Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Fuel Cell Powered Japanese Trains on Trial in July

samzenpus posted more than 8 years ago | from the clean-choo-choo dept.

295

ScorpFromHell writes "As per this yahoo! news item, "East Japan Railway Co. is to conduct a test run of the world's first fuel-cell-powered train in July. The fuel cells, which generate power from a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, will help reduce environmental pollution compared to the existing electric and diesel engines, the company said." But I wonder how much energy did it consume to produce those huge amounts of Hydrogen & Oxygen? Will it be lesser than the power generated by the reaction between them? In other words, can this technology be used by countries with not so deep pockets as Japan?"

cancel ×

295 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Hum (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15118480)

Will it be lesser than the power generated by the reaction between them?

Of course it will... heard of Newton?

Re:Hum (3, Interesting)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118505)

I think that the GP poster meant to ask: Will the manufacturing process for these batteries produce less CO2 than the maximum usage of the trains with fossil fuels?

In any case, I think it's worth it. We've researched fossil fuels too much. It's time to research about alternative energy sources.

no it's not worth it. (4, Insightful)

frovingslosh (582462) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118613)

You need to look into how that hydrogen is being produced. The only large scale production of hydrogen that I know of makes hydrogen from natural gas, a fossil fuel. And it is amazingly wasteful and inefficent, and as dirty as burning natural gas or gasoline in a motor veichle. Although it does allow one to relocate the polution from a given area, it contributes even more to global warming than older technologies.

Re:no it's not worth it. (1)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118628)

The only large scale production of hydrogen that I know of makes hydrogen from natural gas, a fossil fuel.

Yeah, we need to look into more efficient hydrogen producing methods. But the market plays a big role in this, too. By having hydrogen-powered vehicles, there will be more demand for cheaper and more effective (and hopefully less polluting) hydrogen production methods - at least compared with our current demand for fossil fuels.

Re:no it's not worth it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15118844)

There was a recent article (too lazy to google for now) about one of the islands of Japan using its excess of geothermal power to generate hydrogen for a fuelcell powered car trial.

There's lots of places with hotsprings here in Japan, so geothermally produced hydrogen could be a feasible widespread energy source here. Wouldn't work so well in less mountainous countries though.

Re:no it's not worth it. (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118868)

Japan gets a lot of their electricity from nukes. Just because H2 comes from natural gas today, does not mean that it will continue to be so. In fact, if they can make this work, I would guess that Japen will move in a big way to nukes and alternative. It would appear to be that not only is their autmotive doing a better job than American man. but now they concerned about the long term impact of high oil prices.

Re:no it's not worth it. (5, Insightful)

LordLucless (582312) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118933)

While I'm not sure about the relative polution created by burning natural gas to create hydrogen vs burning it for energy directly, there is an advantage to relocation the pollution to a single point. It's much more feasible to implement high-tech and expensive filters and control mechanisms in one or two hydrogen production plants than it is in a couple of million cars across a country. Then too, when a better method of production is discovered, all you need to do is upgrade the production plants, rather than wait for everyone to be a new, cleaner car.

Chemical Reaction? (1, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118483)

The fuel cells, which generate power from a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen

That doesn't sound right. Usually "chemical reaction" infers that new molecules will be formed. As I understand it, in the case of most fuel cells, the electron is stripped from the hydrogen to produce electricity. If these cells were utilizing the combustion of H2 and O to form H2O, wouldn't that make them a powerplant rather than fuel cells?

Or am I totally off base here? (Feel free to mod me down if that proves to be the case.)

Re:Chemical Reaction? (4, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118498)

Wikipedia calls it an "Electrochemcial" reaction. Which sounds a little more reasonable to me, though I suppose it can still be referred to as a plain "chemical" reaction. It just doesn't seem very precise.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_Cell [wikipedia.org]

Re:Chemical Reaction? (2, Insightful)

mrchaotica (681592) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118521)

First of all, combustion is a chemical reaction.

Second, your use of the phrase "power plant" implies using combustion to generate heat, which is then used to expand a gas to drive a piston to move a linkage etc. This is called a fuel cell instead because it uses the reaction between hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity which then drives an electric motor and so forth.

In other words, H2 + O2 -> H2O can be used to drive combustion engines and fuel cells.

Re:Chemical Reaction? (2, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118648)

In other words, H2 + O2 -> H2O can be used to drive combustion engines and fuel cells.

Except that fuel cells don't combust per se. Which was my point. The hydrogen acts as the Anode, the Oxygen as the Cathode, and the plates between them strip off the hydrogen electrons to create a voltaic imbalance. The actual combustion of the two is secondary to the energy generation, and is not directly used by the process. The only thing used is the attraction between the hydrogen and oxygen atoms.

A combustion engine on the other hand, uses the pressure developed by the combustion to produce mechanical energy which can then be translated into electrical power through the use of a dynamo or generator.

The point I'm getting at is that the article feels incredibly imprecise. There is an electrochemical reaction occurring that produces power output, but the actual chemical reaction is not harnessed. Or at least, that's the one way of looking at it. You do still end up with a recombination of the electrons, protons, and oxygen to produce water in the end so I guess I can't entirely fault the article.

Electro-chemical reaction. (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15118527)

It's a lot closer to the way a battery works than it is to combustion. The hydrogen and oxygen react in the presence of a catalyst. Not much heat is generated. The energy that is released is in the form of an electron which is stripped, travels through your circuit releasing that energy as useful work and returns to complete the water molecule.

Re:Chemical Reaction? (2, Interesting)

jbrader (697703) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118546)

I don't think you should expect to be modded down for asking a reasonable and well thought-out question. Isn't that the whole point of having a discussion?

Re:Chemical Reaction? (1)

macshit (157376) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118775)

I don't think you should expect to be modded down for asking a reasonable and well thought-out question. Isn't that the whole point of having a discussion?

And all this time I thought it was a race to see who could talk about Nazis first...

[I win!]

Re:Chemical Reaction? (1)

Ohreally_factor (593551) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118953)

Oh, crap! Here come the Godwin Nazis!

RUN!!

Re:Chemical Reaction? - yes, and a very efficient (4, Informative)

Blasphemy (78348) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118567)

Combustion is a chemical reaction.

The way a fuel cell works is the same as burning straight Hydrogen. 4 Hydrogen atoms combine with 2 Oxygen atoms to form 2 Water molecules. When you burn Hydrogen, it happens all at once in one big pop (or bang!). In a fuel cell, the atoms dissolve into the water at the electrodes and combine in solution. The reaction is much more controled and generates an electric potential at the electrodes.

