12.2.2013 New device harnesses sun and sewage to produce hydrogen fuel
12.2.2013 Refueling, that's the rub
12.3.2013 Fuel Cells, Home Generation, and Smart Grids, the Perfect Marriage
12.4.2013 Calif. Rolling Out $100M for Hydrogen Vehicle Infrastructure
12.5.2013 In Long Run, Nissan's Ghosn And Tesla's Musk Have Good Reason To Fear Fuel Cells
12.5.2013 ReliOn Launches Enhanced E-200 Fuel Cell System for Railroad and Telecommunications Customers
12.6.2013 Hydrogen Stocks More Than Double In 2013: Why the Pros Missed The Ride
New device harnesses sun and sewage to produce hydrogen fuel
PEC-MFC device achieves self-biased solar hydrogen generation through microbial electrohydrogenesis at lab scale
A novel device that uses only sunlight and wastewater to produce hydrogen gas could provide a sustainable energy source while improving the efficiency of wastewater treatment.
A research team led by Yat Li, associate professor of chemistry at the University of California, Santa Cruz, developed the solar-microbial device and reported their results in a paper published in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano. The hybrid device combines a microbial fuel cell (MFC) and a type of solar cell called a photoelectrochemical cell (PEC). In the MFC component, bacteria degrade organic matter in the wastewater, generating electricity in the process. The biologically generated electricity is delivered to the PEC component to assist the solar-powered splitting of water (electrolysis) that generates hydrogen and oxygen.
Either a PEC or MFC device can be used alone to produce hydrogen gas. Both, however, require a small additional voltage (an “external bias”) to overcome the thermodynamic energy barrier for proton reduction into hydrogen gas. The need to incorporate an additional electric power element adds significantly to the cost and complication of these types of energy conversion devices, especially at large scales. In comparison, Li’s hybrid solar-microbial device is self-driven and self-sustained, because the combined energy from the organic matter (harvested by the MFC) and sunlight (captured by the PEC) is sufficient to drive electrolysis of water.
In effect, the MFC component can be regarded as a self-sustained “bio-battery” that provides extra voltage and energy to the PEC for hydrogen gas generation. “The only energy sources are wastewater and sunlight,” Li said. “The successful demonstration of such a self-biased, sustainable microbial device for hydrogen generation could provide a new solution that can simultaneously address the need for wastewater treatment and the increasing demand for clean energy.”
Microbial fuel cells rely on unusual bacteria, known as electrogenic bacteria, that are able to generate electricity by transferring metabolically-generated electrons across their cell membranes to an external electrode. Li’s group collaborated with researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) who have been studying electrogenic bacteria and working to enhance MFC performance. Initial “proof-of-concept” tests of the solar-microbial (PEC-MFC) device used a well-studied strain of electrogenic bacteria grown in the lab on artificial growth medium. Subsequent tests used untreated municipal wastewater from the Livermore Water Reclamation Plant. The wastewater contained both rich organic nutrients and a diverse mix of microbes that feed on those nutrients, including naturally occurring strains of electrogenic bacteria.
When fed with wastewater and illuminated in a solar simulator, the PEC-MFC device showed continuous production of hydrogen gas at an average rate of 0.05 m3/day, according to LLNL researcher and coauthor Fang Qian. At the same time, the turbid black wastewater became clearer. The soluble chemical oxygen demand–a measure of the amount of organic compounds in water, widely used as a water quality test–declined by 67 percent over 48 hours.
The researchers also noted that hydrogen generation declined over time as the bacteria used up the organic matter in the wastewater. Replenishment of the wastewater in each feeding cycle led to complete restoration of electric current generation and hydrogen gas production.
Qian said the researchers are optimistic about the commercial potential for their invention. Currently they are planning to scale up the small laboratory device to make a larger 40-liter prototype continuously fed with municipal wastewater. If results from the 40-liter prototype are promising, they will test the device on site at the wastewater treatment plant.
“The MFC will be integrated with the existing pipelines of the plant for continuous wastewater feeding, and the PEC will be set up outdoors to receive natural solar illumination,” Qian said. “Fortunately, the Golden State is blessed with abundant sunlight that can be used for the field test,” Li added.
