Hydrogen Cars: Open Roads but with out Enough Filling Stations

by Kieran McVeigh

This weekend as I zoomed along the ten freeway passing thousands of cars I found myself wondering what happened to Hydrogen fuel cars that in the early 2000’s were heralded as the next big thing. A late January article in Bloomberg technology gave me my answer, hydrogen fuel cells cars are alive and well. Many car manufacturers are preparing to or have already rolled out commercially available hydrogen fuel cars but these cars face major logistical hurdles because of the lack of available hydrogen fuel stations.

With the introduction of Toyota’s Mirai, hydrogen fuel cell cars became commercially available in 2016, however Hydrogen comes at a price as a Mirai starts at about 60,000 dollars. Toyota currently only makes 3,000 Mirai a year so if demand and production ramp up this price will likely decrease. The major hurdle more then the relative expense of hydrogen fuel cell cars is the lack of network of filling stations. California leads the way with a total of 100 hydrogen fuel stations. Hydrogen fuel manufacturers insist that government subsidies are necessary for hydrogen fuel infrastructure to be completed, saying the costs of creating hydrogen fuels stations currently outweigh the benefits. As the all-too familiar problem surrounding global warming of how to get people take responsibility for our planets wellbeing when it will cut into their pocket books. Continue reading

Reverse Photosynthesis Offers Benefits Beyond Renewable Energy

by Isaiah Boone

Pulse Headlines recently posted an article describing a new discovery at the University of Copenhagen. Researchers at the University have found a potential new source of energy which they are calling reverse photosynthesis. This discovery appears to have larger implications than for the renewable energy industry, but for the petrochemical industry as well. During reverse photosynthesis, solar rays break down rather than build up plant material, which is what normally occurs in photosynthesis. The process consists of combining biomass with an enzyme known as lytic polysaccharide monooxygenase. Chlorophyll is then added to this mixture before it is exposed to sunlight. The chlorophyll then absorbs the sunlight and the energy from the sun breaks down the molecules in the biomass into smaller and smaller components until fuels and chemicals are what remain. [http://www.pulseheadlines.com/gamechanger-energy/24057/] The researchers believe that reverse photosynthesis can be a significant player in the global energy industry and greatly combat pollution. Continue reading

South Korean Scientists Develop New, More Efficient Method of Producing Hydrogen

by Gage Taylor

Inspired by the way plants convert sunlight into energy, scientists at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea have developed a new type of photoelectrode that boosts the ability of solar water-splitting to produce hydrogen, an essential process in the development of hydrogen as a fuel source. The special photoelectrode is capable of absorbing a high percentage of visible light from the sun and then using it to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The multilayered photoelectrode has a two-dimensional hybrid metal-dielectric structure that consists of three layers: gold film, ultrathin TiO2 (titanium dioxide), and gold nanoparticles. According to the team’s study published last month in Nano Energy, this structure shows high light absorption, which in turn significantly enhances its photocatalytic applications. Continue reading

Norway’s Path to Zero Emissions: Large Scale Hydrogen Production from Off-Grid Renewable Sources

by Tim Storer

Norway currently generates over 95% of its power from hydroelectric dams, making it one of the most climate friendly energy systems on the planet. In efforts to bring Norway carbon neutral by 2050, the government aims to eliminate emissions from the transportation sector. Konrad Meier of the Stuttgart University of Applied Sciences examines the possibility of using a hypothetical 100 megawatt offshore wind farm to generate hydrogen fuel via electrolysis. Because water hydrolysis uses only electricity and water, it offers an emissions-free means to generate hydrogen as long as the electricity is generated from a renewable source, such as wind power. This could achieve Norwegian political goals of carbon neutrality by providing the hydrogen necessary to transform their transportation sector. Unlike other proposed wind-to-hydrogen technologies, Meier examines an off-grid operation, rather than producing hydrogen at the fuel refill site. The analysis was conducted under three scenarios, and the hydrogen from this proposed operation is profitable in the energy market under only the “best case” scenario.

This is a clever use of wind power for several reasons. First, if this operation were integrated into the power grid, wind variability would become an issue. Keeping the production off-grid avoids costs of transmission infrastructure and variable supply. Second, the variability also makes exporting excess power to the E.U. infeasible. The remaining 5% of domestic power is more likely to come from untapped hydroelectric resources, so wind has no use in Norway either. Using wind power for hydrogen synthesis circumvents these issues that have previously prevented wind production from being a viable energy source in Norway.

To examine costs, Meier used a location proximal to an operational German wind farm, Alpha-ventus, and incorporated its data. He uses 2010 data as his “worst case” scenario, which is a very conservative baseline considering how much lower the power output had been in previous years and how the proposed system would not be subject to transmission losses. The “best case” scenario was calculated simply by the predicted estimates. Given the likely increases in electrolysis efficiency in upcoming years, this scenario also yields conservative estimates of overall output costs. Meier discusses four types of electrolysis, but focuses on proton exchange membrane electrolysis cell (PEMEC) and solid oxide electrolysis cell (SOEC) that require water as the only input material. Unfortunately, research on the efficiency of PEMEC and SOEC is unable to offer precise estimates, and herein lies a major source of ambiguity in the study.

Because there is currently no market for hydrogen transportation fuel, this study is limited by the assumption of a future in which infrastructure has been implemented to support a hydrogen market. Unfortunately, given how variable the results are (dependent on optimistic/pessimistic assumptions), it is unclear whether such an investment is worthwhile at all. However, in as much as the best and worst case scenarios were estimated in a very conservative way, it is possible that such an operation could be an economic way to transform the transportation sector. Further research is needed on the efficiency of the PEMEC and SOEC processes to indicate whether the proposed wind farm is an economically viable solution to attaining a carbon neutral transportation sector.

Konrad Meier, 2014. Hydrogen production with sea water electrolysis using Norwegian offshore wind energy potentials. International Journal of Energy and Environmental Engineering Vol. 5: 1–12. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40095-014-0104-6/fulltext.html#CR1