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Geoffrey Ballard speaks about Hydrogen & Fuel Cell History

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“We must move away from our dependency on fossil fuels, and I am glad that GM has invested over $1 billion in hydrogen fuel cells cars to meet this goal.” — Albert Wynn, United States House of Representatives

How Geoffrey Ballard progressed from an idea and a vision to the success his idea is becoming, nobody could explain better than The Father of the Fuel Cell Industry himself, at a technical conference in Camden, Maine, in October of 2003. Following are excerpts from his speech.

“First, a general observation. If I am anything, I am an environmentalist.

Much of the focused thinking concerning the degradation of our environment began a quarter of a century ago; Silent Spring, The Limits to Growth, Gaia Theory, Ozone Holes and the Energy Crisis of 1973-4, to name only a few. For me, it was the energy crisis in 1973, which resulted in being called to Washington DC to join a team to look at the possibility of an Energy Self-Sufficiency Budget for the United States.

Six months later, I came away from that experience with the certain knowledge that the automotive Internal Combustion Engine and its dependence on fossil fuels would have to end if planet earth and its inhabitants were to survive as a living organism.

It took me another eight years to learn two fundamental truths about the automobile: One, the developed world has a deep socio-economic dependence on personal transportation, or, in other words, we have enduring love affairs with our cars and woe betide the person or event that interferes with our adoration and needs.

And two, the hold that the internal combustion engine has on society is that it allows the scaling of power and energy separately. Again to choose other words, engines and gas tanks are separate from each other which lets us choose just how we wish our cars to perform: whereas batteries and other suggested devices dictate limits to our desires for speed, size or distance traveled.

The Fuel Cell Engine, the energy conversion device that makes the Hydrogen Economy possible, has the same freedoms of scaling as the Internal Combustion Engine without the detrimental effects of pollution. It is poised to be our next enduring love.

To start again at the beginning, common as electricity was during the last century, no good storage mechanism for electricity had been developed. But, when the fuel cell entered the power/price envelope of the internal combustion engine, hydrogen became viable as the storage mechanism for electricity. I believe Hydrogen and Electricity will become so indistinguishable from each other that they will be referred to as a joint currency called HYDRICITY®.

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”    – Steve Jobs

The future, I believe, will not be a linear extrapolation of existing trends and ideas; rather the advent of the Hydrogen Economy will lead to merging and mixing transportation needs with distributive power concepts. Transportation and power technologies are about to advance hand in hand.

With human populations still on the rise, progress will not be sustained if we attempt to further reduce, or even stabilize, our energy production by reducing the emissions of the current energy source mix. We must increase our supply of energy, not reduce it.

The advent of the hydrogen fuel cell has changed the power dynamic because it solves the electricity storage problem. Instead of having to use the electricity immediately, we can transform it into hydrogen, which can be used later in a fuel cell. In other words, with the fuel cell we can now afford to generate hydrogen from electricity during off-peak times, then store the hydrogen and feed it back through a fuel cell to produce electricity at peak need times.

Perhaps not the first generation of fuel cell vehicles, but certainly the second or third generation of vehicles will be regenerative fuel cell vehicles and have Vehicle to Grid capability.

“There is nothing like success to breed followers.”   – Geoffrey Ballard

Today’s technology allows us to receive and store hydrogen on board a fuel cell car. It also allows us to generate our own hydrogen on board the car if the car is plugged into the electric grid. A car with this ability to refuel itself is called a “Regenerative Fuel Cell Vehicle”. If we also provide a data and an electronic connection when we plug in to refuel, then the car can be turned on by the building or home to which it is connected. In this way, the car can provide electricity to the grid. The implications of this configuration are enormous when you consider that 85% of the vehicles are parked even during rush hour.

I have painted a picture with very broad brush strokes and such broad treatment leaves many questions in the minds of thinking people.

Welleman did the brush and pencil strokes on this schematic illustration

“The early Christians had a better chance against the lions than the American consumer has against the OPEC cartel.”   – Ed Markey, Senator from Massachusetts


Next: Regenerative Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles to advance H2 & FC History


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