My own private... hydrogen power station?

hydrofillpic.jpg

For years, it's been called the fuel of the future. But I wasn't expecting THIS vision just yet.

Hydrogen fuel cell technology was first embraced a few years back by carmakers eager to go green. The big obstacle? Hydrogen at the pump wasn't available, and was expensive to produce.

But one inventor hope to change that.

Hubbing through Hong Kong, Taras Wankewycz showed me a table-top hydrogen power station that can extract hydrogen from water to be used in fuel cells.

The Hydrofill uses electricity from the outlet (as well as solar panels if you're particularly green), and produces hydrogen that can then be stored in refillable cartridges. The system can pump out 2.5 watts of power.

(And brushing Hindenburg nightmares aside, the company insists the technology is safe.)

No word yet on the cost. Online chatter puts it at about $200 for the whole kit, but Taras himself is mum on giving an exact number because he's still in talks with retailers. He expects to have it on shelves at the end of the year.

Taras' company, Singapore-based Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies, is also pushing out a range of products which can use the cartridges to power up smartphones, lights and other devices including a zippy RC hydrogen fuel cell car.

Taras is confident his invention is the very first step to a so-called hydrogen economy where hydrogen displaces oil as our chief source of energy.

One interesting upside -- hydrogen is a compact and relatively light source of power... which is why the US military has been developing hydrogen-powered drones.

Of course, the obvious big upside of hydrogen is that it's clean. Hydrogen fuel cells produce only water vapor as a by-product. But power is still needed to produce the stuff.

My own private... wind turbine? (Hat tip to Constance Cheng, my Eco Solutions producer.)

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  1. Remember that hydrogen is _not_ an energy source, it is an energy vessel/container/storage, like a battery. The reason is that we have almost no free H on Earth, the gravitational force is not strong enough to trap it. The only source of H is in molecules (like water). Hence we must _spend_ energy to get the free H out of a molecule and store it in a H-cell. We get some of that energy back when we recombine the H. There is always energy loss in the process (and contribution to global warming). So it is not H that will solve the overall net energy needs.

    That being said, H-cells are a great way to have portable energy. Solar cells or wind turbines are not practical in cars or planes :) Charging a H-cell using an alternative/renewable energy source and using that H-cell is a great way to use renewable energy. Also, global warming contribution from H is much less than from petrol, because no green-house gas is produced during the combustion, only heat.

    1. Hydrogen has an available electron, so yes, it is a source not merely a storage medium.

      The old salve that you report has been going around a long time and I wish people would stop repeating it.

    2. Hydrogen is an energy source. It contains one electron. If the electron can be liberated by less energy than it provides, then it is an energy source, not a “storage mechanism” as the H2H8ers mistakenly say.

  2. This would be especially great if a fuel cell could be made the size of an existing alkaline battery, and made to output a similar amount of energy… though I kind of doubt that’s possible.

  3. It’s not a hydrogen power station, it’s effectively a fuel cell charger powered by a tiny solar power station.

    How long would it take for it to earn its manufacturing and purchase cost back, compared to using mains? Handy if you need hydrogen and don’t have mains power though.

  4. not being able to listen to the video I’m not sure if this is covered but what does it mean by ‘put out 2.5W of power’?

    if it’s talking about the amount of hydrogen being produced then Watts are a very odd way of measuring it. if it means the amount of energy being consumed by the unit then this is at lease an admirably tiny amount, however as the poster up there pointed out, you aren’t getting anything for nothing here, and given that a gallon of petrol has 1.3x10e8 joules in it and 1 watt is 1 joules per second.. I make that 14 thousand hours.

    ok so electric cars are more efficient but lets not run busses off this system.

    1. They used to do this in tools all the time; use a unit of measurement that’s unusual or not even relevant when the comparison with the rest of the field looks poor for your product. Get a top of the line cordless drill and it’ll say 18V on it, whether it’s correct or not to list batteries strictly by the voltage, I suspect not, but the top guys all used this standard. But get the cheaper line and they’ll tell how many amps it is, so that you can’t make a direct comparison other than price without reading the specs on both.

      1. But watts *are* a very relevant unit here.

        This device produces a continuous output of hydrogen to be stored in cartridges. What can it power? You can’t choose a voltage or current until you pick what kind of fuel cell is going to consume the hydrogen, but you know precisely how much hydrogen is produced per unit time, and how much energy that hydrogen contains. Hence, wattage. At 2.5W, it can run a game boy, but not a laptop.

      2. the reason power tools advertise voltage is because it is directly proportional to torque. Higher voltage equals more “twisting” power. Look at the amp hour rating for how long it will last.

