Monday, November 3, 2008

Not a 'Quantum of Solace" for Fuel Cells!

I just picked up some chatter about Fuel Cells on the recently opened 'Quantum of Solace' James Bond flick. I haven't seen the movie, but after check a number of reviews and comments, this blogger's descritption of the FC scene appears to nail it: "There was one area which, if allowed to go unchecked, could lead back to gadgetry and unbelievable situations - that is that the hotel in the desert had hydrogen piped through all it’s walls. A fuel cell installation would use wires and have the fuel cells in one area of the building. As soon as this was mentioned I thought ‘that’s blowing up’ - and then one chap said ’sounds a bit unstable’. Yep. Definitely." It seems that yes, the building does go up in flames. I posted the following on one website:

I'm a fuel-cell-literate industry analyst, and you've nailed this pretty well Murk. Firstly, the last thing the oft-maligned fuel cell industry needs is perverted bad publicity like this. Not only do current FC CHP (combined heat and power) commercial and residential installations fit your description, i.e. one fuel cell producing power for the building which is of course transmitted by wires, but hydrogen is just about the least explosive and certainly the most volatile of combustible gases.

Natural gas lines have been installed in buildings for 150 years with only the occasional 'incident' as our local gas company calls them, and it is far more dangerous than hydrogen as is gasoline and its heavier-than-air vapor. Hydrogen, if it it does leak, rises and dissipates quickly and therefore might burn on its way out, but it would be almost impossible to create an explosion.

This 'Quantum' scene plays into two popular misconceptions: 1. The Hindenburg was the result of its hydrogen exploding - The blimp was coated with a form of rocket fuel to help contain the volatile gas, and that caught fire, burned and crashed while the hydrogen, burning or not, quickly rose into the atmosphere, and 2. Hydrogen energy from combustion or fuel cells (which involve no burning) has nothing to do with the hydrogen bomb or the sun's energy, the energy from both of which is produced by fusion under extreme heat and pressure. Not only have there been no major safety incidents concerning the 10's of thousands of fuel cell installations around the world (from toys to the coming new Freedom Tower being built at Ground Zero), but there have been no major safety problems with our liquid hydrogen fuelled space shuttle rockets since the early seventies.

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