Sunday, February 21, 2016

Why Fuel Cells Are Not Green

In 2003 I wrote my book on sustainability and energy titled Hydrogen Hope or Hype?

Much of the book dealt with Fuel Cells.  The book was also a rebuttal to the hype of the “Hydrogen Economy”.  After the billions of dollars spent on fuel cells, we now know what I knew back in 2003 that fuel cells are mainly hype.  We also now know that there are large quantities of solid wastes with benzene, toluene, sulfides, and other nasty chemicals from fuel cells that use natural gas as their fuel source.  Fuel cells that use hydrogen produced by others from natural gas simply transfer the generation of such toxic solid waste to the manufacturer of the hydrogen.

The reason why there are large quantities of solid wastes from fuel cells using natural gas as a fuel is due to sulfur poisoning of the catalysts on the fuel cell stack.  In particular solid oxide fuel cells such as Bloom Energy are susceptible to the sulfur poisoning.  These solid oxide fuel cells can only tolerate sulfur content in the parts per billion.  Pipeline natural gas has sulfur content in the parts per million.  Hence the sulfur removal systems in fuel cells use vast quantities of desiccant filtering material to trap the sulfur in the pipeline natural gas.  This has been admitted to by Bloom, a company that is now estimated to generate approximately 4,000 tons a year of solid waste in the USA that is treated at an EPA licensed hazmat site in Texas.

Simply stated fuel cells are not green unless the hydrogen is produced via electrolysis of water using wind or solar power.  If one has invested in a PV or wind farm it is also wasteful to convert the electricity to hydrogen as the electricity is already a useful form of powering vehicles, homes, offices, schools, or industry.

I have written several blogs on why the fuel cell bus program at AC Transit is an expensive Rube Goldberg that I termed as a Rube Greenberg.   Fuel cells are still very expensive and they simply are a Betamax technology in a world that needs rapid greening.   I suggest you all read my book linked above as thermodynamics is identical in 2016 as it was in 2003 when I wrote the book.  As for not eating red meat, it is probably better to eat green veggies.