Great Moments in Stupid Advertising


UPDATE: I thought  Ellis Jakubowski’s comment (below) warranted a response. This post wasn’t really about whether hydrogen powered cars are a good idea; however, Mr.  Jakubowski writes:

Because pure hydrogen does not occur naturally, it takes energy to manufacture it.

Okay, just a couple of quick thoughts here:

1. Pure hydrogen is hard to come by on earth (because it’s always mixing with oxygen and other elements), but it is in fact the most abundant substance in the universe. About 3/4s of the universe is hydrogen*. In fact, all of the energy we access on earth, whether it comes from fossil fuels, wind power, nuclear energy, whatever — ultimately derives from that big, bright fusion reactor you may see hanging in the sky on a sunny day. And guess what that reactor (which we affectionately call “the sun”) runs on?

2. You don’t really manufacture hydrogen so much as you extract it, seeing as (once again) it tends to get bound up with other elements here on earth.

And then, yes, you run into this issue of whether you’re getting a good deal out of the energy you expend to extract the hydrogen. In the long term, hydrogen fuel cells may have a role to play as a storage mechanism for solar energy. That is, we can “store” solar power in the form of extracted hydrogen, which can be burned even when the sun isn’t shining.

That may or may not ever work. But there’s one thing I think we can be fairly certain of. If someone does make a big breakthrough in hydrogen fuel cell technology, they will almost certainly have internalized the valuable lesson that Hyundai learned (below). And thus on to the actual subject at hand — stupid advertising.

* Not counting dark matter, obviously.

The new Hyundai IX35 is claimed to produce “100% water emissions” via its hydrogen fuel cell technology. Awesome. So what better way to highlight this technological breakthrough than an ad showing a man trying to kill himself?

Get it? There’s no carbon monoxide! So now he’ll be forced to –last season of Mad Men spoilers ahead — go to the office and hang himself! Ah, the shenanigans that will ensue when his co-workers find him dangling there. Almost as hilarious as it would have been if his nine-year-old son had found him asphyxiated in the garage! That kind of thing is really funny.

Or edgy.

Or something.

Anyhow, it sure makes me want to get one of these…


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  20. 2013-05-22 10:02:19

    The US Department of Energy seems to think that hydrogen derived from electrolysis can be used in fuel cells. Anyhow, in refuting my claim that solar power can be stored in the form of hydrogen in fuel cells, you wrote: “The stored energy is in the H2.” My point exactly. And: “H2 is not a source of energy either, on earth, [never claimed it was, outside of the solar fusion context] but merely a carrier.” Okay, my mistake. Fuel cells don’t store energy. They carry energy. Got it.

  21. 2013-05-21 12:02:42

    True -- water vapor is a greenhouse gas, after all.

  22. 2013-05-21 07:25:22

    God, or nature, has already figured out the most efficient way to store Hydrogen, oil. Solar energy is most efficiently stored in plant oils, soybean, etc. These oils also have the quality of not being explosive at room temperature. Equipment required to extract Hydrogen from these oils directly? A diesel engine.

  23. 2013-05-21 07:01:16

    Hyundai has stressed that the film was not an advert approved by them and was never hosted on any Hyundai sites.

  24. 2013-05-21 03:24:38

    Yeah, I can't imagine any problems with tens of thousands of cars pumping out water emissions in a large city in, say, August.

  25. 2013-05-20 21:26:15

    I would just note the Hindenberg and hydrogen...

  26. 2013-05-20 20:53:53

    Phil, thanks for the link, but that article is about electrolysis. An electrolyzer is the opposite of a fuel cell. Put energy in, split water molecules, and get H2 and O2 out. The stored energy is in the H2. And then, you still have to store that matter somehow. I've been in the fuel cell biz for 15 years. I like the technology, but they are not an energy source, any more than a battery is. H2 is not a source of energy either, on earth, but merely a carrier, because, as has been noted, it does not occur in quantity naturally on earth.

  27. 2013-05-20 20:09:35

  28. 2013-05-20 20:06:42

    Read Electric Sky, and you might have a completely diff take on it all. In a word, he makes the case that the sun is not thermonuclear, but rather an arc welder.

  29. 2013-05-20 19:30:43

    Ok Phil, I was underwhelmed by your "potato/potahto" ding against Ellis. Manufacture/extract. Whatever. Ellis' point stands. So, turnabout is fair play: You say "hydrogen fuel cells may have a role to play as a storage mechanism for solar energy." Well, no, they won't. Fuel cells don't store energy. They convert chemical energy to electricity, which must either be stored in something else (capacitors or batteries) or consumed.

