Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What's Going On?

Things move at a snail's pace in the Hydrogen Economy world. While I am toying with potential ideas for hydrogen fuel cell vehicle I would like to see, most of the real focus is on battery cars and battery hybrids. I did notice that Plug Power is working on a joint venture to incorporate a hydrogen reformer in a Hybrid of a Hybrid design.

Storage of hydrogen and access to hydrogen are the major problems with hydrogen FCV. Plug Power's idea is to reform petroleum to make the hydrogen for a FCV. This would kill both problems with on stone. Normal filling stations would provide the hydrogen in the form of petrol, waste heat from the fuel cell would provide part of the reformer energy needed, and you would make your own hydrogen while tooling down the road. Storing hydrogen as liquid fuel greatly reduces the storage demands.

The question would be the overall efficiency. Reforming petroleum is more efficient and less energy intensive than splitting water. Fuel cell are more efficient that internal combustion engines(ICE). The average efficiency of an ICE is in the neighborhood of 25% for the vehicles that the Hydrid Hybrid would be competing with. So if the improvement in efficiency is to 50%, then the Reforming FCV could be a good deal. There is still costs versus performance, so who knows. This joint venture with Exxon Mobile and a few others started in 2007. It is about time for something to break one way or the other. Check out Plug Power for more information.

The on the road hydrogen reformer by itself doesn't blow much wind up "Green" skirts, it is still using fossil fuels, just maybe more efficiently. It could open more doors though. Synfuels tailored for maximum hydrogen content could be interesting. Some hydrogen storage system use solid hydrides which when heated release their hydrogen for use. Liquid equivalents could be pumped into the tank, reformed and the basic hydrogen bonding chemicals potentially recycled. The more complexity involved the less likely the technology will be used, but it is a thought.

Back to the crazy Troposphere Sink idea. Computer models use a lot of simplifications to try to predict global climate. The majority of the uncertainty is in the water feedback and the ocean response. I tend to be in the balancing effect of water vapor trough cloud formation and precipitation increase camp. I also tend to think the oceans are more of a long term thermal reservoir capable of dealing with a lot more heat than the models give them credit. Jeff Id made a post at Watts Up With That showing that the oceans could give up about 0.1 percent of their heat content and warm the atmosphere by 4 Degrees or so. Conversely, a small increase in ocean heat content would offset a huge amount of potential warming. The Troposphere Sink is much smaller in comparison to the oceans. So if the Troposphere Sink can moderate warming, it has to be able to improve the release of heat more than just hold the heat.

I have been reading up on the models used by the models for the radiation balance in the region of the Troposphere and lower Stratosphere. While I am no where near up to speed on the radiation models, it appears that fairly simple two dimensional are still the norm. The three dimensional model modules are mainly reserved for winds, currents and such. Constant humidity with temperature rise is also estimated, which is reasonable. Rainfall based on the increased temperature/constant humidity are somewhat realistic, but there are issues, mainly since reconstructing precipitation in the past is difficult. It is a huge project that already has millions of man and computer hours spent to get the models as close as they are. While I may be crazy, I am not stupid, so I am not going to try and reinvent the wheel. I will spend a little time looking into the tropopause region models to see if there is something that may explain why that region may be an effective sink.

Two things come to my mind which I want to look into the sink. The first is if the radiation window in the tropopause region might be larger than thought. To use a radio analogy, the top of the troposphere may behave somewhat like a ground plane for an antennae. While IR won't bounce off the water vapor at the TOT (Top of Troposphere) it may give the IR in that region more options to escape to space. The "Back Heating" is just as crappy a term as "Back Radiation", but it does poorly describe the way that as the humidity in that region rises, more heat in a thin layer may be possible. The other is water vapor transport to the Stratosphere just above this warmer, moister region. Susan Solomon and friends published a paper on how stratospheric water vapor changes impact climate. Small changes in the already small concentration of water vapor in the TOT region can have big impacts on climate. Noticing that the TOT temperatures can vary by 30 degrees C, makes me think my silly idea may have something to it. Then if it is totally whacked out, I am in good company.

If you want to read more about Global Warming and Global Circulation Models, this site has a good history of the research, Global Warming Time Line. You can even sign up to be a part of the modeling effort by donating some of your personal computer time. If I can fiddle with the TOT radiation model a little I may just do that.

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