  5. “hydrogen is a compact and relatively light source of power… ”

    It really depends on what methods of storing and consuming the hydrogen are used, otherwise were talking apples and oranges.

    Hydrogen stored as a compressed gas or liquid is extremely bulky.

    1. It may be bulky, but hydrogen is light_weight_. Also, to solve the space problem, you can suspend it over your head in a balloon :)

  6. As the first commenter points out, hydrogen in this sense is just a vessel for power and it takes energy to create it. Plugging a machine into a wall to make hydrogen power cells would take up more power than just using the wall outlet directly, and in effect isn’t much better than just using any form of rechargeable battery (ok, you don’t have to mine or dispose of some of those metals), but, the point is, you are not really using cleaner energy if you’re just charging it in the wall. Charging it up with win or solar is a different story.

    Remember, all electricity has a source and its cleanliness as a fuel is only as clean as that source. That might be wind, solar, coal, or nuclear…but the electricity in your wall did have to be made somehow. Just because you store its energy with hydrogen cells doesn’t instantly make it cleaner.

  7. If this thing can only store 2.5 watts an hour, you’ll be wanting an electric bike to put the hydrogen in. Or maybe a toy train. A Car? Fuggedaboudit!

  8. Regarding the Hindenberg comment, the hydrogen contributed not at all to the fiery deaths of the passengers. Hydrogen, being lighter than air, burned away harmlessly above the gondola. The diesel fuel oil that ran the propellers, though, did not.

  9. Hydrogen is not an energy source. Hydrogen is not an energy source. Hydrogen is not an energy source. Hydrogen is not an energy source. Hydrogen is not an energy source. Hydrogen is not an energy source.

      1. With Mr. Fusion anything is! Even garbage can power your hovercar!

        I think you’ll find that garbage is only enough to power your flux capacitor and other time circuits. You still need conventional fuel to power your average hovercar. Well… that or a stolen train.

        (Nerd pedantry is where the annoying in annoyingmouse comes from)

    1. Hydrogen IS an energy source! In fact, it’s the ultimate energy source. Most of our energy comes (indirectly) from hydrogen. It’s what the sun runs on!

