ACS: Fuelmen

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Went to some sessions on hydrogen storage (you know, so that cars can run around emitting just clean, pure water vapor, and so that we can enter the “hydrogen economy”) today and was introduced to ammonia borate by Bill Tumas of Los Alamos. I liked him, because he kept telling us “the hard cold facts”. I’ve heard people talk about the “cold hard facts,” but somehow, the “hard cold facts” seem even more bitterly inevitable. One of these was that no one has found a solution to storing hydrogen. The other is that his favorite candidate—ammonia borate—is not going to slot neatly into the current infrastructure.

The stuff may be good at holding onto hydrogen until you want to go vroom, and then letting it go, and it has a glimmer of a hope of getting the hydrogen compact enough so that one can drive 300 miles on a full cell—the standard measure of success—but it isn’t possible to just shoot more hydrogen into it when it’s gone “dry”. So in this version of the hydrogen economy, one would buy a fuel cell, drive until it was used up, then return it to the fuel station for a full one. The old one would have to go back to the plant for some more complex chemical treatments. For some reason, everyone seems to think that this makes the technology completely impractical, but I don’t see why. Everyone used to return their empty milk bottles when they picked up a full one. Maybe we can even take a page from the golden age of dairy and hire fuelmen, who will take the empty fuel cells from your front porch and leave full ones. They can even wear those swell hats.

Well, I suppose we ought to work out whether ammonia borate will even work before we start designing uniforms. In the meantime, I suggest Tumas get his own show on cable news called “The Hard Cold Facts with Bill Tumas.”