Friday, August 18, 2017

Implementing Hydrogen - the Last Hurdle

One by one, over the past 50 years, we have faced and overcome the many tough challenges facing the widespread implementation of hydrogen as a fuel for transportation.

Having been privileged to be on the ground floor of this amazing hydrogen energy evolution, I feel I have been able to impact some important milestones in bringing hydrogen fuel to everyday people everywhere. Beginning with proving the concept that passenger cars could run on hydrogen, we’ve taken on and solved seemingly insurmountable  obstacles — safe hydrogen storage (metal hydride technology), a ready fuel supply (various reformation processes),  acceptable operating costs (the high-efficiency fuel cell) — and now, the last frontier, distribution.

My favorite solution for distributing hydrogen at this point, and one that I am seriously looking at putting into commercialization, actually solves two problems — where do we get the hydrogen,  and how do we create an infrastructure to deliver it. 

What if we were to produce the hydrogen right there at the fueling station where we will be refueling the cars? We have the capability of making hydrogen out of water and any source of energy; we can use solar (although it is expensive); we can use wind; but we can also use hydrocarbon fuels. For example, we can use water and gasoline to make hydrogen, and we can do so at very high efficiency so that we end up with about as much hydrogen energy as we had gasoline energy.  

We can make a machine that could be installed behind a gasoline refueling station that would draw gasoline out of the station's underground fuel storage tanks similar to how a gasoline pump draws gasoline out of that tank to fuel cars. This machine would have a reaction system that would react gasoline with water, give off some CO2,  and produce hydrogen to refuel cars. 

All of a sudden all of our existing gas stations could also be producing hydrogen. We could do it practically overnight. This is a project I am very interested in.

Now, since the energy is coming from the gasoline, some may wonder what good have we done. We are still using gasoline. We are still giving off CO2. As it turns out, there is a big advantage to this approach, and it comes because of the efficiency we gain by using a hydrogen fuel cell. With our modern fuel cell technology, we can refuel a car’s 20-gallon gasoline tank with 10 gallons of hydrogen and go the same distance. The net effect is that the cost of the fuel would be cut in half. 

The same is true for CO2 emissions. If we put gasoline in an engine, the byproduct is CO2. When we make hydrogen from gasoline, the byproduct is CO2 in the same amount, but with the gallon of gasoline we converted to hydrogen, we are able to get 2-gallon's worth of driving. The net effect is, we've cut the CO2 emission in half, and that's going to have a significant impact on CO2 being released into the atmosphere.

At first we will make the hydrogen from gasoline, from natural gas, and even from coal. But as we get smarter, we'll make it from solar, from wind, and someday, I believe, from nuclear fusion.

The idea of having hydrogen that could be produced by every country – no country getting rich off their neighbors, because everybody can make their own — of having a fuel that is safe, that is environmentally clean, and that keeps the cost of energy down so that we're not tearing up so many of our earthly resources, is pretty exciting to me, and I believe it is possible. 

My goal for the past 50 years has been and continues to be to have everybody able to save money and save the environment by driving hydrogen cars. We now have the technologies and the experience to really do it!  I am determined to do my part to make it happen.

For a broader picture and technical details, please view my recent Science Forum