Hydrogen economy: These are two words not often seen together any more. The concept of a hydrogen economy has stalled, but is not dead, perhaps just waiting for new ideas, new technologies, new breakthroughs - thus renewed interest - to push it forward. The hydrogen economy meant running our cars and houses (mostly our cars) on the clean fuel and carrier of energy. Hydrogen fuel cells work perfectly well, yet are still expensive, and certainly hydrogen can be used as a fuel in internal combustion engines: BMW has a fleet hydrogen fueled sedans. The real stagnation point is in the generation, transportation and storage of the lighter-than-air-gas, the hydrogen infrastructure.
Hydrogen economy: These are two words not often seen together any more. The concept of a hydrogen economy has stalled, but is not dead, perhaps just waiting for new ideas, new technologies, new breakthroughs - thus renewed interest - to push it forward.
The hydrogen economy meant running our cars and houses (mostly our cars) on the clean fuel and carrier of energy. Hydrogen fuel cells work perfectly well, yet are still expensive, and certainly hydrogen can be used as a fuel in internal combustion engines: BMW has a fleet hydrogen fueled sedans. The real stagnation point is in the generation, transportation and storage of the lighter-than-air-gas, the hydrogen infrastructure.
Even if the cost of building a hydrogen generation and distribution infrastructure could be magically paid for, there’s still the issue of on board vehicle tanks for pressurized or frozen, liquid fuel. Both technologies are a little finicky to be put into the hands of the general public.
Perhaps a new paradigm for a hydrogen economy has to be developed, one that’s built around on-demand hydrogen,
There are at least two technologies, neither of them particularly new, that could be used to generate hydrogen immediately before it’s consumed. One, is to split water through the help of un-oxidized metals (simply known as metals) the other is to dissociate water molecules with very high temperature solar thermal energy.
The first is basically described in an old ”You Can with Beakman and Jax” clipping from the comics section of my Sunday newspaper. It’s called Experiment #2: Take Water Apart.
“ Water molecules are held together by a force of nature. It takes energy to overcome it. Add a tiny pinch of salt to a glass of water and gently drop in a nine-volt battery. When the water settles down, you’ll see mist-like clouds on the terminals. Oxygen forms on the (+) plus side and hydrogen forms on the (-) negative side.(Throw away the battery after the experiment.)”
What’s really happening here is the slightly salty water becomes an electrolyte and allows an electric current to pass between the (+) and (-) terminals. As it passes through water the current splits it apart. It’s known as electrolysis.
The 9 volt battery could be either a primary (use once and toss) or secondary (rechargeable) one. The primary battery makes electricity as a sacrificial anode (typically a zinc can) oxidizes or decays in the presence of the oxygen in air.
Basically it’s the primary battery and its sacrificial anode that form the driving technology behind Hydrogen Power Inc. (HPI) technology. In their case the device is tuned to make hydrogen, not electricity, and the sacrificial anode would be aluminum, not zinc.
(Most any metal that oxidizes easily could be used, by the way.)
The company calls its special recyclable aluminum AlumiFuel (tm). It’s replaceable AlumiFuel filled cartridges AlumiCell (tm) and a portable power generating system AlumiSystem (tm). The whole package is dubbed Hydrogen Now (tm) by the company.
Hydrogen Now would use recycled AlumiFuel in its AlumiCell cartridges as a sacrificial anode in a watery bath to generate hydrogen on-demand through electrolysis.
Hydrogen Power recently signed a Letter Of Intent with Hamilton Sundstrand for development of the hydrogen-on-demand technology.
Hamilton Sundstrand is no newcomer to hydrogen fuel cells. It’s a division of United Technologies which has been building fuel cells for a few decades now. They provide the fuel cells for the Space Shuttle.
It’s a technology to watch. If it could generate hydrogen in large enough quantities, we could someday refuel our cars with the replacement of an aluminum-filled canister.
As above, the other technology for on-demand hydrogen is to use the concentrated heat of the Sun to crack water apart and immediately consume the hydrogen in a fuel cell or perhaps store the hydrogen for later use.
Clean Hydrogen Producers (CHP) of Geneva, Switzerland is one company developing that technology and has recently granted Spanish renewable energy company Grupo Ibereolica an exclusive license right to promote, install and manage solar energy plants in Spain and Mexico using the CHP Solar Water Cracker, for a period of 20 years.
The CHP cracker would use a parabolic solar dish to concentrate sunlight on a thermal reactor where water would be dissociated. The resulting hydrogen and oxygen would be filtered out, with the hydrogen sent off to a fuel cell to allow it to combine with oxygen in the air and make electricity.
The temperature in the Solar Water Cracker furnace can reach 2200 C (3990 F) with a solar energy to electricity conversion rate (via the fuel cell) of 44 percent. (The company compares its technology with Stirling Energy Systems solar dish technology which converts at 27 percent.)
Clean Hydrogen Producers says its technology is scalable with systems shrinking to household-size.
Ibereolica seems confident in the technology and is planning multiple mass solar energy generation plants around it over the next five years. The company is pursuing 14, 50MW solar power plants in Spain and Mexico. To develop its presence in solar energy, Ibereolica did extensive research for appropriate technologies and found CHP's Solar Water Cracker system superior, according to a company release.
Hydrogen Power calls its technology disruptive; that is, disruptive to the current fossil fuel energy regime. That disruption would disappear when fossil energy companies invested and commercialized these, and perhaps other on-demand hydrogen technologies. They just want something profitable to sell at the pump or by the meter.
Selling energy can be a profitable business no matter where it comes from even it’s from the next possible step for these two technologies: combine them, use solar thermal energy to recycle the AlumiFuel.
Hydrogen Power Inc. (HPI) http://www.hydrogenpowerinc.com
Hamilton Sundstrand http://www.hamiltonsundstrandcorp.com
Grupo Ibereolica http://www.grupoibereolica.com
Clean Hydrogen Producers http://www.clean-hydrogen-producers.com
Stirling Energy Systems http://www.stirlingenergy.com