It's a battery!
Posted by aogFriday, 07 January 2005 at 19:49 TrackBack Ping URL

Orrin Judd has posted yet another fuel cell article. I lost it on this when one when it got to this:

At $400 per kilowatt – nearly one-tenth the cost of power-generating fuel cells currently sold on the market – fuel cells would compete with traditional gas turbine and diesel electricity generators and become viable power suppliers for the transportation sector.

In how many ways is this wrong?

  1. A standard car battery can deliver ten kilowatts(electricity) and it’s a lot less than $4000 dollars.
  2. “Kilowatt” is a measure of power, not energy. This means that it doesn’t matter if that kilowatt is for 1 hour or 1 microsecond. It’s still a kilowatt (that’s why your electric bill is measured in kilowatt-hours).
  3. A fuel cell is a battery, not a generator. It should be compared against other batteries, such as lead-acid batteries, not generators. There are two reasons for this.
    • Fuel cells, as batteries, need to get their charge from somewhere else.
    • There is a big difference in the ease of charging between a generator and a battery.

There are three major errors in just that one paragraph. But, it gets worse.

Fuel cells are one of the most attractive future power generating technologies because they produce virtually none of the air pollutants associated with conventional power plants.

Uh, where do the fuel cells get their charge? Most likely from conventional power plants.

When powered by fossil fuels such as natural gas

Other fossils fuels? As far as I know, natural gas is the only option for direct powering. Other fossil fuels require processing which requires power from … conventional power plants!

fuel cells operate at such high fuel-to-power efficiencies that they also dramatically reduce the release of greenhouse carbon gases.

Only if you don’t count any other energy cycle costs, as exemplified by the next item:

Ultimately fuel cells powered by pure hydrogen will produce electricity and heat with only water as a byproduct.

And that hydrogen will come from…where, exactly? Are there big hydrogen reserves just waiting to be tapped? Maybe they’ll sink a bit into the Sun — it’s got plenty of free hydrogen.