Researchers in Belgium have engineered a device that uses sunlight to purify polluted air and, in the process, produces hydrogen gas that can be stored and used for power. Two teams of researchers separately investigating processes for air purification and hydrogen production combined their efforts to create the new device.
UPS recently announced a demonstration project that will put a prototype electric truck powered by a hydrogen fuel cell through the delivery company’s challenging paces. Fuel cells have been used in some commercial vehicles to power auxiliary systems, but this is the first time that they will be used to propel a vehicle.
There is a tendency to think of the changes in the energy industry as a pitched battle between fossil fuel companies and renewable energy. There is some truth to this, but only to a certain extent. The multi-trillion-dollar fossil fuel industry is made up of businesses dedicated to growth and increased profits. And like businesses in other industries when major changes occur, fossil fuel companies may read the tea leaves and change with the times.
The methanol economy is an idea that was promoted by the late Nobel-prize-winning chemist George Olah since the 1990s. The idea is to replace fossil fuels with methanol for energy storage, ground transportation fuel, and raw material for hydrocarbon-based products. Methanol is the simplest alcohol and can be produced from a wide variety of sources ranging from fossil fuels to agricultural products to just carbon dioxide. Methanol can be used directly as a fuel or it can be reformed into hydrogen, which can then itself be used as a fuel.
It seems like something out of a science fiction movie, but a nearly silent train that glides along its tracks emitting nothing but water is a reality. In March, Germany conducted successful tests of the world’s first “Hydrail,” which is a hydrogen-powered, zero-emission train.
Renewable energy may be under attack by the federal government these days, but one federal agency is making great progress on using the sun’s energy to split hydrogen from water. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, located in Golden, Colorado, recently highlighted two initiatives aimed at the production of renewable hydrogen.
Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have developed a new method for producing hydrogen from water using solar energy. If successfully developed, their approach would make it possible to produce hydrogen in a centralized manner at the point of sale such as at a fueling station for hydrogen-powered cars.
Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles are just starting to enter the market but they have a long way to go before they can even catch up with their battery-powered counterparts. Powering cars with hydrogen has the advantage that fueling the vehicle is much like what we are used to: pull up to the pump, fill your tank for a few minutes, and drive off.
The Red and White Fleet has been ferrying tourists around San Francisco Bay since 1892 and is a company committed to environmental sustainability. When looking for ways to reduce the emissions from its fleet of passenger ferries, the company wondered if there was a way to eliminate emissions entirely. That question was put to researchers at Sandia National Laboratories in a very specific form: Is it feasible to build and operate a high-speed passenger ferry solely powered by hydrogen fuel cells? According to a recently-released report, the answer is yes.
When looking at the best ways to meet humanity’s energy needs, there is little doubt that the sun is the ultimate answer. In one hour, the Earth receives enough energy from the sun to meet all of our needs for a year. Despite this fact, the world currently only gets about 1% of its energy directly from the sun.
Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. Estimates are that it comprises 75% of all matter. There is plenty of it here on earth too, but almost none of it is in its elemental form. It is mostly bound up in compounds like water.
Several major automakers are betting on hydrogen-powered cars as the future of personal transportation. The first of these cars are already available in California. What isn’t readily available is the hydrogen to power them. There are very few hydrogen stations out there and hydrogen is pretty expensive.
Japan is a country seeking energy independence as well as environmental credibility. It has grappled with nuclear disaster at Fukushima and is currently the sixth largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.
2016 is the first year that hydrogen fuel cell cars are available to the general public. There aren’t very many of them as yet, but Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai all have fuel cell vehicles on the market. All these companies are betting on hydrogen-powered cars as the future of personal transportation.
Right now, California is where almost all the action is for fuel cell cars but even there, there are only a handful of hydrogen fueling stations. The automakers are providing a great incentive to owners of their fuel cell cars: free hydrogen for the first couple of years. But free or not, it has to be available.
There are plans to build many more hydrogen fueling stations in California, but one problem is that it takes quite a while to commission new stations. Every car manufacturer has to perform validation tests that take weeks. As a result, it can take months to bring stations online.
California hopes to bring online a network of more than 50 stations by the end of 2016, mostly in Southern California and in the San Francisco Bay Area. Thanks to a new device developed by Sandia National Laboratories and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, this rapid deployment of new stations now looks possible.
It is called the Hydrogen Station Equipment Performance device, or HyStEP, and it acts like a surrogate for vehicles and eliminates the need for each manufacturer to test separately. Testing can be done in less than a week.
Streamlining the process for commissioning hydrogen fueling stations is one important step towards building the hydrogen highway.
Photo, posted June 14, 2014, courtesy of Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.