  30. 2013-05-20 19:09:32

    Hydrogen is used in massive processing plants throughout the world on a daily basis. Virtually every soap, dryer sheet, shampoo, etc.. relies on hydrogenated substances. Production and handling practices are in effect and working on an industrial basis. If there is money to be made, the free enterprise system will find the solution to safe and effective use. Once the government gets involved you can be assured that the "compromise" will be focused on some "technology" that a major political contributor has patents on or a substantial investment in.

  31. 2013-05-20 18:37:27

    Deal Mr Phil: Please note for future reference that the cars referenced are going to be manufactured, used and fuelled right here on planet earth. Should we plan on making Mars Cars, we know who to look to for their incisive attention to detail.

  32. 2013-05-20 17:57:45

    One problem with using or storing gaseous hydrogen is that the hydrogen molecule is so tiny, it can "seep out" through the container or around the gaskets that would hold a normal gas like nitrogen or oxygen. Think of two normal latex balloons, one inflated with air, the other with hydrogen or helium. Overnight, the hydrogen or helium balloon will have lost a considerable fraction of its contents, while the air-filled balloon is still fully inflated. With a thicker mylar balloon, the problem is reduced but not eliminated. Jerry Pournelle has written about the problems of coupling a hydrogen-fuelled rocket to the fuel source; great (and expensive) care must be taken to completely seal the hose used to the rocket, or the tank to the engine, to minimize leakage. Finally, hydrogen burns with an almost invisible flame; if a fire begins, it is difficult to see.

  33. 2013-05-20 17:34:06

    Buy a fuel-cell car and kill the polar bears! Only slightly technical look at using hydrogen in autos.

  34. 2013-05-20 17:30:25

    In response to another comment: There are other ways to store hydrogen other than pressurized tanks, such as metal hydrides. (I wrote a paper on hydrogen cars many, many years ago and Mercedes has some experimental buses using metal hydrides at the time. ) Hydrogen is actually less explosive than gasoline in terms of which fuel-air mixtures will explode rather than burn, though it does burn very quickly. It will also dissipate quickly.

  35. 2013-05-20 17:20:51

    I tend to be a lot less picky about comments that have something to do with the post. (Granted, comments about hydrogen as a fuel sources are relevant NOW...)

  36. 2013-05-20 17:15:41

    The other problem with hydrogen is that you need a large, heavy high pressure tank to carry it around in in order to get similar range with your car as you do with gasoline. Even when cryogenic (unlikely for motor vehicle purposes) the volumn required for hydrogen is much larger for the same energy content than carbon based fuels.

  37. 2013-05-20 17:14:31

    Very nitpicky on the comment. The statement is basically true though "manufacture" is not the best word choice and there was an implied "on earth". On a more substantial point, proponents of fuel cells and other hydrogen technologies never mention that water vapor is a greenhouse gas.

  38. 2013-05-20 16:34:31

    According to Frank Zappa, the two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity. Coincidence that both were employed in developing this commercial.

  39. 2013-05-20 16:34:13

    Mr. Jakubowski, Pure hydrogen is the most prevalent element in the universe. Perhaps you mean to say that pure hydrogen rarely occurs naturally on earth (it does occur naturally in the exhaust from some volcanic vents and is produced by some bacteria). I think you've been hoist by your own pedant. *yes I know it is petard, but I could not resist.

  40. 2013-05-20 16:32:29

    Mr. Jakubowski: Both of the processes you listed above are methods of extracting hydrogen atoms already extant but bound to other atoms from those other atoms. The term 'manufacture' means to create something not already extant from materials that already are. For example, one manufactures pencils from wood and graphite (and if it has an eraser, metal and rubber as well). With all due respect

  41. 2013-05-20 16:29:16

    I have certain reservations about using hydrogen as a fuel. Apart from producing the stuff, it would have to be kept in pressurized tanks. Back in college, some friends of mine found that they could make lighter-than-air balloons by combining water, aluminum foil and drain cleaner in soda bottles and then capping each bottle with a balloon. It was all fun and games until an onlooker decided to pop one of those balloons with a lit cigarette. Hydrogen gas is explosively flammable. On the other hand, that tired Hollywood cliche of cars blowing up as the result of an accident could become reality if a hydrogen-powered car has its tank ruptured during said accident. Anybody remember the Ford Pinto?

  42. 2013-05-19 18:23:51

    Because pure hydrogen does not occur naturally, it takes energy to manufacture it. There are different ways to manufacture it, such as, electrolysis and steam-methane reforming process. In electrolysis, electricity is run through water to separate the hydrogen and oxygen atoms. This method can be used by using wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, fossil fuels, biomass, and many other resources.:`,"

    With kind regards

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