Hydrogen Cars? Reality or Hindinberg?

Of course, the technology exists, but is the public capable of handling hydrogen-powered cars safely? The risk of static discharge alone is staggering! (Funny, why isn’t Bush talking about natural gas-powered cars which exist NOW?)

Besides, when cars run on water, big business will guzzle up every last drop and charge us $5.00 a gallon, anyhow! And, you can forget being able to afford a shower!

  • Jinx

I’m still waiting to hear where all this Hydrogen gas is going to come from.

Fossil fuel-burning engines are more efficient if you figure in the cost of producing Hydrogen gas.


Partial hijack. Hydrogen is safer than gasoline: released hydrogen goes upwards rather than pouring out all over the road or splashing on your body.

Remember, the Hindenberg blew up because it was painted with a thick layer of rocket fuel. Aluminum powder plus rubber-like binder equals SOLID ROCKET BOOSTER. If they had painted the ship with a thick layer of gunpowder, it would have been safer. Gunpowder doesn’t explode when damp!

If the Hindenberg had been filled with helium, the disaster would have been about the same. An electric spark ignited the silvery outer skin, and the fire raced across the whole surface of the ship in moments.

Next time you see some newsreel footage of the Hindenberg, remember that hydrogen burns with an invisible flame. Now explain to yourself what you’re seeing.

Bbeaty -

You’ve lost me… Helium does not burn. Therefore, it is not volatile, either. The only way it could cause an explosion is by overpressure, not combustion. So, how do you conclude a helium-filled Hindenberg would have been as bad as hydrogen?

Also, while hydrogen may burn with an invisible flame, isn’t it possible the flames we see are other materials, like the paint coating, burning away? I never really watched the footage that closely since Junior High, however.

Lastly, hydrogen is highly vulnerable to a static discharge, for one. Not to mention do we trust people to turn their engines off or not smoke at hydrogen and oxygen filling stations? Hint: The Wash Post wrote about smokers causing fires at DC gas stations about a 1 year ago, so what can we expect from smokers? Also, there is recent heightened awareness made about gas station fires caused by static discharge from people re-entering their cars while fueling and discharging (ouch) at the pump/tank interface near the vapors (vapor recovery isn’t 100% perfect, ya know.)

I have to clarify: Either big business will hog all the water or hog all the air to supply the H2 and O2 we need to run our cars! Sounds like a great sci-fi plot for someone to write! You know, even now they COULD tax our air, at least for home and office usage. Oops! I better not say anything further…the Feds might just do it! - Jinx :smiley:

Because hydrogen did not contribute significantly to the explosion. Even if the Hindenburg was filled with helium, the coated fabric would have caught fire and destroyed the ship. At least that’s one theory, but a very convincing one. The Germans had reason to blame the accident on hydrogen: the US was withholding helium shipments to Germany to prevent it being used on military airships.

It definitely was. The point is, those other materials may have burnt even if there was no hydrogen to help.

No more so than gasoline vapor, AFAIK.

By the way, it takes energy to turn water into hydrogen, and it’s the energy that’s expensive. The cost of water is insignificant in comparison, and I doubt that widespread use of hydrogen fuel would make a noticeable difference in price of water.

SCR4 -

Good points, but you still have me befuddled with the helium issue. What would CAUSE a fire is helium doesn’t burn? A static discharge would have nothing to ignite, right, if helium was used?

Also, with static discharge, I thought various hydrocarbons have
different self-ignite thresholds via static discharge? I WAG it depends on the voltage of the static discharge, and maybe it’s a hair-splitting issue…

Finally, what about the O-ring factor on these cars? Just wondering if this would still be a weak spot in the proposed designs of such vehicles? Just don’t drive on cold days, right?

BTW, did NASA ever really solve the O-ring problem? Or, they just watch the thermometer a little closer?

  • Jinx

The advantage of hydrogen over LPG is that it is renewable. It can be generated using solar egergy.

Helium is very volatile. It is also not flammable. Look up the definition of the word ‘volatile’.

As bbeaty said, it is a myth that hydrogen caused the Hindenburg fire. The fire was ignited by and mainly fueled by the
coating on the airship. There are many references to this eg

Yes, hydrogen is ‘more vulnerable’ to static discharge. It has very large explosive limits, compared with petrol. However, it diffuses rapidly unlike petrol which hangs around (denser than air vapour and less volatile than H2).

