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The Car of His Dreams

Amory Lovins says gas prices won't stick, but even if they do, he's still stuck on his Hypercar.
Fortnightly Magazine - February 15 2001
  • could start within five years. -C.J.L.

Do you contend that parked cars with fuel cells will actually displace central power stations?

There are many other competing ways of providing electrical services. Most of the electricity now sold could be more easily displaced by end-use efficiency. ... I'm speaking to you from a 4,000-square-foot house, for example, whose household functions use five bucks a month worth of electricity. ...

Then there is competition from improved grid efficiency, which buys you a few percent, and from, of course supply-side resources. I think there, we will see—and we're already seeing—a dramatic shift toward distributed resources. ... Plug-in Hypercar vehicles would, of course, be one of the competitors, and I think they would be a pretty effective one because the car is already paid for as a means of mobility, the hydrogen production will already be largely paid for for other purposes like running fuel cells in buildings ... and the infrastructure necessary to connect parked cars to nearby hydrogen sources and to the grid is the only significant marginal investment, and it's pretty small. ... Of course you'll be providing the electricity at the time and place where it's most valuable, so with real-time pricing and locational rents, it should be a very attractive part of the automotive value proposition.

... [A] full Hypercar fleet in, say, the United States would represent about five or 10 times the generating capacity that all power companies now own. So, it doesn't take many people accepting the value proposition of earning back maybe up to a third or a half the cost of owning their car this way to put at least all the central stations out of business, and I think it would give the other distributed resources a run for their money.

Once we manufacture hydrogen right at the gas wellhead, as you suggest, would converting natural gas pipelines for hydrogen transport leave downstream gas users out in the cold?

I think some of the gas pipelines would continue to carry natural gas, but others would gradually shift over to hydrogen. Basically, the newest gas pipelines often have metallurgy and seals that are suitable for carrying hydrogen. The old ones, typically at an intra-city and distribution level, often do too, because many of them are used to carry town gas, which has a high hydrogen content. The bulk of the [middle-aged] trunk pipelines would require conversion which can apparently be done at reasonable cost ... and of course the compressors would have to be changed. ...

Could power producers convert their natural gas turbines to run off hydrogen?

Yes, in fact, there is a lot of aerospace work on hydrogen turbines, and Boeing among others has done a lot of work on a liquid hydrogen fuel aircraft concept, which could be quite advantageous because although the liquid hydrogen is moderately bulky, it's much lighter per unit of energy than aviation kerosene because you're not carrying the carbon. ... So you could use hydrogen in everything from domestic cooking—which they did in the days of town gas,