Friday, August 08, 2008

Hydrogen Generating Modules

Hydrogen Generating Modules for Internal Combustion Engines are symbiotic with any type of engine to enhance the combustion process, independent of the type of fuel used (gasoline, diesel, biodiesel, natural gas or ethanol). Hydrogen Generating Modules help to increase engine performance and gas mileage, while at the same time reducing exhaust emissions by electrolyzing a small amount of water which produces hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen and oxygen mixture is then injected into the engine's intake manifold providing the fuel with clean burning energy. [Full story]


Sunday, June 08, 2008

We've Driven the Future and It Doesn't Use Gas

by Jonathan Takiff

The really good news about hydrogen fuel is that it’s plentiful (extractable from water, natural gas and biomass) and cheap.

"Already, there’s enough hydrogen being produced to power 250 million vehicles," said Burns.

And while liquid hydrogen is measured in liters, the cost/mileage equivalency is "like paying $1 or $1.50 for a gallon of gas." [Full story]


Friday, March 14, 2008

Akzo Nobel Pilot Project Sets Record with Fuel Cells

An initiative by Akzo Nobel and NedStack, supported by SenterNovem, the pilot project with hydrogen fuel cells at the chlor-alkali plant of Akzo Nobel in Delfzijl reached a milestone of 4000 operating hours, delivering over 200,000 kWh to the grid. The PEM fuel cells convert hydrogen into electricity, heat, and pure water. No harmful emissions are produced, and the plant is silent.

This is the first time that this technology has been implemented on an industrial scale of this magnitude, and the 4000-hour record has great significance to NedStack and the entire fuel cell market.

"The beating heart of this power plant is the NedStack fuel cell," said Otto Krediet, NedStack's CEO. "Our fuel cell is based on unique NedStack technology. We have now proved something that we were already convinced about: NedStack’s fuel cells are quiet, emission free, efficient, durable, and are competitive economically and in terms of quality compared to the world league." [Source]


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Stan Meyer has been killed but his technology lives on

A company named Xogen is using Meyer's technology to replace hydrocarbon-based fuel with hydrogen produced from water. Their philosophy regarding impediments from government: "We're not asking for permission." That sounds like it evolved from the libertarian philosophy: "If you think you need to ask for permission, you deserve to be told 'no'."

Go, Xogen, go!

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Gasoline is obsolete

Stan Meyer has numerous patented devices that produce far more energy than they consume.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

The World's First Hydrogen Fuel Cell Jet

The World's First Hydrogen Fuel Cell JetAn unmanned hydrogen fuel cell powered jet made history this week as it took to the skies over the hills of Bern, Switzerland. The "Hyfish" astonished its creators as it flawlessly performed vertical climbs, loops, and other aerial acrobatics at speeds reaching 200 km/h. The successful maiden flight was the result of one and a half years of cooperative development between the German Air & Space Center (Deutsches Zentrum fuer Luft-und Raumfahrt) and a number of international partners. A record performance 1 kW fuel cell and hydrogen system weighing just 3 kg and capable of powering the small jet was supplied by Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies of Singapore. [Watch] 1:03



Safe, Inexpensive Hydrogen Fuel for Your Car?

It’s being proven that six gallons of water, a few carbon rods, and about $2000 will convert your car to a safe, hydrogen-powered vehicle. You’ll have to change the rods about once a year for about the same amount you now pay for gasoline in a month. That’s all. You won’t even have to add water to your tank.

Here’s an interview with the young man who’s making it work and hopes to have it on the market within a year. [Listen] 16:13



Monday, December 11, 2006

Why a hydrogen economy doesn't make sense

Hydrogen vs Electricity

by Lisa Zyga

In a recent study, fuel cell expert Ulf Bossel explains that a hydrogen economy is a wasteful economy. The large amount of energy required to isolate hydrogen from natural compounds (water, natural gas, biomass), package the light gas by compression or liquefaction, transfer the energy carrier to the user, plus the energy lost when it is converted to useful electricity with fuel cells, leaves around 25% for practical use—an unacceptable value to run an economy in a sustainable future. Only niche applications like submarines and spacecraft might use hydrogen. [Read more]

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

New type of hydrogen fuel cell powers up news service
Robert Adler

Within a few years, laptops and other energy-guzzling portable devices could run on long-lasting, easily recharged fuel cells based on a safe and practical new way of storing and releasing hydrogen.

Chemist Don Gervasio and colleague Sonja Tasic, both at Arizona State University in the US, set out to develop a fuel cell that would generate more electricity for its weight than the best batteries, and would also work at room temperature.

