Welcome to the boron economy!
Boron can be a metal powder or pellet that can be burned and then recycled afterwards as a replacement for oil or diesel. It does not leak like hydrogen.
- It only burns in a very high-oxygen environment, making it inert, safe, and easy to store for years. Oxygen tanks or miniaturised oxygen concentrators would be attached to car engines.
- In high oxygen, boron is 4 times as energy dense as gasoline . It “takes a quart of boron to match the energy in a gallon of gasoline.” (Dr James Hansen, link below).
- Boron is an effective energy carrier, but is not the energy source. Think of it as a battery. Once it is burned, nuclear power plants would power the smelts where they melt it down and strip the rust off.
- Your first ‘tank’ of boron would cost around a few hundred dollars, but then it is recycled cheaper than filling up with diesel or gasoline.
- Boron solves the chicken and egg problem of a hydrogen economy. All it takes is one boron recycling centre in the country, and then people can mail used boron to it for recycling. It is so safe and cheap to mail that even with the cost of mail and recycling, it would still be cheaper than oil. Initially you could buy 2 or 3 tanks worth of boron, and then just recycle those forever. Eventually as the boron economy grew you would swap old for new at your local garage or shops.
- Your car could operate as a backup power station during blackouts. This is not that big a deal here in Australia but in North America could be the difference between life and death in a snowstorm and power outage.
But even Dr James Hansen thinks boron is an option!
I’ll hand you over to Dr Hansen:
“Boron-Powered Cars and Greenwash
Blees properly ridicules FutureGen, commonly dubbed NeverGen, as a greenwash construction of the coal industry, intended to make it look like they were working on cleaning up their horrendous environmental damage.
Blees suggests that hydrogen-powered cars are a greenwash of the oil and auto industries, while they continue to stick us with gas-guzzlers. That charge may be too strong, but it seems fair to say that they have not been looking at alternative vehicles as hard as they should have been. Also I need to point out a possible personal bias: I have been driving a hydrogen-powered car over the past two weeks [a BMW executive recognized me on an airplane and offered a free trial – for the first time I can look my Mercedes-driving lawyer friends on the level, even though it was just a trial – don’t get excited, the hydrogen cars are not for sale, would be very expensive if they were, and there was only one place, in Jersey City boondocks, where I could fill it up.
Blees thinks that there is a superior alternative to hydrogen. Here is the basis of the idea. If a metal is ground into fine enough dust, nanoparticles, it will burn. We could burn iron-dust in our cars, capture the rust-dust, take the rust home, and cook it to drive the oxygen off, thus recovering our initial iron dust, which we then could use to power our car on its next trip. We supply energy at the time of cooking. Iron is just the energy carrier.
So iron dust is an alternative to hydrogen as an energy carrier to power our post-fossil-fuel cars. Iron dust (unlike hydrogen) has the advantage of being non-explosive, but (among other things) it is heavy and gets heavier as rust. Enter a better idea: boron. It is much more energy dense than iron: it takes a quart of boron to match the energy in a gallon of gasoline. A tank (box) of boron would cost a few hundred dollars, but you only need to buy one tankful, when you buy your car. After that you just take the boron oxide to a store, a Seven-Eleven would be happy to serve, and trade it in for a box of boron (anyone can handle this material). Blees figures that processing boron oxide back to boron would cost only tens of cents. Even if he is too optimistic (or if Exxon/Mobil sees to it that he is put 6-foot under – they are not likely to appreciate competition from Seven-Eleven), it should be much cheaper than gasoline. If the processing from B2O3 back to B is done with carbon-free electricity, it takes care of the carbon emissions problem. Blees, as you might guess, envisages the energy coming from IFR nuclear plants.
O.K., let’s go back a step. It is widely agreed that electric cars can be a solution for a piece of vehicular needs, and plug-in hybrid-electrics are a partial solution for the remaining piece. We should start with those technologies because they are ready to go, and batteries will improve, even though it has been slow going. But we must have something other than gasoline for complementing the electric part. Hydrogen, used in a fuel cell as opposed to being burned in an internal combustion engine, has the great advantage of emitting only water vapor as an exhaust product. Hydrogen could be produced at remote sites where renewable energy, such as wind or solar, is plentiful (or by IFR). But it has technological challenges, as described well in Science a few years ago, and more so in Joe Romm’s book, The Hype About Hydrogen.
Automakers have been working hard on hydrogen for several years. Some of the technological problems must have been solved. All I can say is that the hydrogen-BMW drove great, better than any car I have ever owned, with enough getty-up for even a Texas cowboy (I am not a Texas cowboy). The car also had a gasoline tank, to avoid stranding with no hydrogen, and at push of a button switched seamlessly between hydrogen and gas.
In dismissing hydrogen Blees relies in part on a note by Tromp et al. (Science, 2003) suggesting that hydrogen leakage might threaten the stratospheric ozone layer. But Michael Prather (Science 302, 581, 2003) looked harder and found that it is unlikely to be a problem with realistic hydrogen leakage rates. There are greater challenges for hydrogen, though.
Getting the price of hydrogen vehicles down to a reasonable level is a big challenge and there would need to be a distribution system analogous to gas stations, perhaps replacing them. Boron must have challenges too, but maybe less. Blees says the boron must burn in pure oxygen, which requires miniaturization of an oxygen supply system for the car. I wonder if collecting the boron oxide and converting it back to pure boron is as simple as claimed? Also, the product of hydrogen (in a fuel cell) is water vapor, which we do not have to worry about. That is the big draw of hydrogen: zero pollution. I wonder if we can burn boron without tailpipe pollution?
Bottom line: Blees has stimulating, revolutionary vision. The jury is still out on hydrogen vs boron vs something else. But I am confident that there are better alternatives than fossil fuels. It is time to start working much harder on such alternatives.”
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