Apple Car: Forget ‘electric,’ think hydrogen fuel cells

“Chatter continues about a possible Apple auto, maybe as soon as 2020,” Yahoo Finance reports.

“For Yahoo Finance columnist Rick Newman ‘electric cars’ are not the cure for any auto industry ills,” Yahoo Finance reports. “Rather, hydrogen fuel cell technology is what he calls the ‘holy grail’ for automakers. While any number of them have been working on such vehicles no one has solved the problems associated with it.”

Yahoo Finance reports that Newman says, “‘Whoever can figure out how to, number one, get the cost of that hydrogen fuel… down to a tolerable level and then figure out how you fuel the thing because we don’t have hydrogen filling stations yet. That will transform the auto industry more than almost anything you can think of.'”

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: See related articles below.

Related articles:
Apple working with Intelligent Energy on fuel cell technology for mobile devices, sources say – July 14, 2014
North Carolina regulators approve Apple’s 4.8-megawatt fuel cell facility at Maiden data center – May 23, 2012
New aerial images of Apple’s planned NC fuel cell, solar farms published – April 7, 2012
Apple’s massive fuel cell energy project to be largest in the U.S. – April 4, 2012
Apple patent application reveals next-gen fuel cell powered Macs and iOS devices – December 22, 2011
Apple patent app details highly-advanced hydrogen fuel cells to power portable devices – October 20, 2011

94 Comments

    1. I wrote a thesis for my Masters on hydrogen fuel cells – they’re actually a lot safer than gas vehicles. If a hydrogen storage tank punctures, the gas dissipates into the air, it doesn’t puddle on the ground where it can be ignited by another source.

      There’s a manufacturer in Europe who makes a hydrogen purifier that takes water and breaks it down into hydrogen and oxygen. The unit is about the size of a refrigerator – it ends up producing H for fuel cells and O that can be purified further for Hospital use. The way their model was set up – a gas station could install 2 or 3 of these for fairly cheap, and sell the oxygen for more than the hydrogen. The problem was they consume a LOT of electricity to breakdown the water.

      It’s all really interesting stuff, and sounds very “Apple-like”.

      1. Four problems with your theory:

        1. It’s not the gasoline that ignites, it’s gasoline vapor (which is why you can’t smoke while fueling your vehicle);

        2. Hydrogen gas escaping into the atmosphere near a flame/spark is exceedingly dangerous; and

        3. There is no infrastructure for refueling a hydrogen powered car, so you have nowhere to drive it except to the hydrogen refueling station and back home.

        4. As you mention, the electrolysis for dividing water into H and O uses tremendous amounts of electricity, so much so that a gas station can’t make a profit selling the resulting products. Or, the hydrogen is so expensive that people won’t buy fuel cell cars.

        1. There is no “delivery system” for hydrogen like there is for liquid fuels and electricity. That is where the killer costs reside.

          You can’t afford to to liquify hydrogen as that consumes too much power. Hence, hydrogen has to be delivered at modest pressures as a gas.

          Hydrogen from natural gas is fairly cheap, but how do you get it to filing stations 500 miles away?

            1. Yep, the challenge is in the storage of that electrical energy in an efficient and portable form.

              Swapping battery packs would probably be the most comparable alternative to fueling gas/diesel vehicles. It might take a very long while to develop a battery approach in which you can charge a big vehicle battery in just a few minutes. Until then, people will consider pure EVs to be too inconvenient for anything other than local driving.

            2. Consider the Tesla SuperCharger system.

              Stations are set up across the country and the system is expanding rapidly. In a 30 minute charging session you can charge the battery pack enough to drive 170 miles. That charge will take not quite 3 hours to use, if you are on a cross-country road trip. At the end of that time, you pull into another SuperCharger location, hook up the charger, have a potty break and grab a snack. After 30 min you are ready to go again. A little longer that adding gasoline to an ICE powered car, but not terrible.

              And access to the SuperCharger system is free. Try that at a gas station.

        2. A couple of additional thoughts:

          5. Hydrogen leaks easily. It is nearly impossible to keep it from those tiny molecules from leaking, especially at the high storage pressures that are required to get much range out of a fuel cell vehicle.