Gervasio's solution was to use the alkaline compound borohydride. A 30% solution of borohydride in water actually contains one-third more hydrogen than the same volume of liquid hydrogen.

"The difference is that the borohydride is at room temperature, and it's stable, non-toxic and cost-effective," Gervasio says.

Quick recharge

The borohydride solution releases its hydrogen as it flows over a catalyst made of ruthenium. The hydrogen passes through a membrane and combines with oxygen in the fuel cell, generating electricity and waste water.

Theoretically, this could achieve an energy density up to about 2200 watt-hours per litre Gervasio says, compared to 200 watt-hours per litre for a lithium polymer battery.

"For the same size and weight you can make a lot more electricity, so your laptop or camcorder will run a lot longer," he says.

Clogged up

However, Gervasio's early systems ran into trouble when the hydrogen-generating cells became clogged with insoluble boron oxide. His team looked for something that would dissolve boron oxide, and found it in a widely-used material: ethylene glycol, otherwise known as antifreeze. The ethylene glycol also had no effect on hydrogen generation.

The researchers can now run the hydrogen generator on a 15% solution of borohydride, half-way to their goal of a truly power-packed 30% solution. "By using this additive, we've raised the hydrogen storage to about 600 usable watt-hours per litre, which is two to three times as good as any battery," Gervasio says. "We're half-way there."

Gervasio recognises that there are still many steps between his prototype and a competitively priced, off-the-shelf, battery-sized fuel cell. Nevertheless, he believes they could appear in power-hungry devices such as laptops, camcorders, and radios within five years.

Gervasio revealed details of the prototype system at the American Chemical Society National Meeting, in San Francisco, US, on Tuesday.

Related Articles

Clean energy special: The big clean-up
03 September 2005

Coal-powered fuel cell aims for efficiency
23 August 2005

Fuel cell squeezes more from petrol
09 April 2005


Center for Applied Biosciences, Arizona State University

American Chemical Society National Meeting

Thursday, June 08, 2006

BMW signs pilot hydrogen filling stations agreement with Total

BMW has signed an agreement with the French oil company Total to "co-operate closely in future in promoting hydrogen as a source of energy in road traffic", according to the Fuel Cell Networks website. Total is reportedly to set up and operate three hydrogen filling stations in Europe by the end of 2007 to support the introduction of BMW hydrogen-fuelled spark ignition cars into the market.

The arrangement is an extension of the Clean Energy Partnership (CEP) Berlin Initiative, which is supported by the German federal government, and under which Total opened a public filling station in Berlin in March this year, replacing a test pilot station that Total had operated since 2002. A second hydrogen station will be opened near BMW’s Research and Innovation Centre in Munich, by the end of 2006. The location of a third hydrogen outlet is tol be announced within weeks.

BMW has committed to releasing its first (7 Series) hydrogen-fuelled vehicle by mid-2008, and is reported to have invested over $US 1 billion over the past 25 years to develop hydrogen combustion technology. Results to date have included the development of BMW’s first hydrogen car, the 750hL, the hydrogen-fuelled Mini concept revealed at the 2001 Frankfurt show, a H2R record car and the current 745h, whose 4.4-litre dual-fuel V8 can run on either petrol or hydrogen.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

How do you make a fuel cell? Print it!

by Michael Kanellos
Staff Writer, CNET

The technology that helped make black-light posters and concert T-shirts a cultural mainstay is now being used to make fuel cells, chip packages and PC components.

South San Francisco, Calif.-based EoPlex Technologies has come up with a technique for producing mechanical components with industrial printers. Instead of embossing a logo through thin layers of ink piled on top of each other, the company builds components by piling thin, patterned layers of ceramics, metals and other materials on top of each other and curing the individual layers as the structure takes shape. [Sample] [Source]

Friday, May 26, 2006

Sensor makes hydrogen fuel safer

Engineers from the University of Florida have developed a tiny, self-powered sensor that could make hydrogen fuelled transport safer by detecting leaks and sounding an alarm wirelessly. [Full story]

Monday, May 15, 2006

Running on hydrogen

To get to the cutting edge of alternative energy in New Jersey, travel a two-lane mountain road, turn left at a cluster of old-fashioned mailboxes, amble across a wooden bridge and snake up a gravel driveway.

There, on a 12-acre lot in East Amwell Township, sit 10 cylindrical fuel tanks–waiting for the day Mike Strizki's four-bedroom colonial will become New Jersey's first hydrogen-powered house.

Once it's running, the home's solar-and-hydrogen system will make its own energy.

