Arts graduates and technology

Toyota is developing a hydrogen-powered car which could be fuelled for a year by the manure of a single cow, bosses have claimed.

Chief technology officer Shigeki Terashi said a cow’s droppings can be converted to produce enough hydrogen to run its next-generation Mirai saloon for 12 months.

The concept car uses a “fuel stack” to transform liquefied hydrogen into electricity with water as the only byproduct, making the technology zero emission.

It’s a fuel cell. Which may well come in a stack but still…..

39 comments on “Arts graduates and technology

  1. I will believe it when I see it. The energy density of a cowpat must be pretty low. It’s not a suitable material for nuclear fusion/fission either. I suspect that Terashi-san (if correctly reported, which is also questionable) has been smoking the output of cows that have pastured in a poppy meadow.

  2. Is this a signal that Toyota is moving into the agri-tech sector? Although I am not sure that I would want to have my car’s fuel source delivered by drone.

  3. If huge parts of the world go vegan, will there be enough cows to produce the manure?
    Collection and processing costs are zero, are they?

  4. You just drive around with a cow under your bonnet and it craps straight into your engine. Petrol stations will become redundant, but they will be replaced by hay stations.

  5. One of the many fill in subjects I taught at the School of Signals in the late ’80s was power sources eg batteries and generators. Fuel cells were something that the military in general and special forces in particular was, and probably still is, very interested in, for obvious reasons. It looks like they’re still pie in the sky.

    If they haven’t cracked it yet its hard to see a 2nd tier car manufacturer getting a supply in the near future.

  6. I’d far rather have a hydrogen fuel cell car than what’s being pushed down our throats: the glorified milk float with a range measured in yards.

  7. It looks like they’re still pie in the sky.

    If they haven’t cracked it yet its hard to see a 2nd tier car manufacturer getting a supply in the near future.

    I believe Honda has had a viable fuel cell car for several years now, but only so far available in California and only for rent.

    Here we go: https://www.autocar.co.uk/car-review/honda/clarity-fcv

    The worst they say about it in that review is that there’s nowhere to fill it up. The same problem with milk floats 2 years ago, basically.

  8. Fuel cells do work. Great things. It’s fuel supply, infrastructure, which is the more difficult thing. Given a few tens of millions (that little) I could produce something that would power a car. If I could get the fuel for it…..

  9. Nothing they do is going to change the fact hydrogen is amazingly fucking dangerous. The generation and supply infrastructure will be the by far the biggest headache.

  10. And the energy density of H2 is crap, both per kg and per litre even with the best storage technology. And if it’s stored compressed, the energy required to compress it is a significant fraction of what can be recovered. This has been known for years (see http://www.dalefield.com) and nothing much has changed there.

  11. @Southern: The energy density of a cowpat must be pretty low.

    Yes, but a quick search suggests cows can produce 7-21 tons of manure a year, depending on size.

  12. Arthur tC: a quick search suggests cows can produce 7-21 tons of manure a year

    Crikey! That’s right up there with Capt. Potato!

  13. DocBud

    “You just drive around with a cow under your bonnet”.

    For extra performance, forget the crapping into the engine bit, and swap a couple of horses in…

  14. A quick google suggests a total world car population of 1 billion and a total cow population of 993 million, so we need to head off this vegan nonsense right away if we are to save the planet.

    I’m an arts graduate. My thicko no-nothing questions are: doesn’t hydrogen blow up? How do hydrogen fuel cells safeguard against this? How does one refuel them?

  15. Hydrogen air mixtures blow up. Petrol air mixtures blow up. Shrug.

    There is actually a useful path to a hydrogen economy. If solar gets cheap enough – and there’s no particular reason why it won’t at a local level – then electrolysis of water with whatever’s not being used to run the house. This is stored in a tank – as with a natural gas tank if you’re off the grid. This then runs the house through a fuel cell when the Sun ain’t shining. And also feeds the fuel cell in your car.

    It’s an inefficient process, sure, losses in electrolysis and also in the fuel cell. But if solar is *cheap enough* then the system as a whole still works.

    I don’t know of anyone who insists that solar is not going to get to 20 cents per W, 10 cents – from the current $1 or whatever for the actual cell. At which point, there’s actually no shortage of insolation.

  16. Cows are killing the planet, except when they power your new car, so become carbon neutral. Yay!

    Nice touch of the modern and medieval though, the peasants will have a cow, and trying to encourage it to have a shit so they can fill the car up and go to work.

  17. If anyone has a source that says hydrogen powered is significantly more dangerous than petrol powered, than please share.

    On the same lines, you really really don’t want to be around a lithium-ion battery pack if it catches fire.

