Thursday, November 20, 2014

Hydrogen Powered Cars

This post is about the Toyota Mirai, a hydrogen powered car that is now entering production.

First, let us state that yes, we should all support technological innovation. And yes, when a new technology is introduced into the market, significant improvements tend to be made in a relatively short time.

However, after saying the above, let us make some pertinent questions.

One important sale point for a hydrogen car is that it produces no emissions (the car itself during operation), but since free hydrogen is not available on Earth, it first has to be produced. Thus, we come to the first question.

1. How is hydrogen currently produced? 
     Currently most hydrogen is produced from natural gas at an efficiency of ~80%*. Off the bat, this
     means two things: a) 20% of natural gas' energy is lost in the conversion and b) significant
     amounts of CO2 are produced during the conversion itself. Thus, these emissions need to be
     considered part of the system emissions of the hydrogen car.

2. What is the efficiency of the fuel cell (the device with which the Mirai converts the hydrogen 
     into useful electricity)?
     Without cogeneration, the efficiency of a fuel cell is in the range of 40 to 60%.**
     As a reference, rechargeable batteries have efficiencies above 90%. Consequently, just combining
     the production of hydrogen with electricity generation in the fuel cell, the combined efficiency
     drops to ~50%.

Thus it could be stated that the Mirai is competing with EVs (electric vehicles) on the one hand and with NGV (natural gas vehicles) on the other.

Today, the EV is clearly more efficient and lower cost than the Mirai. In other words, the EV would produce less emissions in most scenarios.

The NGV is much less expensive (and less efficient) than the Mirai. However, it remains to be seen if the considerably higher cost justifies moving to a Mirai rather than just buying a conventional electric vehicle.

Conclussion: Innovation should be supported but the hard questions need to be made.
Feel free to add to the conversation at Twitter: @luisbaram




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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Confront the Brutal Facts

What world leaders are committing to achieve in the next few years is more fantastic than anything mentioned in Alice in Wonderland.

Take a look, these are a few of the things that are supposed to take place simultaneously:

1. GHG emissions will drop.
2. The global economy will roar ahead with turbo-charged growth (an additional two trillion dollars as of yesterday).
3. Population growth will remain unchecked.
4. Renewable sources (in particular sun and wind) will replace fossil fuels wholesale and this without hardly any help from pesky nuclear.
5. We'll bring billions of people out of poverty.
6. And all of the above will be achieved with no use of GMOs whatsoever.

And we thought Charles Dodgson had a powerful and unique imagination!

Governments and NGOs can plod ahead for years without even acknowledging reality. That is why they continue doing more of the same things that take us even farther away from solutions. If they were businesses, they'll be bankrupt in no time at all.

For example, if renewable energy increases the cost of electricity and increases emissions per kWh then the solution is... to install even more renewable energy.

Business doesn't have the luxury of ignoring reality. Things get very ugly, very fast, if you are not hyper connected with the real world.

As an example, Circuit City was considered one of the few Great companies in Jim Collins legendary book, From Good to Great.

"From 1982 to 1997, Circuit City's stock price had outperformed that of the general stock market by an incredible 18.5 times, far better than any other Fortune 500 company for any fifteen-year period since 1965. Yet just twelve years later, Circuit City was no more."

But then, Circuit City began to live in wonderland and... it was liquidated.

Alan L. Wurtzel, a former Circuit City CEO has the following advice to prevent a company from destroying itself.

Evidence Trumps Ideology: Evidence about the real world trumps ideological assumptions every time.

Confront the Brutal Facts: The worst person you can fool is yourself.

If our civilization goes "bankrupt," much more than the demise of a company will be at stake but it is probably about time we began managing governments and NGOs more like businesses. In other words, fiercely focused on results.

The first thing we probably have to do is revisit our objectives. We cannot simultaneously reduce emissions, maintain economic growth, increase population and ban the use of GMOs. Some of these objectives are mutually exclusive.

In my opinion, in the short / medium term we will sacrifice the two objectives that would cause the least pain: GHG and GMOs. In other words, we will not reduce our GHG and we will increase our GMO use.

Let's stay tuned in Twitter: @luisbaram