Hydrogen Explodes Onto Car Scene?

  • A Honda FCX Concept and hydrogen refueling station. There is concern about the safety of handling hydrogen. (Photo courtesy of Honda)

Within the next few years, you might see a new type of car in dealer
showrooms… one that runs on hydrogen. Many engineers and car company
officials predict that hydrogen vehicles will replace gasoline power in
the next 10 to 15 years. But lots of people think hydrogen is too
explosive and wonder if a hydrogen-based economy will be safe.
Julie Grant reports:

Transcript

Within the next few years, you might see a new type of car in dealer
showrooms… one that runs on hydrogen. Many engineers and car company
officials predict that hydrogen vehicles will replace gasoline power in
the next 10 to 15 years. But lots of people think hydrogen is too
explosive and wonder if a hydrogen-based economy will be safe.
Julie Grant reports:


Sales associate Chris Beckham hears a lot of concerns about the new
Honda fuel-cell car on display at a recent car show:


“I know a lot of people are kind of worried about the safety of the
hydrogen vehicle because it’s basically like running on an atom bomb.”


Honda fuel cell marketing specialist Steve Ellis rolls his eyes when he
hears comments like that. The Cold War-era hydrogen bomb comes to mind
for people because it’s one of the few times they’ve heard the word
“hydrogen” used in conversation. Another time is when people talk
about the hydrogen-filled blimp, the Hindenburg. Ellis wants to
clear the air about the Hindenburg disaster.
The huge zeppelin burst into flames, and a lot of people blame the hydrogen:


“But history has now shown that it was the coating, the covering of the
material that actually was sustaining the fire. The hydrogen itself of
course being flammable, whatever that cause was, it did ignite. But
the flame was sustained by the coating. That’s what people see.”


Ellis says hydrogen has gotten a bad rap:


“When in reality, science has proven that it wasn’t the guilty party.”


(Grant:) “But it is a very flammable substance?”


(Ellis:) “Sure. As is gasoline.”


There’s still controversy over whether the hydrogen or the coating
caused the Hindenburg to burn. Regardless. Many energy experts say
hydrogen is more flammable then gasoline, but Ellis says the dangers of
a hydrogen fire aren’t any worse then a gasoline fire, they’re just
different.


He says people are used to dealing with liquid gas at the fueling
station. But in some ways, hydrogen could be considered less dangerous
then gas. When gas spills it pools up on the ground, and if someone
drops a cigarette – yipes! – it could be a long day for firefighters.


But hydrogen goes into cars in gaseous form. If there’s a hydrogen
leak, Ellis says it’d be easy to put out a fire:


“So with, you know, fire systems at the station, if there’s any
detection of a flame or any incident like that, as soon as the source
is shut off, the fire’s out, it’s gone. First responders and many fire
departments have said they feel like responding to a hydrogen fire…
it’s like, by the time they’ll get there, they’ll be nothing to put out.
It’ll likely have taken care of itself.”


That’s one advantage of using a light-weight fuel like hydrogen: it
dissipates quickly into the air because it’s lighter then air. But
because it’s so light, each cubic foot doesn’t pack that much energy.
That’s why cars can’t store that much hydrogen in the tank.


Hydrogen-expert Paul Erickson says that low energy content also creates
other safety problems. Erickson is director of the Hydrogen Production
and Utilization Lab
at University of California-Davis. In order to
make cars that hold enough hydrogen to travel a respectable distance
between re-fuelings, he says they have to use a lot of pressure to
squeeze enough hydrogen into a tank:


“It’s just very difficult to get the range out that you’d like. And so you
end up having to pressurize the hydrogen to 3,000, now we’re up to
5,000, now up to 10,000 pounds per square inch. I wouldn’t want to sit
on a 10,000 psi tank of anything, much less hydrogen.”


Erickson says car companies understand the dangers of combining
hydrogen’s high flammability with high pressure in the tanks. They
don’t want any hydrogen to escape from the tank if there’s a collision
and they don’t want the tank to blow up. So, the tank is probably the
strongest component on the hydrogen vehicles being built today.


That’s not the case with regular gas cars. Steve Ellis at Honda says
they won’t release too many consumer vehicles to start. One reason is
to slowly get people used to handling hydrogen safely.