  18. You need pretty exotic materials to store hydrogen, even at moderate to low pressures. It’s a small molecule and goes through plastics like they’re net curtains. In metals the problem is “hydrogen embrittlement” It’s like they’ve been work-hardened for decades and they crack or crumble.

  19. “Hydrogen air mixtures blow up. Petrol air mixtures blow up. Shrug”

    “If anyone has a source that says hydrogen powered is significantly more dangerous than petrol powered, than please share”

    Lower and Upper Explosive Limits for Flammable Gases and Vapours:
    Hydrogen 4.0% to 75.0%
    Gasoline 1.2% to 7.1%

    https://interestingengineering.com/hydrogen-fueling-station-explosion-halts-fuel-cell-car-sales-by-toyota-hyundai

    I think I’ll stick with “old school”, for as long as the bastards (arguably) in charge let me…

  20. “Mr Fusion” couldn’t that much energy out of a chunk of cowshite.

    The ecos pushing it should be made to dine on cow pats.

  21. ‘transform liquefied hydrogen into electricity with water as the only byproduct, making the technology zero emission.’

    Getting liquefied hydrogen from cowpats requires lots of processes, all of which take energy. ‘Zero emission’ is a lie. Just as EVs today are called zero emission.

  22. Digesting manure produces methane, not hydrogen.

    You could of course just burn this methane conventionally, as it’s the same as natural gas.
    Being sensible and economic, this is what happens.
    (Though note: you need factory farming to make the manure collection economical, but there’s no overlap between Greens and animal lovers, is there?)

    Or, you take the methane and expensively reform it to carbon dioxide and hydrogen.
    The CO2 you either vent directly to atmosphere, or sell to a vegetable grower to boost the CO2 in his greenhouses and hence plant yield. Still ends up in the atmosphere.

    The hydrogen you expensively try and store somehow. Hugely energy wasteful to liquify (and it boils off, blowing up the garage in the process). Hugely energy wasteful to compress, and the storage tanks are hard to make, since hydrogen embrittles metals and leaks like fury. Containers stressed under very high pressure are usually called bombs, so great to make them more generally available. Especially in consumer-driven high speed impacts in public. Can just see the Fire Brigade turning up to a road crash, seeing the ‘hydrogen storage’ warning, and running away until after the bang.

    Or you store the hydrogen in a few $millions worth of palladium. Just the job to leave parked in the road.

    Ah well, hydrogen makes an awful fuel.

    The hydrogen, finally, well you cannot burn it in ICE, or turbine, ‘cos the flame is so hot you create lots of NOx. You can use a “fool” cell, if you can make one last long enough to be saleable. Nope, not yet, fuel cells make great demos, but poor consumer products. They get poisoned and cease working.

    But having done all this, it’s emission free, because you’ve forgotten about the CO2 emitted earlier. Cannot see it, doesn’t exist. Smug satisfaction at zero-emission vehicle. Boom.

    Or you let economics rule, and carry on using the bio-methane as now. If you have a huge excess of biomethane (or any other methane), you could always reform it to gasoline and sell that. Lots of existing customers! But not worth it with crude oil below $200/barrel.

  23. Can just see the Fire Brigade turning up to a road crash, seeing the ‘hydrogen storage’ warning, and running away until after the bang.

    Sunni Mo just thumped the table with joy. Expect our lives to be enriched by even bigger car bombs in our glittering future utopia! At least the car bombs will be “carbon neutral” though.

  24. Cowpat, I served with Hydrogen. I knew Hydrogen. Hydrogen was a friend of mine. Cowpat, you’re no Hydrogen.

    P.S. Hydrogen is slippery stuff.

  25. I’ve worked with hydrogen and, as others have said, it’s frickin’ evil stuff. Can ignite from a static spark from your clothes after sliding out of your car seat. Even if it doesn’t go bang it burns with an invisible flame so you can’t see it. It can’t currently be transported by road in bulk , has to be in individual reinforced cylinders.

    Besides, if this is being suggested to save the planet someone should point out that water vapour is several times more effective as a greenhouse gas than CO2.

  26. The endless sniping at arts graduates seems less than apposite after reading and learning from this thread…

  27. FWIW I think Tim’s point is basically right though. If and when the actual generation cost of renewables (esp solar) gets to near zero following some sort of Moore’s law – then we don’t really care how inefficient the conversion to some form of storage is. You still get to feed stored energy at very low cost.
    The real problem is that we don’t yet have really suitable candidates for storage. Batteries are big, expensive, very limited and not at all green. Hydrogen is dangerous and low density. Pumped storage rocks – but only so many suitable mountains to hollow out with a top reservoir and a bottom reservoir. The renewables challenge is really about how to store not how to generate.