Three years after receiving a state grant to design the system, Strizki is close to reassuring officials his project is safe–that he isn't assembling a potential H-bomb in the foothills of Hunterdon County's Sourland Mountains.

"Some people are afraid of hydrogen," he said. "Hydrogen is no less safe than propane or any heating fuel. In fact, I think it's safer."

Across the country, others are rallying around hydrogen power.

Hydrogen fuel cells are already powering flashlights, laptops and video cameras. A handful of homes around the nation as well as some industrial buildings and college campuses in New Jersey run at least partially on hydrogen.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a "hydrogen highway" with fueling stations for hydrogen-powered cars. The federal government, meanwhile, has funded a $1.2 billion program to develop affordable hydrogen vehicles and commercial power installations.

Still, many in America's fossil-fuel-addicted society doubt that hydrogen will ever be a viable--aka affordable--alternative.

Misperceptions about hydrogen's safety are among the biggest barriers to its becoming a widely used alternative energy, said Patrick Serfass, spokesman for the National Hydrogen Association.

"You can have the best technology out there, but if people don't have faith in it, you won't get far," he said.

No easy changeover

Hydrogen's biggest advantage is its abundance on Earth. Forget OPEC, drilling in the Arctic or splitting atoms at nuclear plants, hydrogen can be stripped out of a water or methane molecule, even extracted from coal or algae.

But storing and delivering it is a challenge. Explosion concerns arise when hydrogen is stored as a high-pressure gas, which is often done in industrial settings to shrink its volume. Storing it in low-pressure tanks requires a lot of space – something that isn't practical for most homes.

Safety isn't the only problem. Using hydrogen as a fuel for cars and homes will require substantial changes in infrastructure and engines.

"This is almost an indescribably huge undertaking we're talking about," said Lyle Rawlings, a chemical engineer who is Strizki's neighbor and business partner.

The two men run a solar-panel installation company and have joined in a second venture--Reaction Sciences of Long Branch--that is seeking to overcome hydrogen's problems.

The technology that makes hydrogen energy possible--fuel cells--has been around since the 19th century. It is still being perfected. The fuel cells that power some industrial buildings and college campuses in New Jersey can't run on their own – they need natural gas or other fuels to generate the hydrogen.

At Rutgers University, researchers are trying to build a fuel cell that can be more cheaply scaled to the size needed. Lisa Klein, a science and engineering professor who is leading the project, believes it will be years before hydrogen replaces a significant chunk of the fossil-fuel market.

"There have to be some fundamental breakthroughs and new technologies before we see that happen," she said.

It also will require a lot of help from the government, she said. "The powers that be in the petroleum industry aren't going to give up their monopoly anytime soon," she said.

Cost remains obstacle

Since September, energy experts, entrepreneurs and academics have been debating whether New Jersey should open its doors to this emerging industry. Called the Hydrogen Learning Center, the group was created with a $200,000 grant from the Board of Public Utilities.

"It's a question of whether New Jersey wants to deploy its resources to supporting this industry," said Scott Weiner, director of the state's Center for Energy, Economic and Environmental Policy. "I don't hear anybody saying hydrogen is not a fuel of the future. The question is when."

Hydrogen already has a toehold in the state.

The U.S. headquarters of BOC, one of the world's largest hydrogen companies, is in Murray Hill. Its chief business is supplying hydrogen to businesses for use in manufacturing, but it has a small division developing fuel cells for forklifts and as backup power sources for cellphone towers and utility companies, said Mike McGowan, the company's director of hydrogen energy.

In Eatontown, Millennium Cell is working on portable power fuel cells -- called hydrogen batteries -- for use in laptops, flashlights and video cameras. It has military contracts to build long-lasting batteries for battlefield operation kits.

Officials at both companies predict the nation will be slow to wean itself from its reliance on gasoline-fed engines and coal and nuclear power plants.

The chief reason is cost. Back when it was trying to develop fuel cells for vehicles, Millennium Cell patented a method of storing hydrogen in a liquid or salt form, said Rex Luzader, the company's vice president of government relations. But it would have cost the energy equivalent of about $25 a gallon--making today's $3 per gallon for gasoline seem like a bargain.

"We cannot realistically compete against the gasoline market and the electrical grid," he said.

McGowan thinks it's more likely that hydrogen will first be used to power buildings in remote parts of the world where there is no power grid.

Emphasis on safety

Strizki, however, believes people need to think big -- and stop focusing so much on cost.

The civil engineer has helped design two hydrogen cars, a boat, a plane and highway signs for the state Transportation Department.