  10. Hydrogen is not a very good option for storing energy. The cycle efficiency, if you’re talking about electrolysis of water, storage of hydrogen, and subsequent use in a fuel cell is about 25%. So, you put in 1000 watt-hours, and you get out 250 watt-hours, for example. This is ideal case, and it assumes you’re storing the hydrogen as a big bag of gas and not using any additional energy to compress it or using heat to recycle a metal hydride bed, and so on. While it’s true that hydrogen does have an impressive energy density, 18 kWh per kilo, it’s not particularly easy to store and the efficiency of making hydrogen from electricity is miserable. All this talk of a “hydrogen economy” is nonsense. A standard lead acid battery has a cycle efficiency of around 85%, better battery technologies have cycle efficiencies over 95%. Yes, they end up heavier than a balloon of hydrogen for a given unit of storage capacity, so it would seem like transportation would be a good application. But, add the mass of the hydrogen containment system and the fuel cell and the difference starts to shrink. Then consider that you’re wasting 75% of your originally generated power, or the fact that fuel cells still cost well over $3.00 per watt of output, and your hydrogen powered vehicle costs several hundred thousand dollars and will go less than a third as far on a given amount of originally generated power than a battery powered EV. Personally, for vehicle use, I’m not entirely sold on EVs, either. I think the answer is in carbon neutral hydrocarbons produced using solar thermal energy. I’ve seen prototypes and met with researchers producing the first stage system, which takes carbon dioxide and reforms it to carbon monoxide using sunlight and a ceramic catalyst wheel that moves in and out of the focal point of the solar concentrator. From CO, there are already developed heat and catalyst systems to make methanol, and from there the Fischer-Tropsch process, again just a matter of heat and catalysts, can be used to make octane. A research group at the university of Calgary has made some excellent advances in carbon scrubbing, rendering it cheap enough to provide feedstock to such a system, and compatible with solar thermal power, plus a little electricity, to run it. Put it all together and you get a total process efficiency of around 10% from sunlight and air to gasoline. While harvesting only 10% of the energy in the sunlight and storing it as gasoline sounds pretty poor, consider that photosynthesis has an efficiency of about 8%, and current biofuels, which use oils or sugars which represent only a fraction of the 8% of solar energy that plants manage to harvest in the first place, are typically less than 2% efficient, and even cellulosic ethanol will fall short of the 8% by a wide margin due to loss of chemical energy when the long polysaccharide chains a enzymatically snipped into something that can be digested to ethanol. Plus, you need different engines to run pure ethanol, so there’s hundreds of billions of dollars of existing machinery out there that would have to be replaced to move to an ethanol standard. It’s still more sensible than hydrogen, but not by much. So, why have billions been spent on government funded research into hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and ethanol? Good lobbyists. The most economical way to make hydrogen right now is steam reforming of natural gas. Natural gas producers would love to be able to use a simple process to turn cheap natural gas into more expensive hydrogen fuel, they just need the technology to allow them to develop the market. And ethanol? Agricultural lobby. Enough said. By comparison, federal research funding on solar manufacturing of carbon neutral hydrocarbons has been in the tens of millions. Not quite chump change, but close when you consider the funding going other places, including batteries. But, the best of the best batteries right now hold 400 Wh per kilo, good old gasoline, whether made from petroleum or made from the sun and air, holds 13,000 Wh. It doesn’t require fuel cells, it doesn’t require expensive and complex storage vessels, and if we make it from sunlight and air (plus a little water) it’s carbon neutral, and not only is it more efficient than ethanol in terms of square meters of sun hitting the earth to a given kWh worth of fuel, it also doesn’t tie up valuable productive agricultural land feeding machines instead of people. Solar thermal plants to make gasoline can be located on non-arable land. To hell with hydrogen, it’s a scam. To hell with ethanol, it’s also a scam. The future is solar electricity, both PV and thermoelectric generation, for stationary use and solar thermal manufactured carbon neutral hydrocarbons for transportation. Battery EVs will also have their place as city cars, since even though the net cycle of solar thermal octane is carbon neutral the local emissions in a congested city can be obnoxious, so I do see a future and a need for better batteries. Plus, if you use the carbon neutral gasoline in a plug in sequential hybrid design, like the Chevy Volt, you’ll nearly double the efficiency of the use since sequential hybrids use an engine designed to run at a single RPM to generate power. Single RPM engines can be optimized to that condition of running alone and are inherently more efficient than engines that run over a range of RPM with good power output. Of course, since solar manufactured gasoline can be used in either a plug in sequential hybrid or a regular car, we can just let the typical replacement rate take less efficient vehicles out of service and replace them with PSHVs. We don’t have to shift en masse to electric vehicles or hydrogen vehicles, so it’s far less expensive and far less disruptive to the economy. I could keep going on here, but y’all are smart… you can look up the research done at Sandia Labs and University of Calgary, you can google “carbon neutral hydrocarbons” or the production of methanol from CO, or the Fisher Tropsch process, and so on. I encourage you to do so, and to look at the data and the facts, and then write your representatives. There are much better solutions than some of the stupidity that’s being crammed down our throats and funded by taxpayer dollars. The hydrogen economy is a con job, a promise of a future that won’t work but which sounds like a plausible enough solution that the public will buy it, and it’s one that’s cost us billions in research dollars.

  11. Ditto to everyone: Hydrogen is not an energy source except in the case of fusion. This clearly is not a fusion reactor. What is worse is that electrolysis only converts 10% of the energy into hydrogen. The rest of the energy is wasted. This is a very cool toy but it isn’t the start of a revolution in power supply.

  12. @paulotex: @x99901: Does anyone read articles anymore? Where does Kristie say that hydrogen is an energy source? (Apart from in the sun, of course, but Kristie doesn’t mention this.)

    The whole article is about making your own hydrogen rechargeable batteries. So which misconception is it that you’re so keep to correct?

    …. that aside… it would be interesting to know what the advantage of these are over batteries. I assume that they can store more energy? How much? And can the power stations that run off these cartridges release it faster than a battery, perhaps? Or maybe scale anywhere from 0.5-120V, say? All that would be cool, but it’s hard finding this information out.

    1. As far as converting voltages: any device can, with the right electronics, converting any DC voltage to any other DC voltages. The company I work for makes handheld devices that run off of a 7.2V Li-ion battery, but the electronic controls let that battery deliver up to 40 kilovolts to some parts or the system, just like your computer running off 120V AC has DC parts running at 3, 5, and 12 V. Since both fuel cells and batteries are DC, it probably isn’t any easier or harder to get a particular voltage out of one than the other.

    2. @SamSam:

      Evidently, not only do people have trouble reading articles, they have trouble LOOKING AT THE PICTURES. The photograph clearly shows a solar panel behind the Magic Box.

