Hydrogen: Future Fuel A Bit Nearer?
I swore off further coverage of fuel-cell vehicles until my first test drive of a production prototype, quipping that "hydrogen is the fuel of the future-and always will be." The darned stuff is simply too difficult to distribute, dispense, and store. Carrying enough fuel on board to deliver the kind of range customers expect these days requires pricey, bulky, (somewhat scary) tanks; compressing or liquefying it consumes too much energy.
Then I heard about Power+Energy's plan to power a fuel cell with conventional gas, diesel, or E85. Hold on, you're thinking, didn't Chrysler try that in 1999? Yep. The Commander concept carried what looked like a scale-model refinery under the hood, which involved partial oxidation, steam reformation, and myriad other chemical processes to crack the hydrogen out of gasoline, but enough carbon monoxide remained in the hydrogen stream to poison the proton-exchange-membrane fuel cell, so the idea was abandoned.
Power+Energy is in the business of providing equipment that purifies the usually "dirty" hydrogen generated as a byproduct of petroleum refining from several thousand parts-per-million level of CO and other gook to less than one-part-per-billion required for manufacturing LEDs and other electronics. To do this, the company developed a palladium membrane that behaves like an ultra-fine-mesh screen through which only hydrogen atoms-the smallest in the universe-can pass. (It's really a chemical process whereby the alloy absorbs hydrogen ions, and a pressure differential across the membrane forces them through.)
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