Now, there's his hydrogen-powered house. In the summer, solar panels combined with a geothermal system will harness energy from the ground to run his air conditioning and appliances.

The solar energy also will power a machine that converts water into a hydrogen gas to be stored in tanks. In the winter, that hydrogen will fire up a fuel cell that will keep heat and electricity flowing.

Nothing will be emitted from this mini power plant, Strizki said.

On the day he flips the switch, he'll need a shipment of hydrogen gas. After that, the house will make its own.

But first, he needs to convince officials his project is safe.

Officials in his community said they didn't have the expertise to rule on his permit request. Then Strizki had to enlist a building code expert to explain his plans to state officials. The state is studying some of the electrical details, but has signed off on the mechanics of the plans.

The cost of the hydrogen system could exceed the $225,000 grant Strizki received from the BPU.

That price tag is way too high for the mass market. His goal is to get the power on and look for ways to reproduce it more cheaply.

"Technology is always going to cost more in the beginning," he said. "But over time the costs go down as you figure out how to make something more efficient and how to mass-produce it."


Monday, April 24, 2006

Hydrogen power from enzymes

A hydrogen fuel cell that uses enzymes instead of expensive metal catalysts has been used to power a digital watch. The device, developed at the University of Oxford, uses one enzyme taken from bacteria and another from a fungus, on separate electrodes. The bacterial enzymes split hydrogen into protons and electrons, then the fungal enzymes combine hydrogen ions with oxygen, providing the energy to drive the cell. [More]

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Fuel Cell Europe reports positive developments for fuel cells in Germany and UK

FCEu--Fuel Cell Europe is witnessing promising signs for fuel cell commercialisation, amidst a political climate that is turning a more favourable eye to clean energy technologies. These signs are emerging from announcements, made by national and local government in Germany and the UK, of long-term commitment to financing research, development and deployment projects for fuel cells in transport and stationary applications.

The German Transport Minister, Wolfgang Tiefensee, announced last week that €500 million will be made available for funding research over the next 10 years on fuel cell vehicles in Germany. The announcement was made at the opening of the second hydrogen refueling station in Berlin, which is keen to become Europe’s capital for low pollution technologies. The announcement underlines Germany’s commitment to creating a hydrogen infrastructure for fuel cell vehicles.

London is also very active regarding fuel cell vehicles, with Mayor Ken Livingstone announcing recently that 70 fuel cell buses will be made available to Londoners by 2010 as part of a £22 million green package for the city. This is set to place London at the forefront of fuel cell deployment in public transport and constitutes an important step for increasing visibility of fuel cell vehicles.

Finally, on another encouraging note the UK government is to announce a public-private partnership for energy research over the next 10 years expected to total up to £1 billion. The initiative will provide funding for clean energy technologies so that they can be brought to market through the necessary subsidies, ensuring that the UK remains a leader in Europe for clean energy and for fuel cell commercialisation.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

Testing fuel cells

Automotive fuel cells offer significant benefits when compared to petroleum-based combustion engines—and they require test engineers to use a multitude of measurement and inspection systems to validate the new technology. Fuel stacks, fuel chemistry, subsystems, and entire fuel-cell systems require simulation and modeling, materials analysis, and control and monitoring. [Full story]

Friday, April 07, 2006

U.S. funds fuel cell research

The U.S. government plans to award $50 million in research grants over the next three years to advance hydrogen fuel cell technology, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said Thursday.

Bodman said the department would begin soliciting proposals from companies, laboratories and universities this month on a variety of issues in fuel cell research, including materials that could be used to store hydrogen and enable hydrogen-powered vehicles to travel more than 300 miles before refueling.

The grants are meant to further the government's goal of putting hydrogen-powered vehicles on the road by 2020, Bodman said in a speech to the Society of Automotive Engineers in Detroit.

Most automakers are working to create vehicles that rely less on gasoline as energy prices rise and governments tighten limits on emissions.

Fuel cells rely on hydrogen, which reacts with oxygen to create electricity. The only emission is water vapor. But technological breakthroughs are necessary before odorless, colorless hydrogen is commercially viable for widespread use.

For now, Bodman said, E85, or 85% ethanol, is a proven alternative to gasoline.

Interest in E85 has grown in recent months. The fuel, made mostly from corn, produces fewer pollutants than gasoline, burns cleaner and is a renewable, U.S.-based resource.

General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler have said they would build E85-powered vehicles this year. GM plans to build 400,000 so-called flex-fuel vehicles, which can run on gas or E85. Ford said it would produce as many as 250,000 ethanol-capable vehicles.