    3. it’s some sort of law, whenever someone mentions hydrogen you have to point out that it isn’t an energy source regardless of the contents of the article.

      1. From the content of the article:

        Taras is confident his invention is the very first step to a so-called hydrogen economy where hydrogen displaces oil as our chief source of energy.

        Hydrogen will never displace oil as our chief source of energy because hydrogen is not a source of energy. As long as people keep hyping hydrogen as a source of energy, this will need to be pointed out.

    4. @SamSam: You asked “Where does Kristie say that hydrogen is an energy source?”

      That would be in her article:

      “… hydrogen is a compact and relatively light source of power … ”

      Here’s some more misinformation along that line from the article:

      “Taras is confident his invention is the very first step to a so-called hydrogen economy where hydrogen displaces oil as our chief source of energy.”

      Journalists consistently mix up energy source and energy storage. It’s important to call them on it when they do, so that they get it right next time.

  13. What’s its energy conversion and storage efficiency as opposed to just shoving the electricity into a battery?

    Given the volume, and low pressure the Hydrostik will only be useful in micropower devices. The reason that gasoline has the heat content it does (besides the carbon) is that it vastly reduces the fuel volume by storing hydrogen as a liquid. Compressed gas requires high pressure vessels, unless you’re storing hydrogen as some sort of hydride which you then have to heat to drive it off as a gas.

  14. AnthonyC, yes, watts are good enough to tell you whether it can power a gameboy or a laptop… but how LONG can it power it? And how long does it take to “charge”? Watt-hours people! Like on your electric bill!

  15. Idealistic CG. No pricing info. “Coming soon”. Produced by an “inventor”. Irrelevant specs. Skepticism seems warranted.

    Watts do not measure energy *storage*: battery capacity is measured in milliamp hours, mAh. That is, how long the battery can maintain that current.

    From the news segment linked, and google, it Turns out there is a physical product that exists and was seen at CES, but the pics are deceptive. The cylinders shown are not intended to replace regular batteries: they are cartridges the size of two D-cell batteries, that store the cracked hydrogen at low pressure … in a solid form”, allegedly to prevent it from blowing up. You have to plug these into a special pack containing a “fuel cell”, to burn the gas and convert to electricity, THEN you get power out of a USB port in that pack. How *much* power, for how long?

    “15Wh” claims their website. OK, use a nonstandard measure, see if I care. One NiMH “D” cell can store up to 12000mAh at 1.3v, according to Wikipedia, which works out to 15.6Wh, in half the size of the hydrogen cartridge, without needing a special converter pack the size of a paperback book to make electricity!

    But maybe the hydrogen solution’s cheaper?

    Pricing seems to be about $600 for the kettle-sized thing that puts the oxyhydrogen in the cartridges, $200 for the pack that burns the gas and converts it into electricity.

    Seems to me that regular NiMh batteries are smaller, cheaper, and more powerful.

    Still, nice to see this tech coming out.

  16. These comments relate more to the discussion than to the main article, but I believe they are important.

    I’d like to point out a few widely-believed axioms from a chemical engineer’s prospective as to why there is no hydrogen economy (a term that has actually be in service since around 1970 or earlier). There are many problems with hydrogen as a fuel

    1.) Generation – large scale production is impractical and inefficient. Small-scale is even worse on a cost basis.

    2.) Compression – Hydrogen is extremely difficult to compress, even relative to helium, the closest abundant analogue.

    3.) Storage – This is difficult because it is compressed, and also because hydrogen gas causes embrittlement of steel (meaning higher-cost alloys are required).

    4.) Transportation – The two methods are shipping in closed vessels or using a pipeline. Due to the compression problem and expense of vessels/transportation fuel, the first option is out. Pipelines are also difficult due to the embrittlement problem – meaning new gas lines specifically for H2 are needed (natural gas pipelines won’t work as they are already aged, and embrittlement would finish them off).

    5.) Fuel stations – New fuel stations would be needed, as old gas stations and CNG stations cannot be retrofitted for H2.

    6.) Fuel cells themselves – There are numerous problems with H2 fuel cells, including flooding (the water generated cannot be removed at times, causing problems), high-temperature operation, expense due to use of platinum or other pricey catalysts, etc.

    All of these facts are rather unfortunate, as the hydrogen-oxygen reaction has a good electrochemical potential and it is ultimately very clean, but the technology just isn’t there to make this work. It is because of these reasons that Sec. of Energy Steve Chu cut all DOE-funded hydrogen fuel cell research not long after he was sworn in.