As far as efficiency is concerned, the seperation of Hydrogen and Oxygen (by electrolosis) from water and the subsequent recombination in a fuel cell (creating electrical energy) is over 95% efficient. That compares to around 30% for a good diesel engine.

In high school, I actully built a rudementary fuel cell as a science project.

Re:Chemical Reaction? - yes, and a very efficient (2, Interesting)

Breakfast Pants (323698) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118632)

I gotta call BS on this 95% number; where are you getting it, because it is way off from the numbers I have seen.

Re:Chemical Reaction? - yes, and a very efficient (3, Informative)

grqb (410789) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118694)

The efficiency of electrolysis is very high, 95% is actually possible. BUT, electrolysis has nothing to do with generating power, electrolysis is how you separate water into H2 and O2. A fuel cell is actually less than 50% efficient, and the overall efficiency of hydrogen fuel cells is comparable or a little less than diesel fueled cars.

Re:Chemical Reaction? - yes, and a very efficient (1)

G-funk (22712) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118842)

Does that take into account digging up and converting petroleum? And how much efficiency do we piss into the wind via our dependence on arab oil, and all the meddling we needs do to protect it?

Numbers are wrong. (4, Informative)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118914)

A pure Fuel cells system is in the order of 70-80% Combined with an average 80% motor, you have 50-60% efficiency. [howstuffworks.com]

OTH, if use a reformer rather than a regular storage system, you lose the bulk of the efficiency (lowers you to 30-40%). Combine that with the 80% motor, and you are in the 24-32% efficiency.

Sadly, an autmobile is around 20% efficiency. [howstuffworks.com] And that is only from the Gas forward. It does not include the previous inefficiencies.

Basically, we are using one of the worse systems possible. It just got developed and marketed first.

Re:Chemical Reaction? - yes, and a very efficient (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118927)

But going from electricity to hydrogen you've already paid the carnot-cycle efficiency penalty. You used a power plant which (being big and stationary) can run a bit more efficiently than a portable plant like a diesel, but not all THAT more efficiently - just a few percent better. THEN you paid ANOTHER penalty, almost as steep, to make the hydrogen and run it through a fuel cell.

The one big advangage of fuel cells is that the cycle is essentially the same as a storage battery, not a heat engine. It doesn't have to pay the carnot cycle tax again. In principle fuel cells COULD get very efficient - eventually.

In practice the hydrogen-to-electricity part of the fuel cell cycle is already far ahead of anything a heat engine could ever do. So if you're already committed to using hydrogen to run your train, to avoid discharging pollution in an urban area, you're MUCH more energy efficient using fuel cells than if you use a heat engine to run a generator.

But you're farther ahead to use a trolley wire.

Re:Chemical Reaction? - yes, and a very efficient (1)

Blasphemy (78348) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118824)

http://www.visionengineer.com/env/fc_efficiency.ph p [visionengineer.com]

A nice graph of fuel cell efficiency.

Practical fuel cell efficiency is around 50% (it is temperature dependent), less if you are using methanol instead of pure hydrogen.

Well to wheels: fuel cell vs. hybrid technologies? (1)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118924)

I think it also needs to be pointed out that when comparing the relative efficiencies of engines, you need to decide on what kind of output power you're going to use as the standard. I.e., is your end-product going to be mechanical motion or electricity? Because the fuel cell will always have a bit of an advantage over a diesel engine at producing electricity, because to get electricity from a diesel engine requires a generator; conversely deriving mechanical energy from a fuel cell requires a motor.

So if we're talking about trains/buses/cars, you also have to factor in the loss in the motor and its associated equipment. (Alternators, because they don't run on DC usually; speed controls, etc.)

And of course, there's the ever-present problem of where you're getting the energy from that goes into a fuel cell's fuel in the first place. If you're going to split them from water, that's a very energy-intensive process, as is cracking natural gas. Unless you're planning to tap some sort of very green and otherwise-surplus energy to create the fuel, this should really be part of the whole comparison. Since only a few countries seem to have any plan that eliminates a dependence on fossil fuel for electricity generation (France with its nuclear plants, Iceland has geothermal, feel free to add to this list), it seems likely that petroleum or natural gas will be the ultimate energy source here. And that requires adding electric-distribution losses in, and comparing it to the energy investment in the transportation and distribution of liquid fuels.

I'd really be interested in seeing a rigorous, "well to wheels" (or 'well to rails,' in the case of a train) analysis, showing what the advantage was in terms of fuel consumption for a fuel cell vehicle that's ultimately powered by a fossil-fuel energy source, and a well-designed hybrid internal-combustion/electric system. I have a feeling that a well-built diesel-electric may win out; but I'd like to see a fair comparison. I'd also like to see an economic analysis of how much each one costs right now in terms of variable input costs, and under what conditions one would become preferable to each other. (If the diesel-electric is cheaper now, would there ever be a point where petroleum gets so expensive that fuel cells are preferred? If so, when?)

I salute the Japanese for experimenting with this technology (and also on investing in a rail system that doesn't suck, which is more than I can say for the US), but I just wonder if the science and economics behind it work out.

Re:Chemical Reaction? - yes, and a very efficient (4, Informative)

grqb (410789) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118661)

Wow...pop? dissolve?

"As far as efficiency is concerned, the seperation of Hydrogen and Oxygen (by electrolysis) from water and the subsequent recombination in a fuel cell (creating electrical energy) is over 95% efficient."

Whoa! Sure that's the efficiency of electrolysis but then you have to compress and store the hydrogen (hydrogen storage is a whole thing in itself), then you have to feed it to a fuel cell that has an efficiency much less than 95%...usually less than 50% system efficiency. Overall, the total efficiency of hydrogen fuel cells is comparable to a diesel fueled vehicle, maybe even a bit less.

Of course, that's if you make the hydrogen by electrolysis. Most hydrogen comes from natural gas at the moment, which is less efficient and produces CO2.

----
theWattPodcast.com [thewattpodcast.com] - energy news and issues in an mp3

Re:Chemical Reaction? - yes, and a very efficient (1)

Blasphemy (78348) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118861)

Pop (as in boom), I guess you missed that science class. Very similar to the way methane burns (quickly and explosively).