          6. The value of the oxygen byproduct from the electrolysis process might end up being rather low because of supply-and-demand considerations. The production of large quantities of H2 for fuel cell vehicle would result in a lot of O2.

          That said, fuel cell vehicles (probably a hybrid of fuel cell and batteries/supercapacitors) might eventually be the best answer. Batteries would be used for short trips and super capacitors for acceleration and regenerative braking. Fuel cells would be used to charge the batteries and extend range, much like ICEs are used in the current hybrids. So the advancement of battery technology is still very important.

          1. #5 assumes that you are pressurizing the H possibly to a liquid state. I understand there is research on tech that bonds the hydrogen to a storage material and can be released with a modest amount of heat. This reduces the requirement for high pressure storage and would probably decrease leak rate.

            1. The LH2 used as a fuel on some rocket stages (e.g., Shuttle external tank, Centaur upper stage) is only about 90 Kelvin above absolute zero. I do not believe that it is feasible to pressurize H2 to a liquid state at room temperature. However, it is possible to store a reasonable amount of GH2 at high pressure in a composite overwrapped pressure vessel (COPV).

              It is possible to bind H2 in a metallic hydride. However, the weight is fairly high and the extraction of the hydrogen is not all that easy. Methane is actually. Great way to transport hydrogen — one carbon plus four hydrogen atoms. Methane can be fairly readily liquified at cryogenic temperatures and low pressure. It is much easier to liquefy and store methane than hydrogen.

        3. “Hydrogen gas escaping into the atmosphere near a flame/spark is exceedingly dangerous”

          Not as dangerous as the same volume of gasoline vapor. At 1 ATM of pressure, H2 has much less energy density than a lot of more common fuels do.

          -jcr

        4. If you supply a car with water and electricity, you can make hydrogen. Maybe they have some sort of converter built into the car. Put solar cells on the roof of the car, and it could make gas when it’s parked out in the daylight.

          You could also produce hydrogen at home, again, utilizing solar and/or wind, etc. There are all sorts of solutions and ideas you could implement to make this work.

          For most of the time, all we need our cars for, is to get to and from work, which is on average under 20 miles.

          Big oil is hell bent trying to impede development of alternative fuel technology. In the end, they’ll lose, at our detriment.

        5. The “holy grail” of tech is not hydrogen fuel cells at all. There are already vehicles on the road powered by liquified natural gas or propane and entire huge buildings in silicon valley whose electricity needs come from a refrigerator sized fuel cell unit converting natural gas to electricity. But these still have the fire hazard of fuel and anyone who has witnessed a boiling liquid expanding vapor (BLEVY) explosion would really not consider having more of these vehicles on the road the ‘holy grail’ of anything. The lack of distribution centers alone renders them a non-starter. By far the best and true ‘holy grail’ of any kind would be ultra-capacitor technology. Charge in less than 10 minutes, run for 300 miles and we are done. EESTOR, a texas based company was recently purchased by ZENN to make barium titanate ultra-capacitors for their cars. They have over 2.5 times the range of current battery tech and charge in ten minutes. There are other ultra-capacotor technologies out there, each with their own problems. The first one to solve the problems completely will have win. Imagine nearly instantaneous charging and long life with no memory problems or ever a need to change the batteries. Solve that and you have a trillion dollar company over night.

      2. Add a couple of more problems:

        – Ordinary steel can’t be used for pressure storage because of hydrogen embrittlement.

        – Hydrogen flames are invisible.

      3. In other words, that European hydrogen purifier uses the same basic technology to split water that we used in high school chemistry. And something that requires as much energy at the front end to create potential energy (the combustible hydrogen) as will be created at the combustion point is no energy solution. Being able to sell the Oxygen might make for an economic proposition, but it makes no sense as an energy solution.

        A wholly new means of generating hydrogen is thus called for. There were a few promising approaches being pursued at Israel’s Technion, but in a conversation I had with one of their energy researchers, the money for research in hydrogen extraction, which had been coming from the EU, was being wound down.

  1. As my opinion as an engineer, hydrogen holds the most promise for eliminating the use of fossil fuels in transportation. We could build nuclear power plants to provide electricity during the day when demand is high and generate hydrogen at night when the excess energy is available. This creates jobs at home, reduces dependence on fossil fuels, emits no CO2 and is a clean source of energy.
    If you believe that climate change is real and you don’t support nuclear energy, then you really don’t believe climate change is real.