  17. There’s a lot of unscrupulous businessmen who would slap a green sticker on all their products and sell it to gullible people who fail to do the research. Hydrogen batteries are a very lossy way to store energy. There’s nothing especially green about them at all. If you get your energy from a coal power plant they are very “not green”. If you get your energy from a wind turbine they are still wasting your precious green energy more than other battery technologies would.

    1. One benefit that I assumed (which may be wrong), is that hydrogen may be a better form of long-term energy storage. When I charge my rechargeable NiMH AA batteries at home, they start losing power as soon as I take them out of the charger, whether they’re being used or not. When something in the house needs a new battery, I can be pretty sure that my previously recharged batteries won’t be sufficient, so I recharge them again.

      But, I may be wrong. It may be that the state of the hydrogen changes over time, or that there are inevitable minute leaks that occur. But if my assumptions are right, this may be a “greener” method of longer term energy storage. Although, they say that LSD NiMH and NiCd batteries hold a charge over long periods of time much better. I just don’t have experience with them.

  18. It all sounds good but there is a better way with unitednuclear.com hydrogen system that does not use fuel cells but a better method of using hydrogen in existing internal combustion engines. Check it out under the research link on their site.

  19. As other posters have said, hydrogen is not a power source. The reason why is even written into the article: some other source of energy is required to extract the hydrogen from some other source, usually water or natural gas. Hydrogen does not exist naturally in any sufficient quantities to make it a viable energy source, at least on this planet.

    Hydrogen is more like a battery, an energy storage method. Unfortunately, it is a very inefficient energy storage method.

    To be fair, fossil fuels are only energy storage mediums as well, but their energy was accumulated over millions of years, and is readily extracted now in a compact form. Fossil fuels are not an energy “source” because the energy does not come from them, it come from the sun, the only real energy “source” we have.

    The only way that hydrogen can become truly worthwhile is if someone comes up with a way to create it from renewable energy sources, i.e. wind/solar, and store it is a form compact enough that it is comparable to current battery technology.

    But, even if that is achieved, you still need water or natural gas to make the hydrogen, and both of those are better used in their original forms.

    I’m sorry, hydrogen fans, but any way you slice it, the hydrogen economy is a myth, at least on this planet.

  20. I’m no chemist, but I think free hydrogen is rare on Earth because it has a valence of +1 and readily forms compounds with other elements.

    Energy-dense liquid fuels will be important for aircraft and spacecraft for some time to come- the bar is a bit lower for vehicles that don’t have to go UP to do their job.

    Solar-powered aircraft already exist in the form of expensive, featherweight drones. The military wants these for long-endurance surveillance and data relay nodes. As solar cells and batteries continue to develop it’s only a matter of time until piloted versions appear.

  21. What this strongly appears to boil down to is rechargeable batteries with a proprietary form factor (meaning they will only work in devices they are built for) utilizing a relatively inefficient method of storing your home current. I would happily bet anyone a thousand dollars that it is less efficient than any modern rechargeable battery which does exactly the same thing. The thing about technology is that there are no surprises if you are paying attention. I have been paying pretty close attention to hydrogen as an energy storage system since the early ’90s. Hydrogen generation via solar was the topic of my senior thesis presentation when I was earning a Bachelor’s in chemistry in 1994. Several years later I wrote a paper on hydrogen generation from biomass as part of a job application for a think tank that studied, among other things, alternative energy. There is nothing surprising or new here. Generating hydrogen via water electrolysis is old as electricity. Scientists were doing this before they even knew what it meant (they couldn’t imagine splitting water into components because they assumed it was elemental!) It just isn’t efficient. You lose a ton of energy converting water to hydrogen and oxygen and then back to electricity. Sure you can use solar cells to do the job: you can also use them to charge a regular rechargeable battery.

    Storing hydrogen in a solid substrate is also not anything new. It’s an interesting and valid technology. It’s no breakthrough. Hydrogen fuel cells are nothing new. There’s nothing fundamentally different about them than any electrical cell driven by a chemical reaction. GM built a hydrogen fuel cell concept van in the Sixties.

    It’s genuinely neat (assuming it really works) that they have put together these technologies in a package that allows you to run hydrogen fuel-cell-powered gadgets at home. If I was wealthy I would be eager to buy one. But this is a lifestyle toy that nods towards environmentalism. It is not the first step to anything. It is not intrinsically a clean technology because it uses electricity inefficiently. The way the product is being framed is very deceptive.

  22. As someone else commented – hydrogen was not the problem with the hindenburg. The real problem was that the exterior was coated in super-flammable rocket fuel (as a “protective” measure) that immediately caught fire and spread over the whole exterior when a static spark discharged in the frame after the docking lines were dropped to the ground.