Qian and Hanyu Wang, a graduate student in Li’s lab at UC Santa Cruz, are co-first authors of the ACS Nano paper. The other coauthors include UCSC graduate student Gongming Wang; LLNL researcher Yongqin Jiao; and Zhen He of Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University. This research was supported by the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy.
Refueling, that's the rub
Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles go from science-fiction potential to reality next spring as Hyundai offers a $499-a-month lease on a hydrogen-powered Tucson. Fuel cell-powered Honda and Toyota entries will follow.
Suddenly, consumers will have another alternative-propulsion choice. And that is the rub for any alternative to gasoline. Automakers can design vehicles to run on virtually any type of energy. The hard part is getting them refueled.
Must future refueling stations provide gasoline, diesel, compressed natural gas, propane, liquefied petroleum gas, hydrogen and E85 fuels and also EV rechargers? The danger is that all the alternative-energy technologies will crowd one another out. Some may not attract enough early buyers to lure investors into creating a nationwide refueling infrastructure.
Without convenient refueling, who buys that technology? It's the industry's chicken-or-egg problem. Ultimately, alt-fuel winners and losers will be determined largely by refueling infrastructure. Either the government or private investors will pay for that.
Automakers frequently ask that lawmakers not pick technology winners and losers but specify what the government wants to achieve. Here's a test of that resolve. If the industry doesn't want the government to select technology winners, it must fund multiple alt-fuel development programs until consumers choose.
Fuel Cells, Home Generation, and Smart Grids, the Perfect Marriage
Sofcpower hopes to use their fuel cell technology to bring major advances to the world’s aging electrical grids and home heating systems. Currently in prototype, the EnGen 500 has two models which are about the size of a home water heater and can produce 500W or 1000W respectively.
A Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) converts the chemical potential of natural gas (and other gaseous fuels) into electric power. The SOFC usually consists of a zirconium or cerium oxide electrolyte. The fuel is consumed at the anode thanks to the air accessed at the cathode.
Fuel Cells have operation temperatures around 600 ͦC to 1000 ͦC (1100 ͦF to 1800 ͦF). This hot temperature ensures that no catalyst is needed; various fuels can be used (biogas, landfill gas, syngas); and that the exhaust is ideal for cogeneration at home or a generation plant.
From an environmental standpoint, the only emissions are water and carbon dioxide; while typical emissions from combustion-type generation like NOx, SOx, and VOC emissions are eliminated.
All of which sounds perfect for smart grid technology.
Smart grids work a little bit like the internet. The grid routes the energy to the destination along the most efficient path at any given moment. This means that in the case of a cascading outage, like the one seen in 2003, the lights will still run along most of the grid.
Sofcpower claims they can produce energy at grid parity costs once they start mass production. They also state that due to the high efficiency and energy savings, the system does not need any outside funding. This is an impressive claim.
Further, Sofcpower’s Fuel Cells have been known to have electrical efficiencies of 60% and as high as 90% when in cogeneration mode! This is no competition to traditional generation in Europe at 35% efficiency.
For the sake of efficiency, smart grids must be designed to access energy from the most effective source at the time. For the sake of the environment, the grid must also be accessible to all power sources, prioritizing renewable sources and local generation. While from an economic standpoint, the supply must also be secure, reliable and cost effective.
It seems to me then that with the right planning and engineering, smart grid technology and fuel cells will be able to improve our aging grid. I just hope it takes effect before another great blackout like the one in 2003.
Calif. Rolling Out $100M for Hydrogen Vehicle Infrastructure
The California Energy Commission is seeking proposals to spend $100 million starting in 2015 to build out fueling stations and other infrastructure to support hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.
The commission released a Program Opportunity Notice on Nov. 22 authorizing spending of up to $20 million annually to implement requirements signed into law in 2007.
Assembly Bill 118 created the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program that was renewed earlier this year. Assembly Bill 8 allocated funding.
The program provides funding for projects that expand hydrogen fueling infrastructure, including building fueling stations; improve alternative vehicle technologies; retrofit medium- and heavy-duty vehicle technologies; and expand the alternative fueling infrastructure available to existing fleets, public transit, and transportation corridors, according to the notice.
While hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle technology is still in its infancy, automakers are continuing to develop concept vehicles. At the Los Angeles Auto Show, Hyundai announced plans to deliver Tucson Fuel Cell SUVs to Enterprise Rent-A-Car with rental availability planned for the spring.
