What about Hydrogen?

Last spring the New Brunswick government created a committee with a mandate to make recommendations on how the province should respond to the threat of climate change. The committee sought input from both expert witnesses and the general public. I prepared both a written brief and made a presentation to the committee – simply as a concerned citizen. Here is an excerpt from my brief on a topic which I have not posted on previously.

What about Hydrogen?

Electric vehicles (EV) also include a category of vehicle which uses a tank of compressed hydrogen as the main energy store rather than a battery. These are known as fuel cell vehicles (FCV). The fuel cell component in a FCV uses hydrogen to create electricity which is then used to power an electric motor. The primary advantage FCV have over BEV is a faster refuelling time. The fastest chargers so far still require 30-60 minutes to fully recharge the battery in a BEV. Refilling the hydrogen tank of a FCV requires about the same amount of time needed to refill the tank of a gasoline/diesel vehicle.

While having the advantage of quicker refuelling, FCVs have a long list of disadvantages:
1. Most hydrogen is produced using a fossil fuel: natural gas.
2. The energy requirements to create, compress, distribute, and convert to electricity make hydrogen 2-3 times more expensive as a fuel source than simply charging a battery.
3. The hydrogen molecule is very small hence difficult to contain.
4. Hydrogen is explosive and burns with an invisible flame.
5. FCVs must fill from a hydrogen filling station. Most of the time, BEVs are charged overnight at home.
6. A FCV must have access to a hydrogen filling station locally and where ever it goes. A BEV can be easily charged at home and, given enough time, anywhere else with a basic electrical outlet.
7. Estimates for installing a hydrogen filling station range in the area of $1–2 million. Estimates for high-speed BEV chargers are roughly in the $30-60 thousand dollar range. 

One of the largest proponents of fuel cell vehicles is the automotive giant Toyota. Toyota has worked on the development of FCVs for 23 years and invested several billions of dollars. As of May 2016 only 210 of Toyota’s flagship FCV, the Mirai, have been sold in the US and all of those were sold in California, the only state with hydrogen filling stations.

So I couldn’t find much to recommend about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. In fact, since I wrote my brief, sales of battery electric vehicles (like my Leaf) increased by over 7,000. During that period maybe a few dozen Toyota Mirai were sold in the US. Also during that period, Toyota’s fuel cell technology partners, Honda and Hyundai, have hedged their bets by announcing battery electric vehicles of their own.

Of course, you never know. Fuel cell technology could surprise everyone and make a break through which resolves all or most of its issues.  While you’re waiting for that miracle, may I suggest a nice Leaf, Bolt or Model 3?


What’s the big deal about global warming?

I recently read Six Degrees: Our Future On A Hotter Planet published in 2008.  The author, the highly acclaimed Mark Lynas, uses straightforward terms to describe the effect of global warming. The sources for his book are peer-reviewed, scientific articles published by relevant experts.

If you need motivation to act in the fight against global warming, then this is the book for you. The book is available at amazon.ca.  If you’d rather watch the movie than read the book then you’re in luck; watch National Geographic’s “Six Degrees Could Change the World”.  

Here is my ultra-short summary of the book. As you read it, keep in mind that implementing the Paris agreement will only limit us to 3.5C of global warming, not the necessary goal of less than 2C. We could see up to 4C of warming by 2050.  


0.8C of warming.

Today.  Longer droughts, more destructive storms, more intense heat waves and some ocean rise.


1C of warming.

More severe storms, more drought, more heat waves and some more ocean rise.


2C of warming

Even more of above. Over 1/3 of all species committed to extinction by 2050.  Complete loss of summer north pole ice cap which increases warming because ice reflects solar heat & water absorbs it.


3C of warming.

Even more of above. Start of a new type of storm: category 6 super-hurricanes. Tens of millions of climate refugees move north to find food due to extreme drought and heat. Mid-west USA returns to dust-bowl of 1930’s but this time it’s permanent.  Drought causes loss of Amazon rain forest (which produces 20% of world’s oxygen). Overheated soil bacteria go into overdrive and release huge amounts of carbon dioxide which is likely to push us to four degrees of warming.


4C of warming.

North Pole almost ice-free. Collapse of Greenland ice sheet. Antarctic ice sheets start to collapse. Melt water pushes sea levels up by as much as one meter every 20 years.  Major coastal cities flood, including New York. Half of world’s food baskets turn to deserts. Sub-arctic land warms up enough to grow crops but most is highly unsuitable for crops. Mass starvation is a danger for most the world’s population.  Back-to-nature survivalists find there is no nature to retreat to as millions leave cities. Thawing of huge permafrost bogs in Siberia may push us to five degrees of warming.


5C of warming.

At this level of warming scientists have few studies and evidence to draw upon. The last time the world was this hot, the ocean could not sustain oxygen-based life and massive pockets of methane hydrate explosively released from the ocean floor.  The methane hydrate raises the global temperature even further. Major military powers such as China and USA are likely to invade northward to find escape from severe drought and heat. The release of methane hydrate will push us to six degrees of warming.


6C of warming.

Mass extinction of most life. Humanity’s survival in doubt.


This book was written in 2008.  Since then global warming has already had more impact than expected. Additionally, new projections from improved climate models describe faster warming than previously predicted.


Write your MP.  Write your MLA.  Paper, email, facebook, or twitter. Let them know you’re concerned. Urge them to act promptly and decisively.  Support carbon pricing, support hydro, solar, wind, and geothermal power, support electrification of transport and support energy conservation measures.


We can still save our planet but we need to act!

Two Years Later


During last weekend our Leaf became two years old and rolled up 33,000 km. We both still love driving it: quiet, peppy, and reliable as always.  This post is a quick update on how the Leaf’s doing.

As I mentioned in my Battery Life post the drive battery gradually loses its ability to hold a charge.  The battery is now at 90% capacity which means it can hold 90% of the charge that it did when it was new. When the battery is 10-15 years old, it is expected to slide below 70%.  That’s plenty of capacity for our local driving and, for those keeping track, yes, the Leaf still has plenty of charge for the drive to Saint John. Newer EV models now use a water-cooled battery which reduces capacity loss to less than 1% per year.

The only maintenance so far has been the annual battery check ($43), a cabin filter replacement ($40), and winter tires. Thanks to our regenerative braking, the brake pads are well less than half worn. I still expect the brakes to outlast those in our gas car by years.

That’s it for now.