As for dissolve... The atoms ionize at the electrodes (H gives up an electron to one electrode and O takes one from the other electrode) and dissolve into the electrolyte (which does not actually have to be liquid... It's usually some sort of gel in practical fuel cells). The electron given up by the O travels through the circuit from one electrode to the other, driving your load (i.e. doing the work).

Practically the efficiency is much less (i.e. if you actually want to do something with it). But if your load is close to zero, the temperature is low enough and you use the best materials possible (platinum infused teflon electrodes and highly concentrated KOH electrolyte, if memory serves correctly) you can get into the 95% range for efficiency. This is not practical, just possible.

Re:Chemical Reaction? - yes, and a very efficient (1)

Siffy (929793) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118944)

There's better ways to store hydrogen than compressing it like you would propane or CO2.

http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/News/2005/July/1 2070501.asp [rsc.org]

I think you'd like that short article. And maybe an article saying "screw using fossil fuels for everyfreakingthing"... at least that's my motto.

http://www.zetatalk.com/energy/tengy14r.htm [zetatalk.com]

Re:Chemical Reaction? - yes, and a very efficient (1)

TummyX (84871) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118755)


As far as efficiency is concerned, the seperation of Hydrogen and Oxygen (by electrolosis) from water and the subsequent recombination in a fuel cell (creating electrical energy) is over 95% efficient. That compares to around 30% for a good diesel engine.


WTF? But the diesel from the diesel engine is pumped out of the ground. There an energy potential in the oil. With the fuel cell, you have to use energy from somewhere (probably diesel) to make the energy potential (hydrogen). It wouldn't matter if the conversion from the hydrogen/oxygen to electricity was 100% efficient instead of 95%.

Re:Chemical Reaction? - yes, and a very efficient (1)

Blasphemy (78348) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118867)


Yes, the initial energy does have to come from somewhere. In the end, it all comes from the sun (diesel is just rotten and compressed plant matter from a long time ago).

Direct solar energy is the ideal source of the energy to separate the water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Re:Chemical Reaction? - yes, and a very efficient (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15118931)

Indeed. Japan could use any of a number of environmentally friendly but nonmobile methods (large arrays of solar cells, wind power from offshore windmills, etc.) to generate the hydrogen and oxygen, then use the fuel cells to make use of the stored energy from the hydrogen and oxygen in the train where the solar cells or windmills would be infeasible.

Re:Chemical Reaction? (1)

hungrygrue (872970) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118646)

The electron is stripped off which allows the proton to pass through the acid barrier. It then combines with Oxygen to form H2O. The electron cannot pass through the barrier, but reaches the other side at the electrode after passing through the circuit that it powers. It is a chemical reaction and does form H2O - if there were no such reaction, then there would be no energy released.

Re:Chemical Reaction? (1)

fido_dogstoyevsky (905893) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118769)

That doesn't sound right. Usually "chemical reaction" infers that new molecules will be formed. As I understand it, in the case of most fuel cells, the electron is stripped from the hydrogen to produce electricity. If these cells were utilizing the combustion of H2 and O to form H2O, wouldn't that make them a powerplant rather than fuel cells?

"Electrochemical reaction" is a subset of "chemical reaction".

If it involves the electrons of ions/atoms/molecules interacting to give a different product it's chemical. If it involves the heavy bits under the electrons it's nucular.

Re:Chemical Reaction? (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118823)

I recall some zirconia fuel cell using natural gas on one electrode and air on the other. Why do people think the gasses used have to be pure H and O, and why do people think they are completely consumed in the process? Surely propane or butane or even alcohol would make a lot more sense than hydrogen unless people are looking for a way to use pure hydrogen? Butane can almost be kept in a waxed paper bag while hydrogen diffuses through everything.

I think we all know the problem with this (2, Informative)

Baron_Yam (643147) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118488)

Fuel cells are an energy storage medium, not an energy source.

Centralizing power generation should be more efficient than millions of smaller generators all over the place.

Now, it's just a matter of finding out if generating, transporting, and storing the required hydrogen is environmentally/economically better than diesel or gasoline.

Re:I think we all know the problem with this (1)

JonathanR (852748) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118554)

Centralising power generation does not necessarily improve efficiency. A distributed combined cycle gas turbine power generator is probably the most efficient method of generating electricity from fossil fuels. These do not have to be behemoths, and thus can be part of a distributed power generation network.

Of course, if you've heard of peak oil, you'll also be soon hearing about peak gas, so it is not a panacea.

Re:I think we all know the problem with this (4, Informative)

DaoudaW (533025) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118600)

Fuel cells are an energy storage medium, not an energy source.

You are half right. Fuel cells are neither an energy storage medium nor an energy source. The source of the electricity used to hydrolyze the water is the energy source. Hydrogen is the energy storage medium The fuel cell is an energy conversion device same as an internal combustion engine except way more efficient.

Re:I think we all know the problem with this (1, Informative)

Breakfast Pants (323698) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118621)

"But I wonder how much energy did it consume to produce those huge amounts of Hydrogen & Oxygen? Will it be lesser than the power generated by the reaction between them?"
 
Not if they produced it from water...

Re:I think we all know the problem with this (2, Funny)

Jeremi (14640) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118746)

Not if they produced it from water...


Do you know some secret method for separating oxygen and hydrogen out of water that doesn't require energy? If so, please share it with me, I want to get rich :^)


But to address the question raised in the article: It most certainly did consume more energy to produce the hydrogen and oxygen than the fuel cell can recover from them. To do otherwise would be to break the laws of thermodynamics -- you can't get more energy out of a system than was already in it to start with.


The only reason people think otherwise is because they are so used to fossil fuels, where all the energy has been "put in" to the fuel for them, by millions of years of natural processing.


Sorry folks, that's the exception, not the rule. But the good news is, there is a (for all practical purposes) infinite supply of energy available to us. It's just a matter of capturing the energy as it falls from space.
 

Re:I think we all know the problem with this (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118883)

Do you know some secret method for separating oxygen and hydrogen out of water that doesn't require energy? If so, please share it with me, I want to get rich :^)

Set it out in the sun. Sure, it's using energy, but energy that would have been effectively wasted, anyhow.

Re:I think we all know the problem with this (1)

grqb (410789) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118679)

"Centralizing power generation should be more efficient than millions of smaller generators all over the place."

Really? If you distribute your power supply then you can take advantage of cogeneration...heat + power. I think the efficiency of distributed power actually goes up, the cost also goes up though.

