Sunday, September 14, 2014

Say Bye to Petrol & Diesel

Sheikh Zaki Yamani the famous Saudi Arabian oil minister of the 1970s once said that the stone age came to an end not for a lack of stones but because the human race moved on. Similarly the oil industry will come to an end not for a lack of oil but because the human race would have moved on.

About 10 days ago a tectonic movement of sorts hit the world automotive industry. This is a game changer. A paradigm shift and a bold (and very expensive) breakthrough by the Toyota Motor Company of Japan. 

They have introduced a production model car that runs on the hydrogen fuel cell. These cars will not need petrol or diesel anymore.

Before we talk more - just a little bit on the hydrogen fuel cell.

"A fuel cell is a device that converts the chemical energy from a fuel into electricity through a chemical reaction with oxygen or another oxidizing agent. Hydrogen is the most common fuel. Fuel cells are different from batteries in that they require a constant source of fuel and oxygen/air to sustain the chemical reaction; however, fuel cells can produce electricity continually for as long as these inputs are supplied"
Above : Block diagram of a simple hydrogen fuel cell.

Below : A schematic for a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle

The hydrogen fuel cell engine does not use fuel oil at all. It uses hydrogen and oxygen both of which can be extracted from the air or through electrolysis of water (H2O). And here is the most interesting part - the hydrogen fuel cell has zero exhaust gases. The byproduct is water (H2O).

Ok I am keeping this really short. Here is Toyota :

·        reduced cost of fuel cell cars significantly
·        several advances in hydrogen fuel cells make themcheaper
    • company to sell a car in 2015 — years before its competitors.
    • $50,000 and $100,000 - a big improvement over million-dollar vehicles
    • Toyota will display concept car this month at the Tokyo Motor Show.
·        Toyota fuel-cell system smaller and uses less platinum
    • fuel cell produces electricity, fed by a tank of hydrogen, platinum catalyst
·        water vapor comes out
·        hydrogen tank can be refilled like a conventional gas tank
    • General Motors plan fuel-cell vehicles around 2020.                                         
    • The key number is the US$50,000 - US$100,000 price tag. This is the game changer. Prior to this, hydrogen fuel cell prototypes cost anything from US$1.0 million and more. The savings that have been achieved by Toyota now has increased the efficiency by a factor of 10 to 20 times. US$50,000 is a very affordable number cost of making a hydrogen fuel cell-powered car has fallen dramatically.                               
    • vehicle that cost $1 million now made for $50,000 goes on sale in U.S. in 2015.
    • Toyota testing 100 fuel cell vehicles based on Highlander platform
    • next generation will be shaped more like the Prius and will be for actual sale.
Now General Motors, Hyundai, Nissan and a host of other car makers have also announced their own hydrogen fuel cell vehicle programs. This is because if they do not innovate they will die.

Here is some history behind Toyota';s hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

Four years ago in 2009, Toyota came to a cross roads of sorts after they had spent billions of US Dollars trying to develop the fuel cell vehicle. It has been a long process, hard work, billions of dollars and really capable research and development efforts. By 2009 Toyota had made major breakthroughs and they decided to press on with developing the fuel cell vehicle.

Here are some of Toyota';s major technology breakthroughs :
·       significantly decreased amount of platinum needed in fuel cells
·       comparable to what cars have in catalytic converters
·       reduced platinum by making catalyst more effective
·       developing precise equipment for applying catalyst to ensure none wasted
·       requires fewer fuel cells to be stacked together
·       improving design of fuel cell.
·       engineers modified membrane to allow protons to pass more freely
·       increases amount of power that each fuel cell can generate
So in 2009 Toyota shareholders made a decision to continue spending money to develop the hydrogen fuel cell car. Here is some Toyota news from 2009 :
·           Toyota Still Committed to Producing a Hydrogen Vehicle - 24/06/09
·           At shareholders'; meeting in Japan, executives stated commitment to bringing a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle to market in the near future. 
·           revised their timeline, pushing production back a year to 2015.
·           awfully soon but maybe Toyota knows something we don';t
So it has taken them many years, perseverance, tons of money, great will power and technical capability to achieve this ground breaking technology. This is now history. Toyota is bringing out their hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in 2014/2015. They are quite on track.

A hydrogen fuel cell vehicle will be more fuel efficient than a petrol driven car. A "litre" of hydrogen (or natural gas) should be a lot less cheaper than a litre of petrol. Plus it has 100% non exhaust gases (other than water). Since 40% of the world';s oil consumption goes into transportation (cars, ships, trains, planes) this hydrogen fuel cell technology will have a significant effect on oil consumption and automotive technology.

The stone age is coming to an end again - in the rest of the world.

By the way if hydrogen fuel cells take off (and they will) here is what is going to happen in the Middle East :

 Received above information through kind courtesy of Dewan Satish

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