  28. Patrick.
    Quite so. Even if the energy source is 100% solar, you still have the problem of storage and especially so for vehicles.
    And you cannot beat hydrocarbons.
    Neither batteries nor hydrogen make feasible vehicle energy stores: one is too bulky, too heavy, and takes too long to charge, the other is too bulky, the container is too heavy, and the energy cost of storage is penal. It also leaks and blows up.

    So make hydrocarbon fuel for vehicles. What’s not to like? The technology is simple and 100 years old, the existing vehicle fleet doesn’t need changing, and the fuel is as carbon free as the energy source (if that bothers you). CO2 from the air, if you must.
    But the land area and solar radiation would be better used growing food, not filled with solar panels. So use nuclear. Or unicorn farts, when it becomes available in 10 years time (old joke).

  29. Storing hydrogen is a pain. You can compress it, in which case you need a very strong (and heavy) container; or liquefy it, in which case you need to expend energy to keep it liquid, And in either case it will gradually escape containment. My worry would be leaving a hydrogen-fueled car in my garage for a few weeks then returning, flicking on the light, creating a spark and …

  30. Hydrogen is a NOT a power source: it’s a transmission mechanism in almost exactly the way that electricity is.

    And, as Tractor Gent says, it’s a pretty shit transmission mechanism too.

  31. I was considering articles like this, although a bit bizarre, seem to capture the inherent problem with EVs generally, that the government might actually be pushing the wrong technology – again.

    Consider the “low energy light bulb”, something pushed by government subsidies and a ban on incandescent bulbs, yet totally unworkable, both as an energy saver as the manufacturing energy cost was way higher, as a practical device due to it’s long warm up period, and as a recyclable unit having a lot of toxic elements. Yet coming soon after was the “white” LED, something that not only used much less energy, in both manufacture and running costs, and had a far longer lifespan because of it in-built redundancy, yet the government chose badly and probably not only caused more emissions, but saddled us with a long-term environmental problem of getting rid of the damn things.

    There are many ways to either power a vehicle not using fossil fuel, or to magnify or supplement fossil energy density meaning less emissions. There are air-powered cars, using the same electrical sockets to power a compressor and “recharge” them. There is an ICE that uses the waste heat to fuel a parallel set of steam driven cylinders. And the concept of using a generator rather than a battery to provide electrical power, starting with a standard diesel unit, or perhaps a gas-turbine, and maybe a nuke (“Mr Fusion” anyone?).

    The kicker with the current EV promotion is the battery, we are nowhere near developing something that rivals the energy density of fossil fuel and the replacement and recycling costs (both in money and energy) are too much. I think the government has again hitched its horse to the wrong low-emissions cart and in doing so has demoted support for many competing technologies. If the same enthusiasm for putting electrical output sockets across the country was done for hydrogen cells, perhaps we’d be better off.

    Of course Mr Musk is happy to take large budles of your cash on something that just meets the government ideal, regardless of whether it is viable or not. If technology had just been allowed to develop on commercial grounds rather than government interference, the light bulbs would certainly had better success, and a lot less emissions as a result. Sure we’d probably get a “betamax” type situation again, but emissions-wise, a much better investment.

  32. Always thought that Hybrid where the ICE was a fixed output generator seemed a better (simpler) way to go than the dual drivetrain we seem to have now.
    At least the ICE could always be run at peak efficiency and could supplement with plugging in

  33. @Tim “Arts Graduate” Worstall October 23, 2019 at 9:16 am

    Hydrogen air mixtures blow up. Petrol air mixtures blow up. Shrug.

    Petrol is a liquid and doesn’t leak out of microscopic holes; Hydrogen is not and does – BOOM

    This is stored in a tank – as with a natural gas tank

    A natural gas/LPG tank is nothing like a Hydrogen tank. Fill either with Hydrogen and expect BOOM

    You’ve been told all this before (leak, embrittlement etc) before – but you ignore and bang on about evil C02

    .
    @Tim the Coder October 23, 2019 at 10:46 am

    Digesting manure produces methane, not hydrogen.

    Correct, Thanks

  34. But having done all this, it’s emission free, because you’ve forgotten about the CO2 emitted earlier. Cannot see it, doesn’t exist

    Unless you’re Greta Thunberg who can see CO2…

    For a pretty good (and accessible for non-engineering lay people) description of why H2 sucks for vehicles compared to petrol or diesel, see here

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=gu1v7d7-Wh0

  35. Arthur, here’s a good back of the envelope guess that a car doing 20 thousand kilometres a year would need 200 tons of manure, generously assuming that cow dung has ten per cent the energy density of petrol.

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