Susan Krumdieck on Transition Engineering

15 04 2014

dr_susan_krumdieckSome ten years ago, when I first discovered we were up against it, I read a great book titled “Factor 4″, written by Amory Lovins, his then wife Hunter, and Ernst von Weizsacker (isn’t that a great name?!)

In that book, Lovins proclaimed himself a lover of cars with “the Hypercar”, a hydrogen/fuel cell contraption built out of Carbon fibre, hyper aerodynamic, etc etc….. having just googled it looking for a link to give you reveals not much has happened.  But at the time I was mesmerised by all this technology, it all seemed so likely?  I lurked in forums full of fans of the Hydrogen Economy, and Lovins’ green car…. and there, I found one person who argued it was all BS.  Her name is Dr Susan Krumdieck, an American engineer from Colorado who now lives In New Zealand where she’s an  Associate Professor at Canterbury University and teaches sustainable systems around fuel cells, alternative energy technologies, energy conservation, energy systems engineering, and materials for energy systems.  You know, someone I can really get on with?

Susan is very approachable (if very busy) and replied to an email I sent her, fishing for info, all those years ago….  It turns out what she doesn’t know about fuel cells isn’t worth knowing!  She actually lectures about this stuff all over the world, and surprise surprise, has come to the same conclusions as me.  We will have to make do with a hell of a lot less in the future.

Find out how straight from her mouth…..

Susan Krumdieck

Originally aired on Saturday Morning, Saturday 12 April 2014

Susan Krumdieck: transition engineering Researcher in mechanical engineering at the University of Canterbury, and a founding member of the National Energy Research Institute.

Duration:  30′ 20″



5 responses

15 04 2014

Hi Mike, Mia here. We met a few years back and you showed me around your place.

I rediscovered your blog just now when I was doing a search on Susan Krumdieck. Glad to see you are still going strong.

I’m undertaking a research masters this year and I’m looking into Susan’s ‘Transition Engineering’ methodology. What a happy coincidence that I conducted this search the same day you post about her. But then, perhaps there is no such thing as a coincidence.

Anyway, just wanted to drop a line and say Hi. Perhaps I should start blogging again now that I have a bit more time on my hands.


15 04 2014

Hello stranger……. How are you settling at your new abode? I’ve got your blog bookmarked, but with nothing happening for ages, I gave up looking… so yes it would be good to see you writing again. This blog is going gangbusters, and has grown easily fourfold since I saw you last…

Susan is a great person to ‘know’… I wish my son would see the light and go to NZ to do a degree with her… Good to hear from you..


31 08 2014
John C Smilt

Where does the hydrogen comes from?

25 10 2014
Susan Krumdieck

John, Hydrogen doesn’t “come” exactly – it needs to be manufactured. About 45% of the hydrocarbons in a barrel of crude oil is manufactured into gasoline. When that gasoline is burned in your car, you are using the hydrogen in the fuel, and the carbon. With catalysts, careful control of reactant flows, and high temperatures, the chemistry of combustion can be altered, using less oxygen, so that the products are not water and CO2, but H2 and CO and maybe some CH4 and water and other things. This is called reforming. There is even more chemical engineering needed to separate the gases if you are going to get a stream of the high purity hydrogen you need for a fuel cell.

It doesn’t take very much energy input (usually burned oil) into a refining process to heat the oil and then separate the condensable vapors into different “fractions” by cooling. People do this when they distill alcohol. But separation of gases is a bigger problem because the components don’t separate by cooling – unless you were crazy and used cryo-cooling.

The bottom line is that the processes of refining crude oil into the numerous fractions of useful hydrocarbons requires about 5% of the energy in the oil be expended. So you pay an energy conversion tax on each barrel of 5%. Of course this refining energy is lower for light oil and higher for heavy.
For hydrogen you have to spend at least 2 time the energy in the hydrogen to manufacture the hydrogen. You pay an energy conversion penalty of 200-300%. Hydrogen isn’t a fuel.

Hydrogen is an essential reactant. We would not have sticky notes, gasoline, cooking oil, medicines, cosmetics, computers, cell phones, televisions, medical imaging devices, drill bits… if we didn’t manufacture hydrogen and use it in chemical processing. Hydrogen isn’t a fuel.

25 10 2014
Susan Krumdieck

Now for story of Hydrogen from electrolysis of water as a way to store renewable energy.

There should be a story tax. Anybody who wants to tell a story about something should have to pay a tax equal to the cost of actually doing it. If you had that money, then you should actually do it and then provide DATA, and not tell stories.

Get yourself a wind turbine. (go shopping and get a price, then use a free software like SAM from NREL to calculate how much power you could produce in your area)
Get yourself a solar panel (go shopping….)
Get yourself an electrolyzer. (go shopping! just go get one, or at least try real hard, try a chemistry equipment supplier)
Get yourself a hydrogen compressor and storage tank. The compressor needs to be lubricant-free. AirSquared make one – go buy it. The tank is pretty standard you can get it from AirProducts. You’ll need a regulator too and some valves and controls and monitoring system.
Get yourself a fuel cell. That’s right. Remember that Amory Lovins said we were going to have a hydrogen economy more than 15 years ago. Remember that there have been billions spent on research around the world. Now – go to the market and actually PURCHASE a bloody fuel cell.
Get your safety shed and certification for having a tank of hydrogen, and the electrical inverter and controllers needed to hook up the fuel cell to your appliances and lights.

Now – go get yourself a bank of lead-acid batteries with the same capacity as your fuel cell.

Finally – Ask yourself why you would want to add 3 more wind turbines in order to use the same amount of electricity in your appliances, so that you could use that hydrogen system instead of the battery one. And look at your bill.

The next person you hear bring up hydrogen, tell them to just go buy a hydrogen system or shut up about it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s