Re:I think we all know the problem with this (1)

fm6 (162816) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118788)

You're right of course — but it's worth remembering that the same is true of fossil fuels. These difference is that fossil fuels store energy that fell on the earth in the form of sunlight millions of years ago. So it's solar power. Very green....

Re:I think we all know the problem with this (1)

cybercobra (856248) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118834)

It should definitely be cheaper to transport and store because it's much less dense than gasoline and can be stored at great pressures. Also, it might be feasible at some point to transfer power like we do now with electircal lines except much more effeciently. Instead of power lines, where a lot of energy is lost heating the lines, we could have hydrogen conduits. However, the problem would then be how to keep the pipes from breaking and what to do in the event tha they did.
I can't speak as to how effecient generating it would be, but I would hope it to be at least as good as electric power from gas/coal.
However, there are serious safety concerns. For instance, I would guess the explosion/fire from a truck carrying hydrogen to a hydrogen station to be more dangerous that it is now with gasoline. [Cue paranoid terrorist fears].

On the whole, I believe that it has considerable promise.

hmmm (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15118492)

"In other words, can this technology be used by countries with not so deep pockets as Japan?"

I think a better question would be "Why isn't the U.S. doing more to be in the forefront of promoting alternative fuel sources?

Steve,
http://tail-f.net/ [tail-f.net]

Re:hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15118519)

The US is really big, making any largescale transitions difficult and costly. And of course the oil industry has us by the neck and we're in quite a lot of debt, and our leaders are profiting greatly from the situation. But you probably knew that.

Re:hmmm (1)

hungrygrue (872970) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118690)

Not just big, but for the most part sparse. Most of the US is sprawl - extremely low population density in which every person is entirely dependant on the automobile because they do not live close to anything. Public transportation can only be done well in areas like New York, Boston, Portland OR, etc., whereas suburban and exurban areas will always be dependant on privately owned transportation - effeciency is pretty hard to achieve when each person is expected to have their own vehicle which moves them back and forth 35 miles one way to work and 15 or 20 miles to the grocery store. Rising fuel prices will make such a lifestyle increasingly hard to support. No matter how much effeciency can be squeezed out of new vehicles, it still takes a lot of power to move 3,000 pounds at 65+ mph 60+ miles a day just to get one person to and from their job.

Re:hmmm (1)

Mulligan (29951) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118900)

The ugly part is that as long as the transportation needs to be privately owned, where it goes is dependent on market forces. Acording to a book I once read, light rail becomes economical [amazon.com] with population densities greater than row-houses. IIRC, it has to do with the distance that people are willing to walk to the transit station. And you need that population density at every place that you put a station, making it infeasible for all but the largest cities.

However, if you allow the rail system to be publically funded, you can make rail/subway/hovertrain possible in less dense areas. The trick is that the environmental benefit is still dramatically less in such cities as it would be in the larger ones.

Re:hmmm (3, Interesting)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118787)

Mainly because no-one has actually come up with an alternative fuel source that's competitive with petroleum, not one that is sufficiently better than petroleum to make replacing the existing infrastructure economically viable. Remember, it's not enough that a new technology be only as good as what it is replacing ... it has to be substantially better in order to attract the investment required to switch over. Take hydrogen, for example ... our dear President keeps touting the "hydrogen economy" as a worthy goal. And maybe it is, but converting our vehicles and industrial processes to use hydrogen as a fuel instead of the various petroleum distillates currently in use would be a trillion-dollar effort, if it can even be accomplished at all. It would probably be cheaper to fight another World War.

What you really should be asking "why isn't the U.S. promoting research and development of alternative fuels capable of meeting the energy needs of a vast industrial economy that are compatible with existing power production facilities." That's a bit of a tougher nut to crack, and the answer won't something as simple as "hydrogen".

Perpetuum Mobile is back! (4, Funny)

drgonzo59 (747139) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118499)

" I wonder how much energy did it consume to produce those huge amounts of Hydrogen & Oxygen? Will it be lesser than the power generated by the reaction between them? " But of course! Now you take the energy generated and then produce more Hydrogen and Oxygen, then put it back in the cells and generate yet even more energy. The world's energy problems are solved at last! And who would have thought -- by a Japanese train and an observant Slashdotter.

Re:Perpetuum Mobile is back! (1)

Firehed (942385) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118553)

I thought we solved that problem by lighting up an LED array with solar cells that powered the array itself, with spare juice for everything else. Another idea pwned by the laws of thermodynamics. A shame, really. [Insert oblig. Simpsons quote here]

It's all in the interpretation (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15118534)

Fuel cell powered Japenese trains on Trial in July eh?

Why the fuck are these Japenese using fuel cell's, what's wrong with the normal usage of food, water, etc?

Are these bastards allowed to compete in the Olympics? Will there be tests that can finger these cheats?

What the hell is Trial? I this another Balco?

Will their fuel cells be small enough to hide in their underwear?

Is this purely for long distance running or are there advantages for the 100m dash?

Drunk enquiring minds need to know.

Good echnology applied at the wrong place (5, Interesting)

Wayne247 (183933) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118538)

Seriously, what can be possibly better than electric trains? Unless your electricity comes from coal, in which case replacing the power station to something else, say nuclear, would make more sense.

Fuel cells are useful for energy storage. Perfect to, say, drive a car for a few hours, then dump some more into your energy storage, and drive back, in any direction. Also, they're good to bring energy to remote location. Setup a quick electricity generator in the middle of nowhere. But for trains? They go on tracks, so installing a few wires isn't too expensive or difficult, making the electricity transportation far more efficient trought wires than fitting fuel cells on every locomotive, and then carrying all that hydrogen and .. sheesh!

Really, i see this as the wrong match of a technology to a need.

Re:Good echnology applied at the wrong place (4, Interesting)

fabs64 (657132) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118635)

Yeah I'm sure those quirky Japanese engineers didn't think of that! :-P

While you could be right, it's not like wired electrical trains are perfect, that wire infrastructure ISN'T simple to maintain, I witnessed that the other day when a train on my line ripped down the wires for 2 of the 3 tracks.
Also isn't power loss for DC over wires rather large? I'd think if you had an efficient way of storing and extracting that power to just carry it with the train it would be much better.
Also who knows, maybe one day all trains will become electric with this technology, even the ones in the middle of nowhere, I know that electricity had to be generated somewhere but those big power stations have a lot more potential to create clean(ish) energy than those dirty old diesel engine trains.