    1. The problem with hydrogen is that you have no infrastructure to deliver and store it at refueling stations. That would take tremendous investment by gas stations, for a product which will take years to meet a break even point in terms of sales.

      1. Every refueling station with running water and any energy source can potentially make hydrogen on premise.

        Unlike fossil fuel, long supply chains are completely unnecessary with hydrogen fuel.

          1. Certainly the only hope for Hydrogen would be (predominantly) local production on site to compete with electrically powered vehicles. The same equivalent breakthrough that is required for batteries themselves, though the latter is certainly further along in terms of usability than the former especially when considered with the potential for shorter recharging times being more practical as things stand.

      2. When automobiles first hit the market, there was no infrastructure to deliver and store it; it was very much catch as catch can.

        It’s an engineering issue, and not a tricksy one.

    2. “If you believe that climate change is real and you don’t support nuclear energy, then you really don’t believe climate change is real.”

      No. No. That is beyond stupid. There is no use of logic under which you get to say these two things are tied just because you declare so. There are many ways to address climate change besides embracing the insane nuclear industry – which still has no really effective ways to deal with the horribly poisonous waste

      One example — one of the foremost nuclear scientists in that industry turned against them a few decades ago. Just one little point in his book was his showing how insulation projects and mini-turbine projects on vents on existing building could conserve and generate enough power to shut down the whole nuclear industry. It all depends on will, choice and focus.

      Since then, some European countries have switched massive amounts of their power generation to renewable resources — NOT including nuclear.

      1. Those same European countries are now regretting their move to renewable sources at it is far too expensive and leaves them uncompetitive.
        Green energy ruined Spain.
        Germany embraced green energy and shut down some nuclear plants. Now, they have been forced to open more coal-powered plants to avoid blackouts.
        Green energy is a bust. It only survives because it is a source of graft for politicians.

        1. You are right, as a source of energy for the general “grid.” They (renewable sources) do not reliably supply “on demand” power, except for hydro, so traditional sources must be ready and able to meet the full demand when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing (or blowing too hard). If they are taken off-line because it’s “good politics,” the results are those “planned” blackouts.

          However, those same “green” sources work much better the way Apple is doing it, to supply power for a limited and specific purpose. Combined with an on-site method to “save” excess energy, such as by creating hydrogen fuel (to be used later when needed), a specific energy need is permanently removed from the grid. THEN, those traditional polluting sources can reduced steadily.

    3. “Hydrogen” cars are electric cars. So are “hybrids,” if the fossil fuel engine is not being used to provide direct propulsion. And so are pure “plug in to charge” cars.

      They all have a motor that is powered by a main battery. The only difference is in how that battery is re-charged.

      Therefore, what Apple needs to design is a “base” all-electric vehicle (in a small number of sizes and types). Allow the customer to configure it (like when buying a Mac), including selecting the vehicle’s “power supply.” The pure “plug-in” electric option has an additional battery to extend range, instead of an on-board means of producing electricity (such as small engine plus fuel tank, hydrogen fuel cell, “Mr. Fusion,” etc.). That would be TRUE innovation for the auto market.

      When the base vehicle is electric, you can innovate in other ways. What if each of the four wheels on the vehicle had its own separate motor, all under the unified control of the car’s “brain”? That’s TRUE “all-wheel-drive.” And it eliminates the weight, bulk, and complexity of transmission, axles, and drivetrain.

    4. Thank you for having the courage, honesty, and integrity to point this truth out. Unfortunately it will fall on the most exquisitely-brainwashed minds in the history of the human race, fine-tuned by decades of covert propaganda financed by US coal and oil interests, later joined by the Saudis.

      1. Hydrocarbons, as fuel, will still be used for the next 40 to 60 years without becoming incredibly expensive.

        Between now and then, we will have to find a reliable alternative. Electric batteries and nuclear power plants are the obvious answer but the Left leaning Chicken Littles will fuck that up.

        Mass Transit will end up being the only alternatives the Left will allow us to use in their Orwellian Future.

