Up, Up, and Away: This year’s Amazing Hydrogen Ascent

April 9, 2014 |


Could the hydrogen balloon be rising any faster — and what, if anything, is just hot air? The Digest investigates. 

Some say there’s nothing hotter this year than hydrogen, and when we look in the general direction of the sun and its ongoing hydrogen fusion spectacular, we think “there’s nothing hotter next year, either.”

Of course, what most people are referring to is somewhat closer to home. Places like Vancouver, Orange County, and Silicon Valley.

We’ve covered hydrogen a number of times this year — no matter how fast we cover them, more and more fuel cell and hydrogen ventures are coming out of the dark and into the light.

The DOE’s excellent hydrogen adventures

Even the Department of Energy is getting into the act — having apparently run out of fossil fuel technologies to prop up with billion of dollars in loan guarantees.

Yesterday, the Energy Department awarded more than $3 million to Connecticut-based FuelCell Energy for a project “that could increase U.S. competitiveness in the fuel cell market and give businesses more affordable, cleaner power options.”

This project will enhance the performance, increase the lifespan, and decrease the cost of stationary fuel cells being used for distributed generation and combined heat and power applications.

The DOE comments: “The private sector and the department’s national laboratories have significantly reduced costs and improved performance in fuel cell and hydrogen technologies.  Building on this progress, the project awarded today will focus on developing an innovative carbonate fuel cell electrolyte matrix, which promises enhanced cell output and the doubling of service life, which will reduce the costs and enhance the market for efficient, clean fuel cell power.”

DOE and Hydrogen

The DOE’s signature program is H2USA — a public-private partnership launched last year, focused on advancing hydrogen infrastructure to support more transportation energy options for U.S. consumers, including fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).  The new partnership brings together automakers, government agencies, gas suppliers, and the hydrogen and fuel cell industries to coordinate research and identify cost-effective solutions to deploy infrastructure that can deliver affordable, clean hydrogen fuel in the United States.

“Fuel cell technologies are an important part of an all-of-the-above approach to diversify America’s transportation sector, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and increase our competitiveness in the global market,” Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy David Danielson said last year. “By bringing together key stakeholders from across the U.S. fuel cell and hydrogen industry, the H2USA partnership will help advance affordable fuel cell electric vehicles that save consumers money and give drivers more options.”

Let’s look at FuelCell Energy and hydrogen distribution

Try this one for a brain-twister: “Use fuel cells to produce the hydrogen that will be used by fuel cells.”

In addition to electricity and high quality heat, FuelCell’s technology can also make “distributed hydrogen” as a by-product. How it works is there is an excess of hydrogen at the end of the chemical reaction, which can easily be captured and diverted, similar to the heat for CHP apps.

The Orange County Sanitation H2 fueling station is the premier example. The Fountain Valley wastewater facility uses waste gas (produced during the water treatment process) and fuel cell technology to create electricity, heat, and hydrogen—a tri-generation system. As the stationary fuel cell generates heat and 250kW of power for facility use, it also produces 100kg of hydrogen for the vehicle fueling station operated by Air Products. Drivers are excited to use the newest station in Orange County, and it is a much-needed companion to UC Irvine’s station which opened in 2007.

Overall, FuelCell power plants are generate ultra-clean power at more than 50 locations worldwide, with more than 300 megawatts of power generation capacity installed or in backlog,  The Company’s power plants are fuel flexible using on-site renewable biogas, clean natural gas or directed biogas.

Village Farms project

Last month, Village Farms International announced the first renewable energy quad-generation project ever to be realized for a greenhouse operation from fuel cell technology.

The $7.5M quad-generation project will demonstrate the co-production of renewable electricity, heat, hydrogen, and greenhouse quality carbon dioxide from Vancouver’s landfill gas. This first-of-its-kind project will commercially demonstrate the quad-generation of four value streams using a DFC power plant.

In combination with Quadrogen’s H2 Booster technology, FCE will also supply its novel hydrogen separation equipment that cost effectively extracts pure hydrogen on demand to meet customer requirements.

Solar Hydrogen Trends

Another technology we’re watching lately is Solar Hydrogen Trends, which says that its technology, on input of 500 watts, produces 2,797 cubic feet of hydrogen or electricity equivalent of 221,500 watts per hour at cost of $1.80 — and adds that their numbers are audited.

The cost per gasoline gallon equivalent is $0.25 cents (25 cents) or is $0.008 cents for 1kWh.

One startling claim associated with the technology is that it “turns 1 liter of water into 1 kilogram of hydrogen.” Compare this to our story in yesterday’s Digest, which required more than 100,000 gallons of seawater to make a gallon of drop-in renewable fuel.

Now — you might have done some math here, and wondered how you can get a kilogram of hydrogen out of one liter of water, when there is only 111 grams of hydrogen in a liter of water to begin with.


What we haven’t yet seen with this technology is a diagram — and we haven’t seen any documentation on the “1 liter of water into 1 kilogram of hydrogen” claim. What we know is that “The technology provides multifactorial hydrogen reactor with elevated hydrogen production due to a set of sixteen (16) physical and chemical processes, acting simultaneously on the hydrogen bonds.

It’s early days — but we’ve seen that $0.25 per gallon of gasoline equivalent elsewhere. We’ll continue to keep on eye on the company’s progress.

The Bottom Line

Whether you are looking for companies getting traction, the DOE getting more deeply committed, or the appearance of new companies with startling claims arising out of novel technology — well, you have the foundation for a burst of industrial activity.

And we are beginning to expect that another 10 or 12 ventures will be launched before the morning coffee break. Stay tuned.

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