Re:Good echnology applied at the wrong place (2, Interesting)

Wayne247 (183933) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118657)

Right, that wire infrastructure maintenance argument makes a good case, and add to that what the article states about "improving scenery", that might be the whole motivation behind the project.

Afterall, who says this has nothing to do with environmental goals and simply a way to get their train infrastructure deeper into rural areas while mainting their high level of reliability?

If a fuel-cell train goes down you can still use the track and route around that track portion (given you have enough tracks), but if you have a power line problem, then it might bring down a whole section of your train tracks for quite some time.

Re:Good echnology applied at the wrong place (1)

NeuralAbyss (12335) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118760)

Power loss doesn't depend on AC or DC in particular. However, they do have an effect on the ease at which power can be transformed to usable voltages. Now, back to high-school electronics..

Power loss is described as follows:

P = IV

V = I/R

P = I(I/R)

P = I^2/R

Resistance (in the wires) is pretty much fixed - we can't do much about that. However, we can do something about current. If we transform the power to an insanely high voltage (say, 300-500kV), we minimise transmission loss by reducing current (Remember, P = VI, and I is inversely proportional to V).

DC is harder to transform, but with switching power supplies over the last decade or so, it's become a viable method for power transmission, especially if we're talking trains.

Re:Good echnology applied at the wrong place (1)

Cryptnotic (154382) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118835)

Except that with insanely high voltages, you get arcing across the air, no matter how big the gaps in your wires are. Imagine a tesla coil or a Jacob's ladder. So you can't realy use insanely high voltages unless you encase your wires in a vacuum.

Re:Good echnology applied at the wrong place (1)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118779)

>Also isn't power loss for DC over wires rather large?

After several steps of yes-but.

Power loss for *high current* over wires is high. So you want to transmit at high voltage, which lets you send the same power at lower current. Using AC lets you step the voltage up and down with transformers, which is drop-dead easy. Until fairly recently it was out of the question to get affordable, reliable equipment to change DC voltage at commercial power levels.

Re:Good echnology applied at the wrong place (1)

njh (24312) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118815)

Ignoring the fact that you seem to be confused about DC vs AC for transmission, modern trains generally use AC. Carrying energy makes the train subject to the rocket equation and thus more limited in efficiency.

Re:Good echnology applied at the wrong place (5, Informative)

martijnd (148684) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118641)

I think you are looking at the wrong kind of trains -- the Japanese have lots of commuter trains connecting smaller cities, and literally millions of miles of track, don't think Tokyo, think outback.

These trains are actually more like busses, they have maybe 2-4 cars and run infrequencly, so electrifying these tracks doesn't make much economic sense; or is just downright ugly and expensive to maintain. They are mostly diesel powered (with the engines located below the passenger compartments, there is no seperate loc).

For these, replacing a noisy diesel engine with much quieter electrical ones makes very good sense.

I'd guess it's for remote lines (1)

barutanseijin (907617) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118670)

Although the article doesn't say, I think these will be used for trains that run in remote or mountainous areas (e.g., the Koumi Line) which aren't so easy to electrify.

Re:Good echnology applied at the wrong place (1)

ZombieWomble (893157) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118715)

They go on tracks, so installing a few wires isn't too expensive or difficult, making the electricity transportation far more efficient trought wires than fitting fuel cells on every locomotive, and then carrying all that hydrogen and .. sheesh!

This is probably true, and is why much of the railways in Japan are already operated in this fashion, where it is viable to do so. However, unfortunately in many areas (particularly mountainous or rural areas where this technology is being introduced) the cost of setting up and maintaining a system to support electrified trains isn't as easy as you would suggest, and hence these lines have been serviced by deisel trains.

It is these lines which will be serviced by these new trains, and presumably (since Japan is not opposed to these train types) this is in fact the more practical approach - unless the company really wants to spend more money on what is, as you point out, a less environmentally sound solution. Which just doesn't make much sense whatever way you look at it.

Re:Good echnology applied at the wrong place (1)

grqb (410789) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118761)

But you'd need to lay down miles of electricity lines...that's expensive and there are lots of efficiency losses involved. Fuel cells in trains actually make more sense than they do in cars because trains are bigger and heavier so a huge heavy tank of compressed hydrogen wouldn't be all that significant. In a car, the weight of the hydrogen storage becomes a problem.

In the end, I'd rather see a diesel-electric hybrid train [thewatt.com] than a fuel cell train and I'd rather see battery electric vehicles [thewatt.com] than fuel cell vehicles. Fuel cells have will have a tricky time finding the right market...well, at least if they're trying to get into the transportation sector. Portable fuel cells for laptops should come soon.

Re:Good echnology applied at the wrong place (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118776)

Setup a quick electricity generator in the middle of nowhere. But for trains? They go on tracks, so installing a few wires isn't too expensive or difficult, making the electricity transportation far more efficient trought wires than fitting fuel cells on every locomotive, and then carrying all that hydrogen and .. sheesh!

For what its worth, most commuter trains in the US (e.g. Amtrak, Metra, etc.) run on Diesel fuel. The engine burns the fuel to produce electricity for use in an electric transmission. They used to use mechanical linkages for the transmission, but apparently it was hard to make parts that would withstand the force of over 300 kilowatts of power.

The notable exception to the use of onboard diesel engines is the San Francisco BART system, which uses an electrified third rail to transmit power to the train. However, the requirement for high speeds yet low power usage makes the system unique enough to where they've had a lot of technical problems with it. Since they don't want to be transmitting over 300KW of power through the third rail (!) the trains have to be nearly as light as the local trains are in cities like Chicago. The problem is that most local trains don't travel 70 miles an hour over long distances.

The BART third rail, BTW, is electrified at 1000 volts DC. (Which is actually rather high.) To reach the 300+ KW put out by most diesel locomotives, the rail would need to shunt 300 amps of electricity. While that's possible to do, it's one hell of a lot of electricity to be moving. Apparently, the BART system is talking about moving some of the trains to diesel power.

Re:Good echnology applied at the wrong place (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118837)

"installing a few wires isn't too expensive or difficult"

Take a look at the track lengths in Australia.

My third least favorite thing about Japan (1)

Ogemaniac (841129) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118864)

Electric wires. Everywhere. Even at the most beautiful temples. Even in front of tremendous viewpoints.

Good lord, bring on the fuel cells.

Btw, if you are wondering about the first two, they are 1: Japanese men are sexist pigs and 2: The "$"#"#$ last train runs around 11:30 pm!

