Millions to Fuel U.S. Hydrogen Highway
The Energy Department and the private sector are beginning to roll towards the creation of a hydrogen economy to replace todays petroleum economy. Last week, the agency awarded more than $75 million in hydrogen research projects, a figure that mounts to nearly $100 million when private sector contributions are added. In addition, a hydrogen technology park opened in Michigan with the ability to produce hydrogen to refuel fuel cell vehicles.
The high tech facility in Southfield, MI, is the result of a partnership between the Department of Energy (DOE) and DTE Energy to develop, install and operate a multi-use renewable hydrogen station.
Todays opening of the Hydrogen Technology Park is an important step forward, said Acting Under Secretary David Garman. Projects such as the one here in Michigan will enable industry to reach a 2015 commercialization decision with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
We dont know when, or to what extent, hydrogen will become integrated into the countrys energy system, Anthony F. Earley, Jr., DTE Energy chairman and CEO, said at the Hydrogen Technology Park dedication. Its likely to take years, if not decades, to fully develop hydrogen technologies. But we are certain about one thing: We know more about hydrogen today than we did two years ago.
The hydrogen will be produced using electricity from a combination of grid power and on-site solar photovoltaic cells. The facility is capable of delivering 100,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, enough to power a small office complex and several fuel cell vehicles per day.
The station converts electricity from solar photovoltaic panels at the site and from a municipal solid waste plant off-site to make hydrogen from water, an environmentally friendly process if fossil fuels are not used to supply the energy required to make the hydrogen.
DTE Energys partnership with DaimlerChrysler and BP, called Hydrogen to the Highways, will test DaimlerChrysler fuel cell vehicles and develop a corresponding hydrogen re-fueling infrastructure.
DaimlerChrysler builds partnerships to expand and promote the use of fuel cell vehicles, said Andreas Schell, director of fuel cell systems at DaimlerChrysler. The company now joins with DTE Energy and BP to help further these programs and celebrate the opening of the DTE Energy Hydrogen Technology Park. The park and public hydrogen refueling station reflect a strong commitment to fuel cell technology.
In its most recent report on the hydrogen economy, published in February, a National Research Council panel outlined the numerous technical challenges that must be overcome before hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are widely available at an affordable price.
The Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers and R&D Needs, states that current fuel cell lifetimes are too short and costs are at least an order of magnitude too high. An on-board vehicular hydrogen storage system that has an energy density approaching that of gasoline systems has not been developed, so the range of vehicles with existing hydrogen storage systems is too short.
Michael Ramage, a retired executive vice president of ExxonMobil research and engineering, chaired the National Research Council Committee that wrote the hydrogen report on which the Energy Department is basing the direction of its program.
Ramage told a Congressional committee in March that one of the greatest challenges is the high cost of distributing hydrogen to dispersed locations.
The costs of a mature hydrogen pipeline system would be spread over many users, as the cost of the natural gas system is today, he said, but it requires many technological innovations related to the development of small-scale production units.
The challenge is especially severe during the early years of a transition, when demand is even more dispersed, Ramage said.
Also nontechnical factors such as financing, siting, security, environmental impact, and the perceived safety of hydrogen pipelines and dispensing systems will play a significant role, he said.
He envisioned an initial stage of distributed generation during which hydrogen is produced at small scale near the small user, but not before production costs for small production units is sharply reduced with expanded research.
Energy Secretary Abraham said the projects he announced Tuesday address those concerns. They highlight the emphasis that the department has placed on renewable and distributed production of hydrogen.
They will move the nation toward advanced technologies to make and deliver safe, affordable hydrogen for fuel cell powered vehicles, Abraham said.
Hydrogen from diverse domestic resources has the long-term potential to deliver greater energy independence by reducing Americas reliance on foreign sources of energy, he said as oil futures hit a new high above $55 a barrel before dropping back slightly.
But to be environmentally friendly hydrogen must be separated out from water without using fossil fuels for a cost that is affordable.
Ramage told the Congressional committee that the required cost reductions can be achieved only by targeted fundamental and exploratory research on hydrogen production by photobiological, photochemical, and thin-film solar processes.
The Energy Department has responded to that advice by earmarking nearly $11 million for four research projects on using solar power to get hydrogen out of water through a process called photoelectrochemical water splitting.
Another three grants totalling about $6 million were awarded for solar thermochemical water splitting, and another $10 million is going to institutions working on solar biological water splitting using microorganisms.
Carbon sequestration is linked with economical and environmentally benign hydrogen production, Ramage explained. He said achieving broad public acceptance, along with additional technical development, for CO2 sequestration, is key to the commercialization of a large scale hydrogen production based on coal.
Coal used as the energy source to process hydrogen generates large amounts of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2). In order to reduce CO2 emissions from coal processing in carbon-constrained future, massive amounts of CO2 would have to be captured and safely and reliably sequestered for hundreds of years, Ramage said.
Small scale hydrogen generator projects such as small-scale natural gas reformers and electrolyzers that can be sited at existing gasoline stations also won research grants.
This addresses another recommendation of the National Research Council committee to use existing natural gas pipelines and electricity transmission and distribution systems which already exist.
These small scale technologies, said Secretary Abraham, can also make use of renewable resources to produce hydrogen such as bio-derived liquids and wind-based electricity. r
A list of the most recent round of research awards is found at: http://www.energy.gov/engine/doe/files/dynamic/1992004113051_projects.pdf
. The committees final report, The Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs, was released in February 2004 and is available at http://www.nap.edu
. Find all the fuel cell basics at:http://www.eere.energy.gov/hydrogenandfuelcells/
. Source: Environmental News Service (ENS).