    Had it been full of helium, it may have been just as disasterous, if less fiery. Also, helium is heavier and we’re running out of it.

  23. Jellybit, the problem of power loss is actually much worse for hydrogen than it is for things like rechargeable batteries. Hydrogen doesn’t like to stay anywhere, except when combined with other elements into a stable molecule. At high pressures it will leak right through the walls of a steel containment vessel. Even the newer carbon fiber composite storage tanks leak. Metal hydrides will outgas over time, and the hydrogen will similarly leak out of whatever you have the hydride bed in. This device appears to be just a plastic case that hold low pressure hydrogen. Even with the best design, and the fact that it’s at low pressure, it will leak horribly, too. That’s just the nature of hydrogen. You can loose 30% of your hydrogen in most storage systems in a matter of a few days.

  24. Whether hydrogen is or is not a power source is a matter of perspective. The repeated argument that hydrogen “is not a power source” is really silly.

    My laptops “power source” right now is a battery. It’s not the ultimate source of power, because the battery must be charged from the grid. But it is perfectly accurate to say my battery is my power source at this moment.

    These hydrogen cylinders are exactly the same concept as a rechargeable battery. If I could slide those into my laptop, my power source at the moment would be hydrogen. Ultimately I would use up the available hydrogen and need to recharge the cylinders, just as I would recharge a battery.

    It takes power to charge a battery, and it take power to split the hydrogen to charge the cylinders. I think it’s likely that there will be a huge waste of power splitting the hydrogen to pump into these cells. It would be far more efficient to use the grid or the solar cell to power a battery. I can’t see any gain to using hydrogen over a battery in this configuration.

    1. @slamorte: “The repeated argument that hydrogen “is not a power source” is really silly.”

      You’re right, the correct phrase should be “Hydrogen is not a PRIMARY power source”, where “primary” means a source of power which humans didn’t put in there as storage in the first place.

      But people typically don’t understand that distinction, as you can see below, and maybe from the article where it talks about hydrogen as a “chief source of energy”. Though I think there *is* weasel room to claim that the article didn’t mean “primary energy source”, and instead meant “the power storage method we most often use to power our cars”.

      @Anonymous #47:
      “4. We need to switch to something like hydrogen because a.) our supply of fossil fuels is limited and demand is only increasing”

      Allow me to rephrase that for you:

      “4. We need to switch to something like BATTERIES OR FLYWHEELS because a.) our supply of fossil fuels is limited and demand is only increasing”

      These hydrogen cells are not a primary power source, they are a power storage system like a flywheel or a battery. They do not in any way replace fossil fuels. Using an inefficient method of storage will not reduce the use of fossil fuels: it will make it worse.

      I think what you were trying to say was:

      “4. We need to switch [our primary energy sources from fossil fuels] to something like SOLAR OR HYDRO because a.) our supply of fossil fuels is limited and demand is only increasing”

      That’s true enough. But hydrogen has nothing to do with that. At all.

      @Anonymous #46

      You write: “Adding batteries into a system once it’s running creates problems charging the batteries. Some other medium is needed,”

      So you want to replace it with these hydrogen fuel cells, which as I showed above by doing the math for you are worse in every measurable way? Bigger, more expensive, less powerful, slower to charge, and store less charge.

      They’re like… sub-par batteries. Why do you think they’d be any improvement?

      @anonymous #45

      You write “The key to understanding the value of hydrogen-based energy storage technologies is high energy density.”

      Yeah, but while Hydrogen itself has reasonable ED, these things are lousy. You need something the size of two D cells plus a paperback book, to store the same energy as a single D cell. However you look at that, it’s lousy. Lousy, AND expensive, at $200 for the paperback book sized bit, and unspecified for the 2-D-cells bit.

      @Anonymous (replied to comment from HDN) #42

      “the reason power tools advertise voltage is because it is directly proportional to torque.”

      Only if the current, motor efficiency, etc remain constant. Which they don’t and can’t.

      Torque is measured in newton-metres, and is only distantly related to voltage, in the same way as financial markets are related to the weather.

      Just as in lightbulbs, it’s the amount of energy in joules that you use each second, known as the “wattage”, that tells you the power being used in something each second, and hence the work it does. That’s why the electricity company charges you by the joule (1 kilowatt/hour = 3.6MJ), not the volt.

      To me, giving me the voltage of a drill makes no more sense than giving me the metres of the drill. 1 watt is a newton-metre/second, or a coulomb-volt/second, and to give just newtons, or volts, or coulombs, or metres, on their own, is meaningless.