Re:Good echnology applied at the wrong place (1)

AgentSmit (764269) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118875)

Seriously, what can be possibly better than electric trains? Unless your electricity comes from coal, in which case replacing the power station to something else, say nuclear, would make more sense.

Why not just install nuclear reactors on each train, just like with submarines? Maximum efficiency: bring the power source to the vehicle.

Hydrogen production (1, Troll)

distantbody (852269) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118552)

Hydrogen is best buddies with nuclear power. That's how it SHOULD be done too. The greenies can have their wind, and I shall watch them beg for my nuclear power. THAT'S satisfaction.

Energy mentioned - so the nuclear advocates came (4, Interesting)

dbIII (701233) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118873)

The greenies can have their wind
The greenies won't get their wind. The Chinese government who would most likely do nasty things to vocal greenies will be getting wind instead. Three GigaWatts is planned to be installed over the next few years for practical reasons - like a much shorter time to bring it into service than an experimental nuclear power technology. Wind may suck in comparison to a huge thermal plant, but the small unit size is an advantage if you want a short construction time or want to be able to put it anywhere.

Nuclear wants to be the one true energy monoculture - which is stupid when most of the installed plants are 1950's style economic white elephants and the newer designs like pebble bed lose the thermal energy economy of scale by having small safer units. It's a pity that the nuclear debate ranges between bare faced lies (too cheap to meter) and utter horror with little in between and so few agencies giving out real information. Find a real research reactor (clue - reasearch reactors in places like Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Israel, Nth Korea etc have a military bias) and listen to stuff that comes out of those places - they keep coming up with solutions to major problems that snake-oil salesmen trying to sell nuclear power pretend don't exist in the first place. A reasonable solution for waste storage has been worked out for a tiny fraction of the amount that was spent on advertising that nuclear power is "clean" and the stupid premise that if ash heaps at coal fired plants have traces of radioactivity then it's OK for nuclear power to spread radioactive waste about instead of constructively dealing with the problem.

electric pollution? (3, Insightful)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118566)

will help reduce environmental pollution compared to the existing electric and diesel engines


hold on a sec.... Electric train engines produce pollution? How is that possible?

Granted, a fair amount of power is lost in the transmission lines, but given that they're run at such a high voltage to begin with, that shouldn't be a huge issue (P=I^2*R). Is more power lost in the transmission process than the process necessary to manufacture and produce all this hydrogen and oxygen?

Fuel Cells are nifty as an energy storage medium, but for trains, they seem wholly inappropriate, especially when electric trains eliminate the need for a storage medium at all (and in a country as densly populated as Japan, this shouldn't be an issue at all)

Re:electric pollution? (4, Informative)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118629)

I think by "diesel and electric" they mean "diesel-electric". Basically, a diesel engine (usually with separate cylinders which can be independently replaced) drives an electric generator, or bank thereof. This in turn is used to provide power to electric motors which provide motive force for the train. The benefit is that by doing this you eliminate the need for a drivetrain, gearbox, and so on. Thus, the total weight is not changed much, but you get peak starting torque (electric motors make peak torque at 0 rpm) and you aren't constantly replacing gearboxes, drivelines, clutches, et cetera, as you would be if you were trying to put all that power through a conventional drive system. Of course, it's not exceptionally efficient. At best, the generator might be 90% efficient, and so might the drive motors, and the most efficient internal combustion engine in the world is a diesel the size of a house in a container ship that's only 50% efficient... the engines in trains are probably pretty efficient (another benefit is being able to run the engine in its powerband most of the time, except when it's running at low power and maybe at max load) but they're not even 50%.

Re:electric pollution? (1)

AvitarX (172628) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118634)

I wonder if the article is confused, in that most diesel trains actualy power an electric motor.

Re:electric pollution? (3, Insightful)

jrockway (229604) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118640)

No, there are plenty of rural areas in Japan that (still) use diesel locomotives to move trains. Fuel-cell powered trains would be practical in these locations.

everybody pollutes (1)

TheAxeMaster (762000) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118659)

There is no system where there is no loss, but I think he was trying to lump coal-generated electricity into that statement. The reality is that the electricity to produce the hydrogen probably came from a coal fired plant anyway. Though I would venture a guess that there is less power loss by creating H2 at a factory and piping it to wherever you need it rather than pushing electricity over lines. Total energy cost is harder to predict though and most people rarely take into account needing to truck the stuff around, the extra energy required to carry the fuel, etc. etc. There's no way you're going to get that much info out of a short news clip.

Question is how you produce the electric power (1)

barutanseijin (907617) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118705)

If you're burning oil or coal, you're definitely getting a dose of pollution, just not where you're using the electricity. Given the inefficiencies in generation and transmission, you're actually getting more pollution, only in a (perhaps) less visible and more centralised fashion.

The same holds true for nuclear energy, but if you're catching lightning in a bottle or using interns or hamsters to power your generators, you're probably OK.

Conventional Electrification (1)

JonathanR (852748) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118579)

I would have though conventional railway electrification would be a better, more cost effective solution. You can make use of regenerative braking this way, as you've got a load sink to return your kinetic energy to.

Of course I haven't read the article, but I can't imagine where you'd send your regenerative braking power in this application. I'd guess that it would go the same way as a diesel-electric locomotive - dissipated as heat through a resistor load bank. What a waste.

Re:Conventional Electrification (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15118633)

This more detailed article states it does use regenerative breaking. http://www.treehugger.com/files/2006/04/post_30.ph p [treehugger.com]

Re:Conventional Electrification (1)

Kangburra (911213) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118669)

Of course I haven't read the article
Well of course not, this is /. ;-)

Re:Conventional Electrification (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15118822)

Who says you can't use regenerative breaking with fuel cells? Run it back through the fuel cell and store it as hydrogen again. And if the fuel cells don't like that, use a capacitor bank

Some more details (4, Interesting)

maggard (5579) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118587)

The linked story is pretty short on details, Google [google.com] has a lot more articles.

Summarized this is a test vehicle being used on a non-electrified line in a mountainous region. The advantages are less local pollution (which can be a significant issue in mountainous regions where diesel exhaust can linger or even concentrate in valleys) and no large capitol investment in line electrification & maintenance. A side benefit is the advantages of an electrical train without power lines intruding into the landscape.

As a regular user of urban commuter rail service this sounds like an interesting development. The cost of electrifying a rail line is prohibitive yet the all-electric engines are quieter and less polluting, a big sell in expanding service in urban & ex-urban areas. Technology like this could certainly quiet the complaints of many neighbors as well as improve the air quality near central stations.