Thursday, April 06, 2006

The future of hydrogen fuel cells discussed at Purdue University conference

With gasoline prices again on the rise, scientists and policymakers gathered yesterday at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., for a conference exploring the goal of making hydrogen-fueled cars a practical and affordable alternative to combustion engines. [Full story]

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Cheap hydrogen fuel

GE says its new machine could make the hydrogen economy affordable, by slashing the cost of water-splitting technology.

by David Talbot

Among the many daunting challenges to replacing fossil fuels with hydrogen is how to make hydrogen cheaply in ways that don't pollute the environment. Splitting water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity from energy sources such as wind turbines is one possibility--but it's still far too expensive to be widely practical.

Now researchers at GE say they've come up with a prototype version of an easy-to-manufacture apparatus that they believe could lead to a commercial machine able to produce hydrogen via electrolysis for about $3 per kilogram--a quantity roughly comparable to a gallon of gasoline--down from today's $8 per kilogram. That could make it economically practical for future fuel-cell vehicles that run on hydrogen.

Electrolyzers are fairly simple technologies: water is mixed with potassium hydroxide electrolyte and made to flow past a stack of electrodes. Electricity causes the water molecules to split into hydrogen and oxygen gases, which bubble out of the solution. The chemistry makes a good high-school science experiment--but commercial-scale quantities of hydrogen are extracted far more cheaply from natural gas.

The core problem in improving electrolyzers for hydrogen manufacture is not how to improve the fundamental conversion efficiency, says Richard Bourgeois, an electrolysis project leader at GE Global Research in Niskayuna, NY. "You can only make it so much more efficient; there isn't a lot you can do. So we've attacked the capital costs," he says.

Today's electrolyzers are made of metal plates bolted together manually, with gaskets between them, and the whole unit is typically housed in a chamber made of the same metals used in the electrodes, says Bourgeois. The materials are expensive and assembly requires costly labor.

Bourgeois' research team came up with a way to make future electrolyzers largely out of plastic. They used a GE plastic called Noryl that is extremely resistant to the highly alkaline potassium hydroxide. And because the plastic is easy to form and join, manufacturing an electrolyzer is relatively cheap.

Inside the plastic housing, metal electrodes still do the same job. But because GE is using less electrode material, the reactivity of the electrodes' surfaces is improved. To do this, the researchers borrowed a spray-coating process--normally used to apply coatings for parts on jet engines--to coat the electrodes with a proprietary nickel-based catalyst with a large surface area.

GE has demonstrated the technology in a prototype, and is now building a larger production module--one that can produce 1 kilogram of hydrogen per hour--for testing in its labs later this year. A machine of that scale could be attached to small electricity sources to produce hydrogen on the side. The technology also has the potential to be massively scaled up to create a hydrogen gas station.

GE's new electrolyzer could be ready for production in a few years. "You can talk about transitioning to a hydrogen economy, but really these things don't move unless the economics are there," Bourgeois says. "This takes enough capital cost out of the whole electrolyzer system, so when you buy this and amortize it over so many years, you compete with gasoline."

Paul Bakke, an electrical engineer and program manager at the U.S. Department of Energy in Golden, CO, says a cheap electrolyzer could be a key component of the future hydrogen economy. "As far as I know, GE is the only one who has tried to tackle this problem," he says. "Assuming GE is successful in being able to produce these things with a high level of reliability and low cost, it will break through the barrier that has traditionally been there for electrolyzers--namely, the capital cost barrier."

Bakke adds: "I would say it's an important piece; it may not be the only way to make hydrogen, but it's an important piece. Natural-gas reforming may be a near-term bridge, but in order to get away from the environmental concerns, we will have to go to electrolysis, derived from wind turbines and solar panels and so forth."

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Water turned to fuel for hydrogen cars of the future

by Sarah Perks

The Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization (CSIRO) has been turning water into fuel for hydrogen cell powered cars.

Developed under a program to position Australia for a future hydrogen economy, the new solid-state unit uses water electrolysis to extract enough hydrogen per day to power a family car for 150kms.

While a number of companies throughout the world already use hydrogen fuel, that hydrogen often comes from a process requiring natural gas, creating unwanted carbon dioxide.

The new model is more environmentally friendly and reduces transport costs by making it possible to generate hydrogen wherever there is water and electricity.

Though it currently runs on mains power, researchers are investigating how to power the unit with renewable energy, such as solar or wind power.

Project leader, Dr Sukhvinder Badwal said hydrogen is the cleanest fuel nature has given us, and its portability and flexibility makes it ideal for a range of applications, including transport.