The Hindenburg’s outer skin was not only flammable, it was explosive. It’s a very similar composition to the Shuttle’s solid rocket fuel. Additionally, there are reports of St. Elmo’s Fire (visible static discharge) on the airship before the accident. It’s very possible that this ignited the fabric directly, and that there was no leaking hydrogen to contribute to the accident.

It’s not difficult to get an O-ring that works at low temperatures, or design the plumbing so you don’t need O-rings. The Shuttle was never designed to launch in sub-zero temperatures, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

I had to jump in on this one-

There really aren’t any major problems with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles from an engineering standpoint. BMW has a model that is almost ready for production, and I personally saw Ford’s prototype Focus that ran on hydrogen. The only reason you don’t see any fuel cell cars for sale in the US yet is because there isn’t an infrastructure of hydrogen filling stations, and who is going to buy a car they can’t buy fuel for?

First of all, WELCOME, Jeff41!!!

A blanket statement: NO ONE knows for sure what caused the Hindenburg to ignite. Yeah, that means you, and you, and you…

Goldbeater’s skin? Is that right? Didn’t they make the hydrogen bags from the intestines of sheep? Boy, it sure seems likely that someone might’ve missed a stitch here or there…

Hydrogen-powered vehicles are quite cool, but they’ll be a helluva lot cooler when you can find a “gas” pump somewhere in the state you live in. The technology is in its infancy and the necessary infrastructure doesn’t exist. Someday…

Additionally, most of the victims of the Hindenburg weren’t killed by the explosion itself. They died because they jumped rather than riding the airframe down to the ground.

Oh, and while not directly related to hydrogen, this thread takes a detour to discuss hydrogen fuels and their safety.

Every time I hear people talk about the Hindenburg, in reference to hydrogen fuel cells, I have to bring up the 78 Pinto. Gasoline is not exactly safe, either. Fortunately, cars have a tiny amount of fuel, relative to the total volume of the vehicle. At least they do when compared to zeppelins.

The lack of infrastructure is not the problem with Hydrogen vehicles. The problem is efficiently producing the fuel. It takes more energy to produce the gas than you get out of the fuel cell.

The energy used to produce H2 gas on an industrial scale, whether from fossil fuel precursors like methane or from water, still comes from electric power plants, which are (for the most part) burning fossil fuels.

You save nothing by using Hydrogen, you only lose, energetically speaking.

While on the topic of the Hindenburg, it’s worth noting that out of 97 people onboard, 62 people survived. Death toll was 13 passengers, 22 crew members and 1 ground crew. That’s fairly minor compared to modern airliner accidents.

Uh, it’s the 73 Ford Pinto that had the “auto-ignite” feature as standard equipment. In the years since then, there’s been the GM pick-ups, Monte Carlo’s, Malibu’s, and the Ford Crown Vic which have all had a reputation for exploding in accidents. There were also ambulances that had the nasty habit of bursting into flames. Happy motoring! :smiley:

Yes, hydrogen cars still ultimately derive their energy from fossil fuels, and yes, you lose efficiency in the process of converting one form to another. But there are still advantages.

First, you can easily generate electricity from any sort of fossil fuel you care to name. Most notably, you can generate it from coal, which already provides the bulk of electrical energy in the U. S. We have lots of coal in this country, far more than we have petroleum. So cars burning secondhand coal would be much less dependent on foreign fuel sources.

Secondly, with fuel cells, all of the “dirty burning” would take place in a few large centralized locations. It’s a lot easier to put emission controls on one big coal power plant than on ten thousand individual cars. So there’s likely to be less pollutants released to the environment in a fuel-cell infrastructure.

I thought that the Hindeburg blew up because William Atherton planted a bomb on it and George C. Scott couldn’t defuse it in time.

And a lot easier to lobby a sneaky exemption for your one or two really huge corporate fossil fuel plants through the legislature, too. Especially with the price of Congressmen what it is today.


Not quite, it’s still vastly easier to control fossil fuel emissions at a select few locations (powerplants) than at tens and hundreds of million individual locations (each car on the road)