Thrawn Rickle 24
Electric CarS — DREAM OR REALITY
© 2003 Williscroft
have pollution-free electric cars never caught on?
the many reasons, the most pertinent is the relatively short range of every
“practical” electric car developed thus far. Electric cars run on stored
electricity. Most research has centered on more efficient batteries.
Unfortunately, despite the efforts of a large number of fine scientists and
engineers, battery development has been slow with disappointing results.
all is said and done, the most practical battery still is a bank of lead-acid
cells—basically a bunch of car batteries. Lead-acid batteries are expensive
and heavy. It takes twenty or more to keep an electric car running for about a
might work for commuting, but you had better stay near an electric outlet! As
a result, electric cars have never caught on—they’re just not practical in
today’s hectic world.
along came Roger Billings, well known hydrogen researcher.
first met Roger in 1980 at the Third World-Hydrogen Conference in Tokyo. I was
there presenting a paper on solar power satellite production of hydrogen.
Roger’s presentation followed mine. He had developed a working model of a
hydrogen powered internal combustion engine. He was not the first to do this,
but he had developed one that functioned beyond the limits that researchers in
this field thought were absolute. When a staid English professor (the grand
old man of hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engines) interrupted Roger’s
presentation to inform him that his results were impossible, Roger offered to
fly the professor by first class to his lab to inspect a working model.
doesn’t believe in limits—which is why he has extended the limiting
fuel cell is an electricity generating device. Stored hydrogen is fed into
it under proper controls. Inside the cell, hydrogen combines with oxygen from
the air to form pure water and electricity. It’s that simple—no
by-products, no pollution, absolutely nothing but pure water and electricity.
NASA has used fuel cells since the early manned space flights, but fuel cells
have always been exotic, expensive toys outside the space community.
has made the fuel cell practical and relatively inexpensive. His demonstration
car can travel 300 miles on one fill-up of hydrogen. At current prices, as a
function of distance driven and typical gasoline cost, this translates into an
equivalent gasoline price of $1.10 a gallon. The only current drawback is that
you cannot drive up to the nearest gas station and “fill ’er up” with
of the remaining problems is a cheap and practical source of abundant
hydrogen. Although hydrogen is one of the more abundant elements on the
surface of our planet, most of it is tied up in seawater. It takes power, lots
of it, to liberate this hydrogen so it can be used elsewhere. The remaining
hydrogen is locked up in natural gas for the most part, with some more
available from crude oil. Here, once again, it takes lots of power to liberate
have a planet-wide infrastructure dedicated to generating gasoline from crude
oil. The capital investment is enormous, and it cannot simply be ignored. Shec
Labs in Saskatoon, Canada, has developed and patented a catalytic method of
generating hydrogen from natural gas. The process is nearing commercial
capability. In the short term, this technology can begin to replace the
gasoline generating infrastructure, so that the invested capital can continue
to work and pay dividends to investors, while the industry itself shifts to
processes that produce materials instead of something to burn.
exciting for the future, however, is another Shec development. Shec, Solar
Hydrogen Energy Corporation, started out in 1996 when Bob Beck developed a
process for producing commercial quantities of hydrogen from water using
sunlight. The process has now reached the commercial implementation stage, and
a pilot project plant is being constructed. This has the potential for making
the dream of a practical electric car a reality.
into any major city on a sunny day. The pall of brown smog hanging over the
region will amaze you. Step out into any city street and listen—really
listen to the noise level. We are buried in a sea of automobile generated
noise and fumes.
Billings fuel cell backed up by the Shec process offers a realistic, practical
solution. The Billings fuel cell overcomes the chief objection to electric
cars: short range. And the Shec process makes it possible. An electric car can
accelerate fast, can be quick and responsive, can be everything we have come
to appreciate in personal transportation—without the noise, the heat, the
pollution, or the consumption of irreplaceable resources.
the power source problem virtually solved, researchers should quickly develop
ways of extending the range even further. We can expect to see practical
flywheels and motor-generator devices to recover energy when the electric car
slows down. These and other developments will eventually double the 300 mile
range. That will bring the price down to about 50˘ a gallon.
Shec process offers an even larger benefit that goes far beyond the impact of
electric cars, even though this, by itself, would revolutionize life on Earth.
In my article Energy
Sources: Solar Power Satellites & Hydrogen I discuss how we can solve
the Earth’s energy problems for all time by using a combination of solar
energy collecting satellites in orbit that beam the collected power to
equatorial marine locations where it can be used to generate hydrogen from
seawater. I originally presented a landmark scientific
paper on this subject to the Third World-Hydrogen Energy Conference in
Tokyo in 1980. At that time, however, there was no practical way to use the
incoming power to generate hydrogen.
solved that problem. We are now on the verge of a new paradigm in energy
production and consumption. That it will happen ultimately is inevitable.
What we need is that it happen sooner rather than later. That’s worth expending some effort to make it happen.