High capital costs, lifetime performance, and the inability to handle intermittent and varying loads have been impediments to commercial investment in hydrogen technology.

However the CSIRO’s system reduces up-front infrastructure costs by making it possible to generate and store energy on site and on demand. It is also said to use 80-85% of energy created.

Dr Badwal said the team is still in the research and development stage, but “would like to have a commercial partner on board, as a full-scale commercialisation is three to four years away.

“It would require a significant investment, but a company like BP or Shell would reap returns when they eventually marketed this technology,” Dr Badwal said.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

New battery puts power plant in your pocket

Munich - Fuel cells are being called the energy sources of the 21st century. And despite what some people think, the first commercial applications for the technology are less likely to be in your car than in your briefcase or jacket pocket.

For the cellphones and laptops of the future, the batteries may run on alcohol or hydrogen - and if they run out of juice, you simply refill them.

Japanese electronics maker Toshiba launched two MP3 players in October that run on DMFC fuel cells, using methanol as fuel. The larger of the two devices has a hard drive and an edge length of more than 12 centimetres. The fuel cell has a ten-millilitre tank offering an active life of up to 60 hours, Toshiba reports.

The smaller device is no larger than a pack of gum, offers Flash storage, and holds 3.5 millilitres of fuel - good for 35 hours of musical enjoyment.

Canon has announced plans to operate its printers, cameras, cellphones, and MP3 player using so-called PEM fuel cells. A prototype was presented in early November in Tokyo. Unlike many of their competitors, Canon's developers have cast their lot with hydrogen energy sources.

Energy generation using fuel cells is based on the detonating gas reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. The two elements react explosively when brought together, with one part oxygen and two parts hydrogen producing one water molecule. A fuel cell is used to harness this reaction in a controlled, explosion free manner. The energy that is freed up in the process can be used as electricity.

The current crop of fuel cells tends to deviate from the textbook example, not least because of safety concerns. According to the Initiative Brennstoffzelle (IBZ, Fuel Cell Initiative) in Essen, two technologies have been developed for micro applications.

Polymer membrane fuel cells (PEMFC) are created with gaseous hydrogen, while direct methanol fuel cells (DMFC) covert methanol directly into fuel within the cell. A third system comes in the form of PEM fuel cells that are tanked with methanol to be converted into hydrogen and carbon dioxide in a so-called reformer.

According to the IBZ, fuel cell phone and cameras have been announced by many other electronics firms in the past, including Sony, NEC, NTT DoCoMo and Hitachi. No market-ready devices ever emerged, however.

Because fuel-cell devices will initially be much more expensive than competing models with traditional technology, it is not enough just to replace the battery with a fuel cell, says engineer Robert Hahn from the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Micro- Integration in Berlin. The institute has developed mini-fuel cells that are only several cubic centimetres large yet offer a higher energy density than batteries.

If manufacturers hope to woo consumers to the new technology, then the fuel cells will need to offer significantly longer power lives than the current standard for rechargeable batteries, lithium ion. Practically speaking, the experts estimate that the fuel cell must offer three times the power for a unit with the same dimensions. And that may well be the amount of power that the next crop of power- hungry applications like television over cell phones will require. [Source]

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Honda's Home Energy Station

The Home Energy Station (HES) is an all-purpose energy station for home and vehicle energy needs. When fed a steady diet of natural gas (which, at the molecular level, consists mostly of carbon and hydrogen) that is readily available in most residences, the HES converts the gas to straight hydrogen. The hydrogen is then stored for future use, piped into your hydrogen-powered car, or used by the HES for its own set of fuel cells to generate electricity for the home. The system not only reduces carbon dioxide emissions by some 40 percent, it also is expected to lower the total running cost of household electricity, gas, and vehicle fuel by 50 percent. Who wouldn't want to save 50 percent on their gas bill? [Full story]

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

New material brings hydrogen fuel, cheaper petrochemicals closer to reality

A rubbery material that can purify hydrogen efficiently in its most usable form for fuel cells and oil refining has been developed by a chemical engineering group at The University of Texas at Austin.

In the Feb. 3 edition of Science, Dr. Benny Freeman details how his laboratory designed the membrane material and tested its ability, with colleagues at Research Triangle Institute (RTI) in Research Triangle Park, N.C., to successfully separate hydrogen from carbon dioxide and other contaminant gases.

This member of a new family of membrane materials with superior gas-separating ability could lower the costs of purifying hydrogen for hydrogen-fueled vehicles. Hydrogen fuel cells are considered a leading alternative energy for running cars and other devices in the future. The membrane material could also replace an expensive step in current petrochemical processing, or reduce how much energy the step requires. The membrane was tested under conditions that mimic those routinely used by the petrochemical industry to refine petroleum components (crude oil and natural gas) for use.

