Imagine if all the vehicles in the world could run using a pollution free energy source. This is no science fiction. Researchers from Stanford are just working towards this solution to look at making hydrogen fuel cells. Hydrogen would be pumped into fuel cells and the hydrogen would reacts with oxygen to produce water and energy. A chemical reaction rather than a combustion mechanism and this would be pollution free. A similar mechanism is already followed by plants to make energy by the process of photosynthesis.
Stanford researchers in the article on June 24 in the journal Science say that that such a conversion "would improve air quality, health and climate"-especially if wind were used to generate the electricity needed to split water and make hydrogen in a pollution less process".
"Converting all the current vehicles to fuel cell vehicles powered by wind would save 3,000 to 6,000 lives in the United States annually, and it could be done at a fuel cost thats comparable to the cost of gasoline, and less than the cost of gasoline when you consider the health effects of gasoline," said Jacobson, who has no financial interest in any wind or hydrogen endeavor but whose commitment to clean air.
Mark Z. Jacobson is an Associate Professor and he along with his graduate student Whitney Goldsborough Colella (both in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department) and Consulting Professor David M. Golden (Mechanical Engineering Department) report that annually such a conversion could prevent millions of cases of respiratory illness and tens of thousands of hospitalizations and save more lives than were lost in the World Trade Center attacks.
The work is sponsored by the Global Climate and Energy Project at Stanford and by NASA, the Science study compared emissions that would be produced in five cases--if all vehicles on the road were powered by:
1) conventional internal-combustion engines,
2) A combination of electricity and internal combustion of gasoline, as in hybrid vehicles,
3) Hydrogen generated from wind electrolysis,
4) Hydrogen generated from natural gas
5) Hydrogen generated from coal gasification.
"Wind is the most promising means of generating hydrogen", said Jacobson.
"Switching from a fossil-fuel economy to a hydrogen economy would be subject to technological hurdles, the difficulty of creating a new energy infrastructure, and considerable conversion costs but could provide health, environmental, climate and economic benefits and reduce the reliance on diminishing oil supplies," the Stanford authors wrote.
"Going down the hydrogen pathway is a good thing overall and its a practical thing, and its going to be beneficial in terms of air pollution and climate and health," Jacobson said.
The hydrogen economy is surely on the horizon with California already has several hydrogen filling stations. Most car manufacturers have prototype hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. California even has a test fleet of hydrogen buses.
An interesting aspect discussed was about the concern about hydrogen's explosiveness, Jacobson said "another property of hydrogen - its lightness--may lessen this danger". He gave an example of two cars "one conventional, one hydrogen-powered that were hit from behind. The car powered by an internal combustion engine became engulfed in flames when its gas tank was punctured. But when the hydrogen cars fuel cell was punctured, since hydrogen is 14 times lighter than air, the flames just shot straight up. The car was saved"
"We believe the results are conservative since health costs associated mostly with particles are now thought to be greater than those used in our study," Jacobson said. "In addition, in the future we will have more fossil [fuel] vehicles than we currently have. So the future health benefit of switching will be greater than in our current study, which assumes an instantaneous switch."
News Service website:
Stanford Report (university newspaper):
Dawn Levy, News Service: 650-725-1944, [email protected]
Mark Z. Jacobson, Civil and Environmental Engineering: 650-723-6836, [email protected]