The Top 3 by E3

Hydrogen as a Vehicle Fuel

August 19, 2021 E3 Consulting Season 1 Episode 5
The Top 3 by E3
Hydrogen as a Vehicle Fuel
Show Notes Transcript

In the third episode of the hydrogen series that is part of The Top Three by E3, Ginger Elbaum, managing director of E3, and Al Rettenmaier head of E3's oil, gas, and chemicals practice,  discuss hydrogen as a vehicle fuel. 

During this episode, Al and Ginger look at the use of hydrogen as a vehicle fuel, discussing where the market is at, where the market is expected to go, and what types of vehicles are available at this time.    

Please join Al and Ginger for their discussion! 

Ginger Elbaum (10s):
Welcome to The Top Three by E3 a monthly podcast about the intersection between engineering energy and project finance. My name is Ginger Elbaum, managing director at E3 and I'll be your host today. And today I'm joined by Al Rettenmaier head of E3's oil, gas, and chemicals practice. Welcome, Al.

Al Rettenmaier (25s):
Thanks, Ginger. Very happy to be here today.

Ginger Elbaum (28s):
Well, we're happy to have you. I'm looking forward to today's topic. Tell us what we're going to be talking about.

Al Rettenmaier (33s):
Well, today is our third podcast about hydrogen and we're going to discuss hydrogen as a vehicle fuel. So we'll focus on that. Now in the last podcast, we discussed the production of green hydrogen. And to me, one of the coolest things about hydrogen is that you can use just sunlight as an energy source and you can produce hydrogen with electrolysis, and then you can put that hydrogen in a vehicle and drive around. And it seems to me it's like the perfect space fuel, you know, for when we send people to Mars, we'll all be able to make our own hydrogen and drive around.

Ginger Elbaum (1m 10s):
I think it's so cool. I mean, science is amazing. It's amazing. I love it.

Al Rettenmaier (1m 15s):
I do too. So glad I'm a science-oriented person. But seriously, hydrogen is a vehicle fuel and it is something that large companies are really looking at hard now and they have been for a few years. In fact, today you can buy a hydrogen vehicle from Toyota, Honda, or Hyundai. They all make hydrogen vehicles. And depending on where you live, you can drive that new car down to a filling station and fill it up with hydrogen.

Ginger Elbaum (1m 45s):
I did not realize that you could, as an individual, go buy a hydrogen vehicle. You see hydrogen buses and things like that, but you know, some mass transportation, but that's interesting. That's neat. So, so how much hydrogen does it take to fill up?

Al Rettenmaier (2m 3s):
Well, it's a good question. It takes about five or six kilograms of hydrogen to fill your tank. And with that, you'll have a range of about 300 to 400 miles, depending on a number of factors: the efficiency of your particular vehicle, the conditions, if you're going up the mountain or down the mountain. And the nice thing about it is you can fill that vehicle up with five to six kilograms in about five minutes. So it doesn't take very long and that's unlike electric vehicles, which take hours to charge. And of course, they're all working on that, trying to streamline the charging process for electric vehicles.

Al Rettenmaier (2m 46s):
But today, if you want a short trip to the gas station or filling station or charging station, hydrogen is probably the way to go. Now, the other thing you might not know, but you can buy other vehicles today. In fact, it's pretty common that forklifts are powered with hydrogen. And if you think about it, most forklifts operate, you know, within a building or a warehouse. And the real advantage with hydrogen is that there are no exhaust fumes, no smoke from the engine and they actually produce only water vapor. So that makes for a very friendly environment in the building and warehouse, if you just take that concept a step further, you know, you can extend it to some of these large ports.

Al Rettenmaier (3m 31s):
Like I think the largest port we have supports Los Angeles and there's a lot of vehicle traffic in a very congested area and that could be converted to hydrogen and really would make for a better environment, right?

Ginger Elbaum (3m 45s):
Your indoor air quality. Well, and you know, at the port, obviously your outdoor air quality. That's interesting. I did not know that.

Al Rettenmaier (3m 52s):
Right. And then another step further there are companies like Nikola One, who's developing long haul tractor-trailer trucks, which run on hydrogen. So you can imagine that that truck will pick up a container at the Port of Los Angeles and, and someday we'll be able to drive clear across the country using only hydrogen as fuel. And, and that's kind of nice, you know, you can imagine the whole trip would be on renewable.

Ginger Elbaum (4m 22s):
Yeah, that's neat. That's interesting. So, so how, you know, how does the hydrogen work in the vehicle?

Al Rettenmaier (4m 28s):
Okay, good question. Yes. So when we think about hydrogen as a vehicle fuel, most of the focus is on using fuel cells as a means of converting hydrogen into electricity. And so then you drive a motor, whether it's one on each wheel or maybe a central motor. And that whole thing is a very efficient process. And that's you contrast that with, you know, if you were to use hydrogen as a combustion fuel, that certainly will combust, you can imagine that you could inject that into your motor, your, your existing combustion engine and power your engine similar to the way we do with gasoline. However, the advantage with fuel cells is that they're, they're almost 60% efficient in converting hydrogen and combustion engines are only about 20% efficient.