Honda has announced plans to produce its Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle for the 2016 model year with availability set for 2015.
To ensure the hydrogen fueling network is spread out, the commission is requiring a six-minute drive time between stations. A typical hydrogen fueling station costs about $2.5 million, according to the notice.
Applicants for the funding must meet several requirements regarding hydrogen fuel quality and fueling protocols.
Hydrogen dispensed from the station must meet the requirements of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International's J2719: 2011 standard. Station dispensers must also meet SAE International's Technical Information Report J2601: 2010 standard. Stations must have a minimum average daily fueling capacity of no less than 100kg, while minimum peak fueling capacity must meet at least three 7kg type A for 70MPA fills an hour.
The deadline for applications is Feb. 14, and the commission expects to announce the grantees by March 28. For detailed information about the submission, visit the commission's website here.
In Long Run, Nissan's Ghosn And Tesla's Musk Have Good Reason To Fear Fuel Cells
Renault Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn and Tesla Motors TSLA +1.64% honcho Elon Musk have both been loud advocates for battery-powered vehicles, but their recent bad-mouthing of hydrogen fuel cell powered cars is a reminder that neither of these technologies will make much of an impact any time soon.
By 2030, internal combustion engines, with a little bit of help from hybrids and plug-in hybrids, will still vastly outnumber battery-only power or fuel cells.
Ghosn, leader of the French-Japanese alliance, famously said 10 per cent of all global car sales would be battery-only by 2020. Not many experts buy that now as buyers see battery cars as hugely expensive and with limited and unpredictable range. Tesla Motors’ Model S battery-only car has been very successful, but on a small scale and doubts remain about its range as the car is exported to Europe and exposed to Germany’s high-speed roads.
Ghosn said any move to mass market fuel cell vehicles would be hampered by the lack of refuelling infrastructure, and although this rings true, it also coincided with news Hyundai of Korea, and Honda and Toyota of Japan, have ambitious and imminent plans for hydrogen powered cars. Musk, using more colorful language to diss fuel cells, said they only made sense in rockets
The case for hydrogen is powerful.
Toyota’s new FCV Concept fuel cell car, unveiled at the Tokyo show last month, is a four-seat sedan and will take passengers at least 300 miles on a tank of hydrogen. This range claim and ease of refuelling is a powerful advantage over battery-only cars.
Fuel-cell powered cars create electricity using a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen in the fuel-cell stack. Fuel-cell cars use electric motors, and batteries to store energy. Only water vapor comes out of the tailpipe. Development is expensive because platinum is used in the stacks and it is complicated to store hydrogen in the car. This requires expensive, carbon fiber storage tanks.
Another big hurdle for the fuel cell is making hydrogen and getting it to the car. Battery-only cars benefit from a ready-made infrastructure – the electric plug in everybody’s home. Making hydrogen, storing it then getting it into the car, has a big negative – it takes about 30 per cent of the energy to put it into storage and this is a major problem in the economics of hydrogen.
But this renewed attack on fuel cells by battery power advocates might mean they are worried.
“If the (fuel cell) technology can eventually be mastered in terms of cost, quality, reliability and perhaps most crucial, with cars that are affordable to the public at large, today’s conventional battery powered cars could be destined to go the same way as the dinosaurs,” said Automotive Industry Data editor Peter Schmidt said.
“The future probably is going to be electric, but probably not a battery-powered one,” Schmidt said.
All the major car manufacturers are investing mammoth sums to replace the internal combustion engine. Companies like BMW though, which have spent big on batteries, are also hedging their bets in alliances to advance fuel cells too. BMW is partnering with Toyota. Honda, which already has a fuel cell car on trial in California, the FCX Clarity, is partnered with General Motors GM +0.34%. Ford is in league with Mercedes, Nissan, and Renault of France.
By 2030, internal combustion engines will still be hugely in the majority, bolstered for sure by linking up with electric technology as hybrids, or plug-in hybrids.
“It’s too early to tell who wins. Toyota wants to have about 10 years of field experience before they commit to high volume (fuel cell) production,” said Phil Gott, Senior Director, long-range planning at consultants IHS Automotive.
“The major challenge of hydrogen is that the compression process takes about 30 per cent of the energy value,” Gott said.
