydrogen yields much more energy dense fuel with for fewer logistics costs and has been underway for a few years now. Its time for a review of that before getting excited here.

    Me, I’m getting more excited about flow batteries (electrolyte charged up with electro-chemical energy held in tanks) now they’ve substantially solved the energy density bottleneck for transportation.

    This is the latest on the Quant-e. Yes, its a lunatic vehicle, but meant to demonstrate a capability and generate near term sales with Nerd Millionaires to fund development. This technology with pumped fuel stations where depleted fluid is recharged at leisure, rather than as here in a closed, in-vehicle electrical recharge, could be what we are looking for….



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  • The big problem with universal application of current MT protocols is maximising the utilisation x utility product. London its indeed a no brainer, but move out even into its suburbs and utilisation (occupancy) falls well below the average of 20%. Planes and now long distance trains achieve 70+% utilisation with demand (variable) pricing. Utility (say the inverse of some normalised waiting plus journey time) is mostly dropped until utilisation hits a commercial (or non commercial but mandated) threshold. Move beyond the suburbs and local service becomes so scant that taxi is the only choice.

    Taxi-busses with phone app front ends are starting to fill this huge utilisation x utility gap and in doing so provide a better eco solution to low utilisation, service-mandated busses. Autonomous taxis will do an even finer job. Indeed, they seemlessly roll up all problems of underutilisation. We no longer need to start from where we weren’t to end up where we didn’t want to be.

    Walking and bikes? A fantastic culture to cultivate. I was lucky having thousands of acres of park, nature reserves and river path immediately stretching into and out of the city. I and my kids could cycle an awful lot of places in complete safety. I never willingly cycled on the roads nor allowed my kids to, the statistical risks were too great for me. ( I have had two sensible friends lost to biking accidents on city streets.) I believe safety would be transformed on London city and suburban streets with autonomous cars and technology. There would be no excuse not to adopt the healthy option.



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  • When I said MT has had its day, I didn’t mean we could do without it as things stand at the moment. I meant that there are better things on the horizon that will render it obsolete.

    I conceive that starting from a small mountain village to end up in
    another mountain village isn’t going to be as handy by public
    transport as it may be by car, but that’s more a logistical problem
    than an essential trait.

    You’ve described the inherent problem with MT: its inherent hub and spoke design. The “Mass” part of MT means that it’s not feasible to service all areas or at all times, unless there is a critical mass of people on that route. Arguably the concentration of passengers travelling into London in the morning, and out again in the evenings, is a result of MT. If public transport all centres on London, it becomes the hub. A more flexible, end-to-end, demand-led transport system would give all of us more options…

    I think in 50 years time it will be considered quaint that in 2015, to use public transport to travel the 3 miles from Redbridge to Wanstead Park took 21 minutes and required a bus ride and two underground train rides. To go from Cambridge to Milton Keynes (47 miles) took two hours and required 3 trains, PLUS however long it took to travel between the stations and one’s true starting point and destination. And that assumed the trains were running at the time.

    Driverless cars are fraught with technical and social difficulties, I concede. But so was the idea of an entire railway system built in tunnels under the city of London, back in the early 1800s!

    What the private car does peerlessly is recreation

    You’re right. And sneaking the word “private” in there (assuming you mean “private” in the sense that cars are generally private at present) renders many of the benefits of driverless cars void. But if we take “cars” – however owned – to simply mean small vehicles picking up passengers promptly on demand, and taking them fast and fairly directly to any desired destination, then I take issue with your saying they are a “pile of rubbish”. I think such a use of cars would be vastly more efficient, economical, convenient and (most notably) versatile than any MT could be.



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  • @phil

    Your view of the Jetsons car culture of the future is nearly as utopian as my own view of a future where “the litter” in all its manifestations is despised and wal-king is king.
    Solvitur ambulando.



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  • Link no good, q.

    I still don’t think you have grasped how the hired autonomous vehicle solves the utility AND utilisation issues of current MT protocols outside of high density city environments. Low density conurbations need solutions too and in greater manner rural environments. Eco drives this as well as utility.



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