Al Rettenmaier (5m 18s):
Yeah. So, so anyway, so the bottom line is a hydrogen fuel cell converts hydrogen to electricity, and then that's used to drive a motor in the vehicle and, and make the cargo. We talked about electrolysis last time when we were talking about making green hydrogen and the fuel cell is essentially an electrolysis system that runs in reverse. So you're feeding in air, in this case, and hydrogen, and then they react and, and what you generate are electrons, which, which are then available to drive the motor. The great thing about this whole process is the only by-product you get is water vapor and you get electrons.

Al Rettenmaier (5m 58s):
So, so we're seeing a lot of development, a lot of interest in hydrogen as a fuel for vehicles. One term you'll hear is people will talk about fuel cell electric vehicles. And that's what we're talking about. Really. So these are electric vehicles, but they have an onboard fuel cell that makes the electricity. Yeah. So that's a good question,

Ginger Elbaum (6m 18s):
You know, is hydrogen better than just electricity for vehicles? 

Al Rettenmaier (6m 23s):
To my mind, I think hydrogen has more promise as a fuel because of the distribution. One of the things that's a concern about electric vehicles is that there's a lot of infrastructure -  transmission lines and power generation and so forth. That that has to be built to get electricity to the electrical vehicles, charging stations, you know, whether this is at your house, whether this is at a station or at your work, even if you think about truck traffic or long haul a Love's truck stop, or one of those Big Buc ee's trucks for one of those truck stops.

Al Rettenmaier (7m 8s):
In addition to corn nuts, you know, they're going to need about 200 megawatts, about a 200-megawatt connection to the grid. And then there are all the transmission lines that have to feed that electricity and it has to be generated. And it takes a long time to charge those batteries. Like I said, hours, you're going to be eating those corn nuts inside most likely. And that's a lot of electricity to run out on a transmission, like, like to the middle of Kansas, to fuel all those tracks. So the nice thing about hydrogen is, is you can store it on board in your tank, obviously, and then you can pipeline it. And so we have a vast network of pipelines in this country.

Al Rettenmaier (7m 48s):
So that's, that's something you can imagine, can be adapted. In fact, our natural gas pipelines could even be converted to hydrogen. And I want to bring up another point. There is a potential for a hybrid fuel cell electric vehicle.  You can also have a big battery on board and you can run on battery power and then switch over to hydrogen. So you could actually run your battery down and then switch to hydrogen and keep going. So there's, there's a lot of potential for the integration of hydrogen and electricity and vehicles.

Ginger Elbaum (8m 24s):
Oh, that's interesting. Well, so thinking about the combustion engine versus hydrogen, are there filling stations now for hydrogen? How does that work?

Al Rettenmaier (8m 35s):
Yes, there are. In fact, you can find a nice video on YouTube about the experience of filling up your hydrogen vehicle. There's a number in California, and then there's a number on that on the east coast. And if you just Google or search for hydrogen fuel stations, that will show you a map of where they're all located. So it's getting more prevalent and the fact that you can store about five to six kilograms reasonably well is, is important. So you have that range and I want to talk about the tank a little bit, cause it's kind of a very unique tank with hydrogen.

Al Rettenmaier (9m 17s):
You have to store it at a very high pressure to get the energy density. So it's 10,000 PSI G very high pressure, and they have these specially constructed tanks, which are, are constructed out of a metal inner tank. And then it's surrounded by an outer kind of jacket that's made out of very strong plastic. So it keeps it from rupturing and, and, and makes it very safe. But of course, all those connections are specially constructed. They certainly don't want to link, but contrasting, you know, hydrogen versus gasoline is a fuel, you know, we drive around with 15 gallons of fuel of gasoline in our cars all the time.

Al Rettenmaier (9m 59s):
And it's amazing what 15 gallons of gasoline, what the damage that can do. And, you know, we've made that a very safe process. And I think the hydrogen will be also a very safe process. The one thing that I would be concerned about is hydrogen leaking inside of an enclosed space. In fact, like in your garage, because it has such a wide range of flammability. So there's probably going to be special sensors that you'll have to detect a leak. And then also, you know, you would want probably to have a vent on your garage. Yeah. So to kind of sum up, you know, today's discussion is that we're seeking is a way to use renewable energy to drive our vehicles.

Al Rettenmaier (10m 47s):
Hydrogen really affords that as well as electricity. So as we go forward, it's going to be interesting to see how each one develops and, you know, the market will decide which way we go, but both options are on the table. I think it's going to be a battle of the infrastructure. You know, whether you're going to install the electrical and infrastructure, are you going to install a pipeline infrastructure that hydrogen, if you think about it, whatever building you're sitting in probably has a natural gas line running to it. So it would be thinking of our natural gas distribution system in this country that basically goes from, you know, from the wellhead into every corner of our society. And I could see hydrogen becoming that in the future.

Ginger Elbaum (11m 31s):
That's interesting, those are some great takeaways out, and I love this topic. I think it's, it's fascinating. It is fascinating. You know, I mean, we, we, we've taken a look at electric vehicles as well here at E3. 

So I think it's all interesting and very relevant to today's times. Thanks all for coming on. You know, I appreciate you continuing to keep us updated and educating us regarding hydrogen. Thanks for joining today's session. We hope there were some pearls of wisdom and just some interesting takeaways from today's today's session. If you have any questions for us regarding hydrogen or other oil, gas, and chemicals topics, or, you know, even if you have any other topics that you'd like for us to cover during our podcast, we'd be happy to hear from you.

Ginger Elbaum (12m 20s):
Please reach out to us at And again, thank you for listening and Al thank you for being here.