Re:Some more details (1)

Forbman (794277) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118731)

no large capitol investment in line electrification & maintenance.

They *could* just do the third-rail trick as per NYC, Chicago, etc. subway systems, and that would eliminate the overhead catenary lines.

Re:Some more details (1)

RollingThunder (88952) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118793)

Not exactly feasible in the wilderness, unless you're looking for a bumper crop of pre-cooked trackkill.

3rd rail is not an acceptable substitute (1)

maggard (5579) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118809)

They *could* just do the third-rail trick as per NYC, Chicago, etc. subway systems, and that would eliminate the overhead catenary lines.
Yes, except that would be incompatible with most railway designs whereas the fuel-cell models are drop-in replacements for diesels. Also you'd still be stuck with the huge cost of electrifying the line.

Then there's the problem of many railway lines not being secured along their length like the systems you're referring to. It'd be rather ugly the first time some person or other large animal crossed a 3rd rail, at a grade crossing or otherwise...

length(Summary)/legth(Article) ... (1)

DieByWire (744043) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118590)

once again approaches one.

Editors - how about feeding us some articles with some real info in them? There just might be some technical people in this crowd who'd read them.

Obey the Law!! (of Conservation of Energy) (2, Insightful)

scovetta (632629) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118592)

Alright, everyone's going to jump down the guy's throat for:

But I wonder how much energy did it consume to produce those huge amounts of Hydrogen & Oxygen? Will it be lesser than the power generated by the reaction between them?

However, I think we should question the efficiency of this. If it takes X amount of energy to run a normal train, but 4X to produce the fuel cell, then is that really a good thing? It's like people saying that electric cars are so much better for the environment. Instead of burning gasoline, you burn coal (or whatever) in the power plants. Is the efficiency of a power plant really so much better than your car?

I don't know the answer to that, but I'm sure there's a /.er out there with some nice statistics for us all.

Re:Obey the Law!! (of Conservation of Energy) (1)

Bifurcati (699683) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118677)

I, indeed, was going to make several sarcastic comments about this unfortunate statement. However, I'll let that lie (merely reflecting on the importance of science education...in Australia we're required to study English literature until we're 17 - but maths and science only until we're 14. Makes you wonder...

Anyway, my real comment is that AFAIK there's going to be very little (energetic) advantage in using a fuel cell train over an electric train. On the one hand, if you need to use power lines to get the electricity to the train, you (potentially) have a lot of losses there. But on the other hand, separating, storing and transporting the fuel cells will require energy too, and I find it hard to believe there's a significant advantage.

Possibly longer term, if you don't have to build the power line infrastructure for the trains, you might save money/time/energy, but it really seems like fuel cell buses would be a better bet. But then, why not go for electric buses anyway? According to one of the researchers I work with, batteries don't actually have that bad an efficiency compared to hydrogen cells, and they're certainly cheaper at the moment, although I think size and weight are the main factors.

Re:Obey the Law!! (of Conservation of Energy) (1)

hungrygrue (872970) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118737)

The real advantage of hydrogen over batteries is charge time. It is a whole lot quicker to fill up tanks than to recharge battery packs.

Re:Obey the Law!! (of Conservation of Energy) (4, Interesting)

Forbman (794277) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118723)

Except that at least in the case of Japan, they have a lot of neukular power plants. It could be that they siphon the hydrogen and LOX off of the liquid gas extraction plants next to a couple of steel mills that are relatively close to the rail yard.

Much like biodiesel from recycled french fry oil doesn't scale, this method may not scale either, but it's good to actually have one to see how it pans out in real-world service.

It's no different really than Union Pacific's experiments with gas turbine locomotives, or US and European experiments with steam turbine locos, closed-cycle steam locos, etc.

I think more interesting will be how GE Locomotive's hybrid diesel-electrics work out. If the battery pack had enough amp-hours to replace one locomotive from the consist as a large train tries to power up a mountain grade, then perhaps it'll really justify itself. Of course, it won't work out on lines with multiple grades right after another (Appalachians?), but up places like Cajon Pass it might be beneficial.

Is the efficiency of a power plant really so much better than your car?
Yes, from a thermodynamic perspective it is, as well as economy of scale-wise. The coal plant is running at a steady state, and the average car engine does not. The Otto cycle engine's advantage is its flexible power output curve, which is needed for cars, especially in urban driving. Supplant a smaller displacement Otto-cycle engine that meets the power needs of the car to cruise at 70mph on the flats with an electric assist motor (instant full torque) and battery pack, and you kind of get the best of both worlds without trying to make the gas engine too complicated (i.e., variable displacement, etc).

Re:Obey the Law!! (of Conservation of Energy) (3, Insightful)

evilviper (135110) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118870)

If it takes X amount of energy to run a normal train, but 4X to produce the fuel cell, then is that really a good thing?

More energy is still cheaper and more "green" if you are getting it from nuclear, hydro, wind, solar, etc. It's also trivially easy to charge them off-peak, when the energy is cheaper to produce because it's available in excess.

4X wouldn't be a good number, but even 2X would work-out just fine, and there's no reason to assume it's anywhere near that bad, anyhow.

Instead of burning gasoline, you burn coal (or whatever) in the power plants. Is the efficiency of a power plant really so much better than your car?

Yes, it certainly is. Even when you count the line losses, charger losses, battery losses, etc., you still come out ahead of burning gasoline directly. Besides that, your car doesn't have complex exhaust filtering and control systems, as power plants do. And, NIMBY should apply here, since the power plants can be far away from you, and polluting where there are far, far fewer people to be affected by it.

Electric cars would likely be charged at night, as well, when a much lower percentage of that power is comming from coal, and more is comming from hydro, wind, etc.

No statistics from me. I've posted them to /. plenty of times before, and don't feel like looking them up yet again.

Re:Obey the Law!! (of Conservation of Energy) (1)

Phroggy (441) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118913)

I live in the Portland (Oregon) area; most of our electricity here comes from hydroelectric dams.

What's it called? (3, Funny)

slashbob22 (918040) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118614)

Well, sir, there's nothing on earth
Like a genuine,
Bona fide,
Electrified,
Six-car
Monorail! ...

Re:What's it called? (1)

ShyGuy91284 (701108) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118704)

Is there any chance the track could bend?

Re:What's it called? (1)

Solra Bizna (716281) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118957)

Not on your life, my Hindu friend!