"A significant amount of the hydrogen in use today goes into the refining industry to refine crude oil to produce gasoline or other products, so this membrane could lower refining costs," said Freeman, the Kenneth A. Kobe Professor in Chemical Engineering.

The membrane differs structurally and functionally from previous options, with a key advantage being its ability to permit hydrogen to remain compressed at high pressure. A compressed form of the light-weight gas is needed to process fossil fuels and for it to serve as a readily replaceable fuel for fuel cells.

Freeman and graduate student Haiqing Lin designed the membrane material in Freeman's laboratory at the university's Center for Energy and Environmental Resources.

The engineers and RTI collaborators Lora Toy and Raghubir Gupta tested flat, disk-shaped versions of the material for its ability to separate different mixtures of hydrogen and carbon dioxide gases at different temperatures. The researchers used the three common temperatures for industrial hydrogen purification: 95 degrees, 50 degrees and minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

The new membrane not only separated these two gases better than previous membranes, but did so when additional components such as hydrogen sulfide and water vapor were present as occurs in industrial settings. The membrane worked so well that it was 40 times more permeable to (better at separating out) carbon dioxide than hydrogen.

In contrast, current commercial membranes favor the transport of hydrogen, a small molecule, over larger carbon dioxide molecules. This process results in hydrogen being transferred to a low-pressure environment that requires expensive recompression of the gas before use.

The new membrane avoids this recompression step by favoring the transport of larger, polar gas molecules as a result of the polar nature of the polymer materials making up the membrane. The polar, reverse-selective materials based on ethylene oxide interact better with polar gases such as carbon dioxide than with smaller, nonpolar hydrogen gas, which is left behind in a high-pressure state.

"The membrane likes carbon dioxide more than hydrogen, and we optimized that affinity," Freeman said. Plasticization, a process that softens materials and dilates them, was also found to improve the movement of the larger carbon dioxide through the new membrane for separation purposes. Several companies have already shown interest in collaborating to develop the material for industrial-scale applications.


Contact: Becky Rische
University of Texas at Austin

Hydrogen Economy May Get Legs

The hydrogen economy has yet to get its legs but if or when it does, it could put the country light-years ahead. [More]

Monday, August 08, 2005

Chemist tries to solve world's energy woes

MIT chemist Daniel Nocera keeps searching for the ultimate source of energy: clean, cheap, and boundless.

by Brian Bergstein
AP Technology Writer

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) -- Daniel Nocera arrives at his office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by 7 a.m., goes home 13 hours later--where he often reads papers or e-mails students much of the night--and returns to his labs on weekends. Vacations? None, really, unless you count chemistry conferences.

After all, trying to save the world is hard work.

If you ever wonder about how the world will produce enough energy to supply 9 billion people by mid-century--and whether that can be done without pumping off-the-charts amounts of carbon dioxide into the air--meet one of the minds trying to produce an answer.

Nocera, 48, is trying to achieve an old, elusive dream: using the bountiful energy in sunlight to split water into its basic components, hydrogen and oxygen.

The elements could then be used to supply clean-running fuel cells or new kinds of machinery. Or the energy created from the reaction itself, as atomic bonds are severed and re-formed, might be harnessed and stored.

There is a beautiful model for this: photosynthesis. Sunlight kickstarts a reaction in which leaves break down water and carbon dioxide and turn them into oxygen and sugar, which plants use for fuel.

But plants developed this process over billions of years, and even so, it's technically not that efficient. Nocera and other scientists are trying to replicate that--and perhaps improve on it--in decades.

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, but it's generally locked up in compounds with other elements. Currently, it is chiefly harvested from fossil fuels, whose use is the main cause of carbon dioxide emissions blamed for global warming.

And so while hydrogen fuel cells--in which hydrogen and oxygen combine to produce electricity and water--have a green reputation, their long-term promise could be limited unless the hydrogen they consume comes from clean sources.

That's where Nocera's method comes in. If it works, it would be free of carbon and the epitome of renewable, since it would be powered by the sun. Enough energy from sunlight hits the earth every hour to supply the world for months. The challenge is harnessing it and storing it efficiently, which existing solar technologies do not do.

"This is nirvana in energy. This will make the problem go away," Nocera says one morning in his MIT office, where the Grateful Dead devotee has a "Mean People Suck" sticker on his window. "If it doesn't, we will cease to exist as humanity."