One way around this would be for localized hydrogen production plants converting natural gas. If the local output could go straight into the car, this would avoid the compression process.
“If you avoid compressing the hydrogen the net result would be a very efficient system and avoid the cost of a new hydrogen infrastructure,” Gott said.
Satoshi Nagashima, Tokyo-based partner at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, expects both battery and fuel cell powered cars to reach limited audiences at least until 2030.
“I expect by 2020 the percentage of global sales for fuel cells to be very tiny, with still less than one per cent by 2025, and 2030 still less than a few per cent. By 2025, battery-only will still be less than five per cent, although there is a possibility that technology advances might emerge between 2020 and 2025 which improves battery energy density by about three times. If that kind of technology is launched, I think battery-only vehicles might be much stronger in volume terms – more than five per cent,” Nagashima said.
Nagashima said this means that by 2030, internal combustion engines, augmented by hybrids and plug-in hybrids will still be in a massive majority.
Most forecasters agree that fuel cell sales will be very limited for the foreseeable future.
LMC Automotive predicts that 0.1 per cent of global car sales will be fuel cell-powered by 2023. That’s equivalent to 125,000 sales. Frost and Sullivan sees 250,000 fuel cell sales by 2023 to 2024. Some see battery-only cars appealing to city car buyers while fuel cells will be used for longer trips and be dominated by luxury manufacturers.
Ghosn and Musk might yet win, but it’s too early to call.
ReliOn Launches Enhanced E-200 Fuel Cell System for Railroad and Telecommunications Customers
ReliOn has recently announced the launch of its newly enhanced E-200 fuel cell system. This product is fuelled by hydrogen and offers a number of features designed to improve customer usability, ease of maintenance, and performance. Upgrades to the E-200 fuel cell system were driven directly by feedback and input from existing customers and expand the reach of this unique power solution into additional market applications.
ReliOn’s E-200 fuel cell system boasts a net power output improvement of 14% over the rated power of the earlier version. As a load-following solution, the E-200 fuel cell system is suitable for projects requiring between 50 W and 200 W of backup, grid-supplement or off-grid continuous power and can easily be used in cooperation with other clean energy sources like solar and wind power. Additionally, the product offers an industry first field selectable 12, 24, 36 and 48 volt DC output. This feature offers the end user the ability to install the fuel cell system for a specific project and then, if equipment voltage at the customer site changes in the future, to change the voltage output of the fuel cell on site, without having to manage inventories or order new fuel cell equipment. The addition of the new 36 volt output option enables ReliOn to offer solutions to markets previously not addressed by fuel cells.
In terms of maintenance and servicing, the new E-200 fuel cell system offers a USB Type A port on the front panel for code upgrades, which will simplify the process for customers and technicians in the field. A front panel Ethernet port was also added to provide an additional mode of local/remote management of the system. The E-200 fuel cell system retains its high reliability and simple operation, offering several options for remote communication, monitoring, enclosure configurations, and hydrogen solutions from 8 kWh to more than 200 kWh.
The E-200 fuel cell system is currently being shipped to customers.
Hydrogen Stocks More Than Double In 2013: Why The Pros Missed The Ride
If you hadn’t noticed that hydrogen stocks are up an average of 131% so far this year, you’re not alone.
But both hydrogen fuel cell stocks and hydrogen fuel systems stocks are up strongly. Plug Power (NASD:PLUG), a maker of hydrogen fuel cell systems for off-road vehicles is up 122% year to date. Ballard Power Systems, Inc. (NASD:BLDP), which makes hydrogen fuel systems for a wide variety of applications is up 133% so far this year, and 149% from its mid-December 2012 low. Hydrogenics Corporation (NASD:HYGS) makes hydrogen fuel cells, electrolysis, and storage solutions for stationary and portable power, and is up 122% year to date and 127% from its low a year ago.
Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide Inc. (NASD:QTWW) has risen 146% this year and is up 261% from its low in April. Quantum provides fuel systems and drivetrain components to for natural gas and electric vehicles as well as hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, so its rise probably has more to do with recent natural gas contract wins, but, with or without Quantum, the sector’s rise has been impressive.
Fuel Cell Vehicle Announcements
If I had to explain the rise, my best guess would be the recent string of announcements of fuel cell vehicles from major auto manufacturers.