  25. The key to understanding the value of hydrogen-based energy storage technologies is high energy density. As “element 1” on the periodic table, Hydrogen is at least theoretically – the best possible energy carrier since it holds the most energy per unit of weight when compared to all other elements. Fuel cells, which are “hydrogen-to-electricity” conversion devices, should be understood for what they are and studied in the context of systems, instead of as “standalone” power solutions.. Fuel cells will be components of new types of electric power delivery systems, working in tandem with other energy storage and power delivery technologies such as batteries and capacitors. We all know batteries today offer limited energy storage capability but great power density. The main reason why electric cars need so many batteries (making them very expensive to other alternatives), is only to enhance the driving range of the vehicle, not to give it more power. Much smaller fuel cells and hydrogen storage devices (unlike what has been worked on so far by automotive companies), designed in combination with high power dense batteries or capacitors, and managed by a smart energy management system – can effectively use each technology in a symbiotic way, creating a much higher overall energy efficiency, and a lower cost (much less batteries needed, much less fuel cells needed – more energy management/more efficiency). There are weaknesses in each of the discussed technologies, but also strenghts – and when these strenghts are combined together, they create new solutions that in fact eliminate or greatly reduce the weaknesses of the individual technologies. Think of fuel cells as a solution for all electrical applications to run for much longer times and at lower cost to what it would take using other technologies alone. In terms of extracting hydrogen from water, sure this takes energy, but if this energy is created using solar or wind power, then we are able to store lots of it relatively cheaply, perhaps carry and use it in multiple ways which were not possible before. One problem or stumbling block for solar for example is energy storage and distribution, since it is usually produced in remote locations. It’s also possible that we will see new ways of producing hydrogen develop that are more efficient than what has been presented (although this is already a good start). It’s also possible that new storage medium using nanotechnologies take shape – but it’s an evolutionary process that will involve many more innovations. The items presented seem to help us start somewhere – since they are real product applications that can become commercial today, from which other ideas can evolve. This is a “Darwinian” alternative that will have to go through real-market survival instead of purely relying on government support – let’s see what happens!

  26. Living off the grid, I’m looking for some way to use the energy created by my solar panels once the batteries are full each day.

    Adding batteries into a system once it’s running creates problems charging the batteries. Some other medium is needed,

    Even if making hydrogen is inefficient, it’s better than just letting all that solar power go to waste. I need something like this, but something that produces real power.

  27. This is one of the only times I didn’t cringe when reading the comments following an alt-energy/environmental story. People’s responses were, on the whole, constructively critical and increased understanding.

    The takeaway points apparently are:

    1. Hydrogen is, like fossil fuels, only a medium that stores solar energy.

    2. Fossil Fuels store greater amounts of energy, but took millions of years to capture and condense that energy, and burning them is also burning our planet up, so there’s that.

    3. Hydrogen is, at this stage, and inefficient storage technology, releasing a small fraction of the energy put into it.

    I’ll throw in a fourth takeaway point:

    4. We need to switch to something like hydrogen because a.) our supply of fossil fuels is limited and demand is only increasing and
    b.) No matter what the economic disruption from ceasing the use of fossil fuels, the impact and economic disruption of continuing their use is astronomical by comparison.

    Context is important, we WILL be switching to an alternative fuel medium, it is just a question of how painful that transition will be, both economically and mortality-wise.

    1. You have a very strict interpretation of the word “fuel” that is not widely shared. Who says a “fuel” can’t be a storage medium for energy (as in this example) rather than the original “source” of said energy?

      As you note in your own blog even oil isn’t really a “source” of energy if you look at it over a long enough time period, since it’s the end product of complex chemical reactions fueled by the nuclear power source at the center of our solar system.

    2. steve.puma,

      I realize that you’re a bit of a troll and a self promoter, but I’d like you to clarify the following:

      To get hydrogen in any useful quantities, it must be extracted from natural gas, water or biomass, and all of these result in a net loss of energy. It is more efficient to use these fuels in their original forms.

      Are you trying to imply here that water is a fuel source? That is just as silly as calling hydrogen a fuel source. Perhaps you mean hydroelectric power? But I fail to see what that would have to do with the argument. Also you claim that water is scare. But using water as a source of hydrogen doesn’t destroy water. What do you think becomes of the hydrogen after it has been used for energy storage?

      There are some legitimate reasons to doubt that hydrogen will be the energy storage medium of the future, but you don’t seem to list them.

