Category Fuel of the Future

An Insight into the Solar Hydrogen Economy

Although the English term ‘‘hydrogen economy’’, to describe a system of delivering energy using hydrogen, was coined by John Bockris, a former professor of chemistry at Texas A&M University, during a talk he gave in 1970 at General Motors, scientific interest in the solar


hydrogen economy goes back to 1912, to the famous paper of Giacomo Ciamician entitled ‘‘The Photochemistry of the Future’’34 (Figure 4.30). This paper emphasized the need for an energy transition from fossil to solar fuels and foresaw that ‘‘our black and nervous civilization, based on coal’’, would be followed by ‘‘a quieter civilization based on the utilization of solar energy’’.

One hundred years later this prediction is eventually coming true...

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Portable Devices Running on Hydrogen

Two billion chargers are sold each year through the mobile phone charger market. The travel charger sub-segment is the fastest grow­ing charger segment, with an estimated market value of more than €11 billion. A number of new fuel cell companies using hydrogen fueled fuel cells are now actively trying to establish sales in this market.

Singapore-based Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies28 is a fuel cell manufacturer that offers a wide range (10 W to 5kW) of standard PEM fuel cell systems, as well as customized fuel cell system configurations up to 30kW.

The company recently commercialized the table-top hydrogen refueling station Hydrofill (Figure 4.22) and the portable emergency fuel cell back-up generator HydroPak...

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Hydrogen Energy for Distributed Generation

Hydrogen will soon be extensively applied in distributed systems of energy production that use new, reliable and sustainable hydrogen fuel cells to produce clean energy 24 hours per day, 365 days per year to meet the demanding needs of apartment blocks, office buildings, stores and neighborhoods. Recently, the US company Bloom Energy has installed



Figure 4.18 A Bloom Energy “Energy Server’’ uses SOFCs to produce enough power to account for the entire energy demand of a typical office building. (Reproduced from Ref. 21, with kind permission.)

several newly developed solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) at a dozen large US firms that now self-generate electrical power from natural gas (Figure 4.18).23

Bloom’s fuel cells can flexibly use any fuel, including bio – or natural gas, ...

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Hydrogen Fueled Power Plants

Hydrogen can be used efficiently as fuel for thermoelectric power plants. In 2010, Italy’s largest electricity utility (Enel) opened the world’s

first hydrogen power combined cycle plant near Venice (Figure 4.15). Hydrogen is supplied using specially built pipelines from the nearby Polimeri Europa petrochemical plant, where ethylene-cracking is carried out.

The 12 MW power plant comprises a hydrogen-fueled combined cycle plant and burns hydrogen gas in a turbine capable of resisting hydrogen embrittlement, which was developed in partnership with General Elec­tric and generates both electricity and heat. The plant uses 1.3 tonnes of hydrogen per hour, has an overall efficiency of about 42%, and is essentially free of emissions...

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Hydrogen Motoring: A Dream Never Coming True?

With about 600 million passenger vehicles around the globe today – and currently with a worldwide production of approximately 55 million units per year – the automobile powered by fossil oil-based fuels is a major

source of environmental pollution. Efforts to market hydrogen-powered cars, which started in the early 2000s, have generally failed. In 2010, The Economist concluded that:

Having soared on the promise of carbon-free motoring, the idea of the ‘hydrogen economy’ crashed and burned when it collided with reality.

Hundreds of experimental hydrogen-powered cars – once hailed as the best solution for reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil for over half its consumption – are now gathering dust in manu­facturers’ parking lots.11

In 2009, the US Government cancelled funding ...

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Hydrogen Fueled Internal Combustion Engines

In addition to its indirect use in fuel cells, hydrogen can be burnt directly in air within an internal combustion engine, with remarkable advantages over gasoline engines, such as in the case of the BMW Hydrogen 5th generation vehicles equipped with a hydrogen tank (Figure 4.5).9

Curious as it may seem, the reciprocating ICE operated in the Otto- or Diesel mode that came to market in the late 19th century is still the dominating power-train technology in 2012. However, an Otto cycle



Figure 4.5 The Hydrogen BMW 5 was unveiled at the Expo 2000 Exhibition. (Reproduced from Ref. 7, with kind permission.)

internal combustion engine running on hydrogen has a maximum effi­ciency of about 38%, 8% higher than the gasoline ICE...

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Solar Hydrogen Utilization

4.1 Hydrogen Fuel Cell Engines

Invented in 1839, the hydrogen fuel cell has been employed widely since the early 1960s in space probes to generate onboard electricity, water and heat.

Indeed, in the fuel cell the controlled reaction of hydrogen with oxygen yields electricity, heat, and water, directly converting into elec­trical energy the chemical energy of the bound H2 molecule.

In most fuel cells developed thus far the H2 dissociation reaction is usually catalyzed by platinum at the anode’s surface and takes place at a temperature of approximately 80 °C (Figure 4.1).

The presence of easily poisoned platinum requires the use of high purity ‘‘technical-grade’’ (purity as high as 99...

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Solar Hydrogen and the Electron Economy

According to the US National Academy of Engineering, the electric grid was the most significant engineering achievement of the 20th century.38 The interconnected series of transmission wires, metal towers, voltage converting substations and their associated control structure that make up the electric grid is of course existing infrastructure of immense value (Figure 3.26). It will be used increasingly in the solar hydrogen economy, in which a continuous source of power – solar hydrogen accumulated during the day – will be burned (or oxidized in fuel cells) to meet cus­tomers’ demands and provide power at night and on cloudy days, as well as when demand peaks.

In other words, once generated in CSP hydrogen plants, electricity and not compressed hydrogen will be sent directly to the appli...

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