For the Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

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The Debate Over Mobile Home Parks

  • Because mobile homes can be transported they're not taxed the way permanent homes are. They're taxed like vehicles (when they're bought and sold). Mobile home owners pay a small tax for the small plot of land they sit on. (Photo by Chris McCarus)

People who live in mobile homes might be seeing their property taxes going up. Some government officials say it’s an attempt to tax for the services used and to discourage mobile home parks from sprawling across former farm fields. But others wonder if higher taxes aren’t a form of discrimination against this kind of affordable housing. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris McCarus reports:

Transcript

People who live in mobile homes might be seeing their property taxes going up. Some government officials say it’s an attempt to tax for the services used and to discourage mobile home parks from sprawling across former farm fields. But others wonder if higher taxes aren’t a form of discrimination against this kind of affordable housing. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris McCarus reports:


(sound of expressway traffic)


The Capital Crossings mobile home park sits on rolling farmland near an Interstate highway. The residents of the 15 homes have moved here either to retire or to make the 30 minute daily commute to nearby Lansing, Michigan. And more mobile homes are being pulled in.


(sound of construction)


Workers are building porches and attaching the skirting between the ground and the house. It’s supposed to show permanence, like a foundation. But mobile homes are not permanent. And mobile homes are not taxed the same way as other houses. They’re taxed like vehicles. Taxed when they’re purchased. Taxed when they’re sold. Still there are no property taxes on the homes. Only on the tiny lots on which they sit.


Some government officials say the $3 a month that these park residents have been paying for property taxes don’t cover the costs of police and fire protection or other government services. They want a tax hike to give local governments more money. Dave Morris is a farmer and the local township supervisor.


“We all have to pay our fair share for services such as sheriff, ambulance, fire department as well as schools. Schools is a big issue of course. And they aren’t paying their share. That’s all.”


But advocates for affordable housing say hiking taxes on mobile home residents is more likely just an attempt to discourage that kind of housing. They say zoning mobile homes out of existence has been tried, but taxing them out is a new idea. Higher taxes will likely lead to mobile home parks closing.”


John McIlwain is with the Urban Land Institute. He says as mobile home parks become more expensive to operate, their owners will sell off to subdivision or big box store developers.


“The numbers are going to be so attractive that the people who own mobile home parks are going to be much more interested in selling the land to a housing developer than in continuing to run the mobile home park. So in time the parks are probably going to disappear on their own anyway and trying to raise the taxes on them specifically is simply going to make that day come earlier.”


In Michigan there is a proposal to raise the taxes on mobile home sites four times higher. State Senator Valde Garcia says the $3 a month that mobile home park owners pay for each home site is not nearly enough.


“What we are trying to do is really change the tax structure so it’s fair to everyone. The system hasn’t changed in 45 years. It’s time we do so but we need to do it in a gradual manner.”


Senator Garcia’s colleagues in the state house have voted to raise the tax to $12 a month. He’d like to raise it to at least $40 a month. The mobile home park industry has hired a public relations firm to produce a video criticizing the tax increase.


“Site built homes pay sales tax only the materials used in their homes and don’t pay tax on resale. Manufactured home owners pay sales tax on materials, labor, transportation profit of a home and they pay sales tax every time a home is resold. ”


The two sides don’t agree on the math. Tim Dewitt of the Michigan Manufactured Housing Association says $3 a month sounds low because it doesn’t show hidden costs. The biggest cost comes when park owners have to pay the higher commercial property tax instead of the lower homestead tax. Dewitt says the park owners then pass the tax to the home owners whose average family income is only about $28,000 a year.


“That’s our worst fear. It could put people who could least afford any type of tax increase into a tough position.”


15 million people live in mobile home parks around the country. And different local governments have tried to find ways to increase taxes on mobile home parks. But Michigan is one of the first states to propose hiking taxes this much. State Senator Garcia says he is not trying to hurt the mobile home industry or make life harder for mobile home park residents. He dismisses the idea that he’s being pressured by wealthier constituents who don’t like to see the mobile home parks being developed.


John McIlwain of the Urban Land Institute says a bias against mobile home parks is part of the mentality that leads to sprawl. When people from the city and the suburbs move a little further into rural areas they want the look and feel of suburbia.


“The mobile home parks are no longer things that they want to see. And so they find ways to discourage those mobile home parks. The ones that are there try to see if they can be purchased, turned into stick built housing or otherwise discourage them and encourage them to move on elsewhere.”


But often the people who move in also want the shopping centers, restaurants and conveniences they once had instead of the mobile home parks.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chris McCarus.

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