        1. Yes, compared to my Benz, a Tesla has no range at all. Plus I can fill the tank back up in 5 minutes at any one of millions of stations worldwide. Drill, baby, drill!

    1. If you mean drive around while the hydrogen is being produced to use it, that would be inefficient. Rather you should use the power (assuming something like solar panels on the car) directly to run the car. If you are thinking while the car is at rest (once again with solar panels), I’m not sure how much mileage you’ll get for a given time out in the sun since energy storage/conversion is a lossy process..

  2. This really is perfect.

    Battery technology won’t get us where we need to go with automobiles any time soon. Hydrogen’s only problem is the chicken & egg (no one will buy a hydrogen car until there are filling stations in each city).

    If Apple could build an Apple Store / filling station in every US city, they’d be killing two birds with one stone.

  3. Yeah, the article confuses the energy source for the method of locomotion. Not to mention infrastructure for electricity distribution and creation already exists, whereas hydrogen stations are… where now? I think they only recently figured out how to even CHARGE for hydrogen (by weight, as it turns out), whereas everyone knows what a kilowatt hour is. 😛

    It’s also mooted by the fact that Apple has been collecting battery specialists like they were going out of style. While I personally think an “apple car” is a long shot, battery tech has application across every single Apple product (yes, even the desktops!).

  4. As Horace would say, it depends on the job to be done. If you design a vehicle for a private owner who will frequently drive hundreds of miles then you need fossil fuel or hydrogen. If you drive just a few miles to the store a few times a week then an electric vehicle is fine. Charge the battery with solar panels on the roof.

    Maybe you could say that the owner only rents the battery and doesn’t own it. Then you could swap the battery at filling stations setup for the purpose.

    If the vehicles are only sold to fleet operators then more possibilities open up. Maybe they could use reloadable batteries like aluminum/ air batteries. Difficult for consumers,but easy for a fleet to manage.

    1. Most electric vehicles do not have batteries in locations where they could be swapped out easily. Designing a system like that means serious compromises to cargo or passenger space and utility. And the “battery” is not one unit, but a series of batteries wired together. This would not be a fast process, and with the quick charging capabilities of a car like the Tesla, it would be faster to charge the car than swap the batteries. Tesla is building a nationwide network of Supercharger facilities, usually with solar power, to help its customers. I think they can provide 170 miles in 30 minutes. Full charge in 75 minutes. 386 stations open now, and looking to about double that number this year and the next. They are located near shops, restaurants, etc. so you can take a little break and charge your car.

      There are a few electric cars which have solar panels built into the roof, but they’re too small to be effective at charging. In fact one car (Nissan Leaf?) uses its solar panel to power a small fan which removes hot air from the parked car so that a/c doesn’t have to work so hard and drain the battery once you are driving again. I think Tesla has a plan/dream to someday essentially have the car’s paint be a solar panel, but that’s years or decades away.

      The best bet is to improve battery efficiency and electric motor efficiency. There is zero infrastructure for hydrogen, and fleet sales alone are far too small to make building fuel cell cars profitable (most are natural gas conversions from existing combustion engine vehicles).

      1. Sorry, I meant that you would have solar panels on the roof of your home, office, or parking lot. Useless for long trips but great if all you do is five or ten miles a day.

        1. The average car in the US is driven just under 50 mi per day. That means charging a 200 mi range car 2 or 3 times a week, or every night, so you leave home every morning with a full charge. There are tasks that need to be done for apartment dwellers, but they are doable.

          For road trips, own a Tesla and drive free.

  5. Ridiculous. Very smart people have been working on fuel cells for decades, and Apple is going to swoop in and have a car on the market by 2020? That’s the dumbest thing anyone has said yet about the fictitious Car. The regulatory approval for mass fuel cell vehicle sales alone would take 5 years.

  6. The Hydrogen fuel cell company was Ballard Systems of Vancouver BC . Everybody bought in to their technology including major car companies . The BC government even bought a fleet of hydrogen buses just in time for the Olympics when Arnie Schwarzenegger as gov of California was talking about the Hydrogen Highway
    5 years later they got rid of the buses and we are having a referendum on a tax increase to pay for the morons running our transit system

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