      1. I realize that you’re a bit of a troll and a self promoter

        No, no, he’s “a sustainability and personal technology consultant.” …Oh….Wait…

        But at least he cited Wikipedia in his science article. That beats our Navy research all to hell.

        1. For the record, I cited Wikipedia as an example, not as a basis. I never compared it to the Navy research, nor did I attempt to discredit the Navy research.

          As a matter of fact, I cited alternative reasons why the Navy would want to use Hydrogen in their UAVs, other than hydrogen being such a fantastic fuel source, like its light weight. The fact that the Navy is using hydrogen in a one-off prototype vehicle does NOT support the assertion that hydrogen will replace oil as “our chief source of energy”, something that I can assure you will never happen.

          Perhaps you should have read the article. No one thing is going to replace oil as our “chief source of energy”. It will be a basket of replacement fuels and technologies, of which hydrogen is only going to play a very limited part. Anyone who tells you otherwise is blowing smoke up your nether regions.

          @Antonius: I see that you are a “moderator”, so that must mean that you are an authority on what is good research and what is not, and who is credible or not. Isn’t it neat how putting someone’s job title in quotation marks makes him seem so much less credible, as if he was just making it up. (I’ll put my MBA in Sustainable Management up against your “credentials” on the subject in question any day.)

          Steve Puma
          “MBA”, “Sustainable Management”

      2. You guys are right, my use of the word “fuel” to refer to water was a poor choice of words. I, perhaps, should have used something like “resource”. Apparently, you didn’t read my entire article, because I do outline the reasons why using water or natural gas to make hydrogen are both a bad idea. Firstly, as others have noted here, creating hydrogen is a very inefficient process, and, itself, requires a lot of energy. Secondly, water IS scarce, especially drinking water, and especially if you happen to be far from an ocean. (even if you are near an ocean, good luck finding some place to build your water-to-hydrogen plant). Once you have used the drinking water, it would have to pass through either a sewar system, will probably be contaminated along the way, and only a small fraction of it cold possibly be reclaimed.

        If you don’t think that water is a scarce resource, epecially in the U.S., you should start reading the news from California, Nevada or Georgia, for a start.

        (By the way, I like your use of a straw man argument to discredit my assertions. Of course, if someone is a “bit of a troll” and a “self-promoter”, that must mean that everything they have to say has no basis in fact. It’s simple logic.)

  28. Why can’t people ever have a conversation about hydrogen without mentioning the darn Hindenburg?

    Fact 1) The Hindenburg’s skin had nothing to do with the disaster.

    See:

    http://www.sas.org/tcs/weeklyIssues/2004-12-17/project1/index.html

    http://www.airships.net/hindenburg/disaster/myths

    http://spot.colorado.edu/~dziadeck/zf/LZ129fire.htm

    Fact 2) The Hindenburg burned because it was filled with hydrogen.

    Fact 3) FACT 2 DOESN’T MATTER!!

    Just because hydrogen is a bad lifting gas for dirigibles has ZERO to do with whether it is good as a fuel, either by itself or in fuel cells. That’s like saying that because arsenic is a bad food additive, it must also be a bad rat poison. There are many things that are terrible for one purpose and wonderful for another. Gasoline is a terrible breakfast beverage, and an awful shampoo, and a lousy floor polish… and it burns like crazy… but we use it for fuel all the time. What is this crazy obsession with the Hindenburg?

  29. Hydrogen isn’t an energy source. Most people must believe this stuff is just magically combustible. It simply follows the same basic chemical equation of combustion that any fuel including gasoline follows (and fossil fuel is the source where most hydrogen is farmed, and before someone says look at the article; ask yourself where your electricity comes from.) 2H2 + O2= 2H20 + (Heated O2) an energy drain compared to its ancestor fuel source (this is a slightly abridged equation) 2C8H18 + 25O2 ~> 16CO2 + 18H2O. Gas has much more stored energy so why waste it to make burnable hydrogen? Quit wasting your time and make some electric cars again you greedy wankers.

  30. So hydrogen takes power to produce power! what’s the difference? We do this 24/7 with what we have to use now! The big difference is the environment and the pollution we make doing it! There are no free rides! It comes down to who is going to get rich in the new energy field, the oil companies have had their way for over 100 years, now it’s time for something else. Wind power power is good, solar is even better, it doesn’t have to be a complicated moving machine, it just sits there and does its thing. I make T-solar systems and work with PV s and wind turbines and have done H2 fuel systems for autos, like tony the tiger says “THEIR GREAT” it’s time to move on, and we will have better lives in doing so.

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