-:sigma.SB

hydrogen economy (3, Informative)

perrin5 (38802) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118636)

Having spent a lot of time analyzing the hydrogen economy in terms of generation, this topic is near and dear to my heart.

Hydrogen is a method of TRANSPORTING and STORING energy. It is not a solution to energy generation. As a storage and transport method, IMSO (S=Scientific), it is not particularly cost effective, and has as much potential for unforseen concequenses as any other untested energy method.

That said, I am highly in favor of fuel cells in general, and am happy to see them adopted more often.

In relation to the question asked about poorer countries, I would also hasten to point out that the fuel cells themselves are expensive, as they require (I believe) a platinum catalyst.

That is all.

JR and wrong priorities (1)

Neo-Rio-101 (700494) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118678)

While I'm all for fuel cells and cleaner use of energy, if it's one thing that most Japanese people want from their trains is NOT for them to use cleaner energy, but for the damn things to be BIGGER.

Nobody wants to get crushed in the morning by hundreds of alcohol reeking salary men storming onto the morning rush hour train every day. Nobody should have to put up with being fondled and "fart in the elevator" scenarios either, simply because the train is too small to handle the number of people it attempts to daily.

Hydrogen production (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15118684)

But I wonder how much energy did it consume to produce those huge amounts of Hydrogen & Oxygen?

Here in Canada, there's a lot of potential power that is let go through our hydro-electric dams at night due to the less demand at that time of the day. Instead of "wasting" that energy, you could produce quite a bit hydrogen that could be used for fuel cells or hydrogen driven cars.

Then there's always the sun, nuclear power, wind power etc.

Thermodynamics (3, Informative)

Blackeagle_Falcon (784253) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118720)

"But I wonder how much energy did it consume to produce those huge amounts of Hydrogen & Oxygen? Will it be lesser than the power generated by the reaction between them?"

First law of thermodynamics says . . . NO!

And as Homer Simpson put it, "In this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!"

Alternative fuels are energy transport, not source (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118742)

It is absolutely meaningless to contemplate any feasible fuel alternative to gasoline as anything other than an energy transport mechanism, if you want it to be renewable. By very definition, you can't get more energy out of a system than is put in. Our fossil fuels represent millions of years of stored solar power, for example, and we just don't have millions of years to let potential fuels develop.

So.. for hydrogen as fuel, there's going to be more energy consumed in its making, than would be available to be extracted by the car. And, there are many studies that indicate that ethanol has a similar problem.

The only near term way either works is either by using coal plants or nuclear plants to produce it. Thus far, nuclear seems to be the preferred alternative, because, even if you take into account a periodic chernobyl sized disaster, nuclear power remains safer than fossil fuels when you correctly factor in the true costs of fossil fuels - greenhouse gasses, their own radioactive releases, mercury, etc. Natural gas is not an option, because, we are running out of that too. So really, to understand the cars of the future, you can't ask how the economics work versus gasoline, you have to ask, how do the economics work with other energy transport mechanisms, such as batteries, and have to accept that our energy portfolio needs to be nuclear, unless, barring some minor miracle, ITER actually works and we can start building fusion plants down the road.

But... (3, Insightful)

mark-t (151149) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118781)

"But I wonder how much energy did it consume to produce those huge amounts of Hydrogen & Oxygen? Will it be lesser than the power generated by the reaction between them?"
Of course not.

But that's largely irrellevant if the energy to produce them was derived from an energy source that is not exausted by use, such as solar, hydro, or geothermal sources.

Re:But... (1)

slughead (592713) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118936)

Where does the electricity to use for electrolysis come from?

Fossile fuels (wait, wouldn't that defeat the purpose?), nuclear (misguided eco-nuts are against it), or solar (I'm pretty sure hampsters on wheels with dynamos are more cost-effective).

I never understood how the mass media has no grasp of thermodynamics. You only need to memorize 2 stinkin words to undertand our energy problems: ENTROPY and CONSERVATION.

1. Entropy: Physics is out to screw over the environment by making EVERYTHING less than 100% efficient
2. Conservation: You can't get somethin' from nothin; no such thing as a free lunch; if I eat 2 tacos, I'm not going to take 3 dumps; etc.

A train or a space ship (0, Flamebait)

suv4x4 (956391) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118783)

You gotta give the Japan people props about their notorious trains, because they're not trains, they're, I don't know, space ships.

How many G does a passenger feel as the "train" accelerates? I mean, some of them look up side down [hindu.com] I wonder if the seats are on the roofs?

Also most of them don't actually touch the rails they fly on a magnetic fields or something, right?

Do passengers have to pass a special [nasa.gov] training [com.com] to ride on one of those trains?

Has it happened that a Japanese train can't take a corner and just flies off [japanbbs.org] never to be seen anymore?

Anyhow, I bet they are really proud of their trains, and they have to. Good luck with hydrogen bomb ones as well!

I mean hydrogen fuel cell, sorry.

Rich People should do stupid, inefficient things? (4, Insightful)

Phat_Tony (661117) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118826)

"But I wonder how much energy did it consume to produce those huge amounts of Hydrogen & Oxygen? Will it be lesser than the power generated by the reaction between them? In other words, can this technology be used by countries with not so deep pockets as Japan?"

What, rich people should do things that are economically stupid?

It's not about this being stupidly inefficient, yet Japan can afford to do it anyway because they're rich. The question is, which is a more efficient use of electricity (or, more generally,. resources), running an electric train, or running a hydrogen/oxygen fuel cell train? Whether you're rich or poor, you should still use the technology that works best for you.

I think it might have occurred to someone in Japan to check and see if this is better than running a conventional electric train in otherwise similar conditions before building it. Although it's quite possible they didn't care. It could be like ethanol [wikipedia.org] in the US, which is used for political reasons, not because it's an efficient way to improve the environment. Depending on who's counting, it generates between .7 and 1.5 times as much power as it consumes to make. We could reduce pollution (including carbon emissions) much more by spending the money we spend on ethanol on nuclear power, solar arrays, or wind power. Ethanol fuel, in it's present state, is government graft to benefit corn farmers and ease the conscience of environmentalists who don't understand it.

I am interested to know if this train really is about a great new technology for saving the environment, or a political ambition.

What did they do? (4, Funny)

no reason to be here (218628) | more than 8 years ago | (#15118899)

Fuel Cell Powered Japanese Trains on Trial in July

What are they on trial for?

Huh? Ohhhhhh....
Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>