Lots of people have explored this challenge, but Nocera had a big breakthrough when he used light to coax multiple hydrogen atoms out of liquid. The key was figuring out the right chemical catalyst.

Nocera's 2001 paper on the process in the journal Science, written with graduate student Alan Heyduk, turned heads. Venture capitalists rang his phone off the hook offering to fund him in an alternative-energy company.

The achievement, and its revolutionary prospects, won Nocera this year's Italgas Prize, a $100,000 award given annually by an Italian utility to a top energy researcher.

"Dan is even-money (odds) to solve this problem," says Harry Gray, a renowned California Institute of Technology chemist who was Nocera's graduate adviser.

But there's a catch. In fact, there are a few, and they illustrate how hard it can be to move alternative energy beyond the proof-of-concept phase.

Nocera has performed the reaction with acidic solutions, but not water yet.

The catalyst he used was a compound that included the expensive metal rhodium. To be a practical energy solution, it will have to be made from inexpensive elements like iron, nickel or cobalt.

Nocera's reaction got the photons in light to free up hydrogen atoms, but that's only half the equation. The harder part will be to also capture the oxygen that emerges when water molecules are split. That way, both elements can be fed into a fuel cell, making the process as efficient as possible.

Nocera and scientists not affiliated with his work say those steps are achievable. But first, major advances in basic chemistry will be necessary for the reactions to be well understood.

As a result, Nocera believes it might be 20 years before engineers might design systems based on his work. And he frets that too few scientists are exploring the problem, with many top minds instead focused on biomedical research.

"This is a massive construction project," he says. "You can go back to building New York City in the '20s and '30s. You can't do it with just a few construction workers. So I need more construction workers, more hard hats, with me as a hard hat."

There's another big hurdle. While Nocera plugs away at trying to save the world, some people don't believe it needs saving.

Most scientists concur that continuing to burn fossil fuels will send the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere--it's now 35 percent higher than in preindustrial times--to dangerous levels, causing global temperatures to rise with potentially devastating effects.

"We are literally poisoning ourselves," Nocera says. "People don't get it because they can't see it."

But this is a famously politicized topic in the United States, where some powerful political leaders question the science behind global warming. And that, many scientists say, diverts attention and funds from trying to solve the problem.

And even among people who believe global warming's risks are too great to ignore, there is no consensus on what kind of green energy should come to the rescue.

Nocera cites a calculation by Caltech chemist Nathan Lewis that power demands in 2050 will be so great that just to keep carbon dioxide emissions at twice preindustrial levels, a nuclear plant would have to be built every two days. There's not enough room on the planet's surface for other widely touted solutions such as wind and biomass to have much impact.

Only the sun is the answer, Lewis argues.

Critics of that vision say many energy technologies being explored--including improved ways of storing electricity and different kinds of fuel cells--will come online in the next few decades and throw off today's extrapolations about the future.

Arno Penzias, who won the Nobel Prize for confirming the Big Bang and now invests in alternative energy startups for New Enterprise Associates, contends there are dozens of ideas more promising than ones involving hydrogen.

When told about Nocera's project, Penzias gets heated, saying it is unlikely to be practical.

"It is so far from being revolutionary that it's not even worth mentioning," Penzias says. "It will be a big yawn."

Nocera seems to thrive on such opposition, because he expects to prove naysayers wrong.

It's part of his blunt enthusiasm, which manifests itself when he discusses the joys of teaching chemistry to freshmen ("They love me") or when he meets with his grad students to discuss the status of their research.

Those sessions often devolve into arguments over the meaning of some data or the direction that projects ought to take. Provoked by Nocera's intensity--he'll exclaim, "I'm dying here!" in a tone resembling neurotic comic Larry David--tempers often rise.

One student recently threw an eraser at Nocera, leaving a pink welt on his back that Nocera later showed off with a laugh.

"There were times I absolutely hated working for him, because he knew how to press all of my buttons and drive me absolutely insane," says Heyduk, now assistant professor of chemistry at the University of California, Irvine. "He knew I was the kind of person that needed to be challenged all the time."

Nocera believes this constant prodding at what's possible is the essence of science. As evidence, he reels off several ancillary developments from his research, including microscopic sensors that detect biological hazards, which attracted funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Pointing to a whiteboard sketch of his vision for using sunlight to split water, Nocera acknowledges that it ultimately might not be an energy panacea.

"Is it right? Maybe not. But it will be something. And it might be something I can't see right now," he says. "That's OK. But you don't stop doing something because you can't see it. It's antiscientific. It's anti-intellectual."

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