But a lack of fueling stations means that fuel cell vehicles are unlikely to even rival electric vehicles when it comes to sales for many years to come. If hydrogen stocks are rising on hopes for futures sales of fuel cell vehicles, that rise will become a decent if those sales fail to emerge.
Why The Pros Don’t Like Hydrogen
Small investors have been the main buyers. While institutional holders such as mutual funds have been buying, they have only been doing so in a small way. During the third quarter, net institutional ownership increased from 15% to 16% of Ballard, from 3.4% to 3.8% of Plug Power, 5.7% to 6.3% of Hydrogenics and 2.3% to 2.8% of Quantum, according to Nasdaq data. The changes amount to less than a single day’s trading in all four stocks. Meanwhile, insiders have stayed entirely on the sidelines.
I recently asked my panel of green money managers if they’d been paying attention to hydrogen stocks, and those who responded gave a resounding “no.” Their dislike of hydrogen stems from skepticism around the economics of the technology.
As Garvin Jabusch, co-manager of the Shelton Green Alpha Fund (NEXTX) told me, “I’ve yet to be convinced… that there is a way to eke a profitable business model out of the space” because of the energy-intensive processes required to create hydrogen. He thinks the recent roll out of fuel cell vehicles by Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai have a lot more to do with meeting California’s requirements for a minimum number of zero emission models than it does with expectations of selling a large number of cars.
Jan Schalkwijk, a portfolio manager with a focus on Green Economy investment strategies in Portland Oregon notes that recent history has taught us “ it does not pay to be too early” in green investing. Although hydrogen technology is not new, but he thinks “its widespread adoption is not in the cards” any time soon.
Rafael Coven, who manages the index (^CTIUS) which underlies the Powershares Cleantech ETF (NYSE:PZD), has always avoided hydrogen stocks and is “a LOT richer for it (i.e. not poor.)” He says “Fuel cells require very, very deep pockets and a long path to profitability. Big corporations have burned/burn through hundreds of millions of dollars in R&D and still have no profits on the horizon in this field.”
Wilderhill Fuel Cell Index. Source: The Wilder Foundation. Disclaimer: This material was for Internal Research only and was absolutely not an investable Index, nor presented for those purposes. The last time hydrogen stocks caught investors’ attention, large automakers were also launching fuel cell cars in the early 2000s, mostly due to promotion by the Bush administration and to comply with emissions regulations in California.
Dr. Rob Wilder, who manages the index (^ECO) behind the PowerShares WilderHill Clean Energy ETF (NYSE:PBW) kindly allowed me to use the chart to the right of the Wilder-Hill Fuel Cell index, which his foundation maintained for internal research purposes from 2000 to 2007. He notes that Ballard Power was included in the fuel cell index as well as ^ECO, which it remains in today.
As you can see from the chart, fuel cell stocks spiked rapidly, but then fell almost as quickly and never recovered.
Note that not all fuel cell stocks are hydrogen stocks. Ballard, Plug, and Hydrogenics make hydrogen fuel cells, while companies like Fuel Cell Energy (NASD:FCEL) make carbonate or solid oxide fuel cells which run at much higher temperatures on natural gas (methane) and other hydrocarbons. The high operating temperature of such fuel cells makes them excellent for stationary combined heat and power operations, but generally unsuitable for vehicular or portable markets.
It is worth noting that Fuel Cell Energy is developing a version of its fuel cells which can produce hydrogen as well as electricity. If they can commercialize it and the economics work, this may become a viable way to expand the hydrogen fueling infrastructure.
Are the current buyers of hydrogen stocks headed for another wild ride to nowhere, like fuel cell investors in 2001? Or, has long disappointment made the pros too cynical, and likely to miss out on an explosive opportunity?
For myself, I’m going to be watching hydrogen stocks rise from a safe distance. I agree with my panel that the lack of fueling infrastructure and the energy and expense involved in creating hydrogen are likely to continue to consign hydrogen fuel cells to small niche markets for years to come.
I would not be at all surprised if hydrogen stocks double again from here, but I’ll expect that rise, if it comes, to be followed by a Hindenburg-like explosion rather than a smooth ride to investing profits. If there are any survivors, it will be players focused on profitable niches, like Plug Power.