June 2007

The Hydrogen Economy - Hype or Holy Grail?
(full article)

SRNL achieves milestone en route to hydrogen economy
(full article)

South Carolina is hotbed of hydrogen research
(full article)

Announcing the 2007-2008 Hydrogen Student Design Contest
(full article)

June 22, 2007
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The Hydrogen Economy - Hype or Holy Grail

By David Bode, Manager, Special Carbon Materials, Showa Denko Carbon, Inc., Ridgeville, SC, and Secretary, FuelCellSouth Partners Forum Board of Directors

In January 2003, President Bush announced the creation of his Hydrogen Fuel Initiative. The President allocated $1.2 billion over five years to transform the nation’s transportation system from its dependence on petroleum to the use of clean-burning hydrogen. In announcing his initiative, President Bush envisioned that the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by fuel cells.

Last December, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 416-6 to pass legislation creating the “H Prize”, a competition offering prizes worth up to $50 million to encourage research into hydrogen as an alternative fuel. The bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C., believes that the competition will “create jobs, clean up the air and make America more secure by breaking our dependence on Middle Eastern oil”.

The South Carolina state legislature recently passed a bill creating the South Carolina Hydrogen Infrastructure Development Fund. The legislation appropriates up to $15 million in grants for hydrogen production, storage, distribution, and dispensing infrastructure in South Carolina.

At the National Hydrogen Association’s 2006 Annual Conference, the University of South Carolina along with the City of Columbia, the South Carolina Research Authority and EngenuitySC launched the Greater Columbia Fuel Cell Challenge.

With all of the resources focused on hydrogen and fuel technologies at the federal, state and local level, many people question if the hydrogen economy is the energy equivalent of the Holy Grail or if it is just a lot of hype. In truth, the answer lies somewhere in between.

As with many new and promising technologies, the news media, the investment community and companies with a stake in the hydrogen economy have generated a significant amount of interest in hydrogen and fuel cells. Conferences, seminars and trade publications have proliferated around the world. A host of pure-play fuel cell companies have gone public, attracting millions of dollars in equity funding. State and local governments have created hydrogen energy legislation and initiatives in an effort to replicate the successes of Silicon Valley and Research Triangle Park.

As it turns out, the current realities of the hydrogen economy have fallen short of the earlier, lofty expectations. In its 2006 Hydrogen Posture Plan, the US Department of Energy doesn’t foresee the initial market formation of a hydrogen economy until 2010, when infrastructure investment begins albeit with the help of governmental policies. The DOE doesn’t project the onset of a national infrastructure with commercially available hydrogen power and transport systems until 2025.

However, in its 2006 Fuel Cell Industry Survey, PricewaterhouseCooper notes that “the unbridled optimism of the past has been replaced by a keen sense of purpose that is focused directly on producing products that can be used by customers, are competitively priced and which will produce returns for investors”. In a recent report funded by the DOE, the Batelle Institute identified three near-term market opportunities for fuel cell technologies. Batelle determined that within five years fuel cells could capture almost 20% of the current markets for emergency response backup power, distribution center forklifts and airport ground support equipment. These three markets represent potential annual sales of 27,000 fuel cell units valued at almost $550 million. By comparison, 2005 revenue for the 23 public fuel cell companies covered by PricewaterhouseCooper was $266 million, a 20% increase over the previous year. According to Fuel Cell Today, over 20,000 fuel cell units were produced during the period of 1991-2006.

In the Executive Summary of its 2006 Hydrogen Posture Plan, the DOE states that the “use of hydrogen as an energy carrier, together with other alternative domestic fuels and technologies, can enhance long-term energy security while mitigating the effects of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions”. It’s important to note that this statement highlights hydrogen as only one of several key domestic fuels in the country’s alternative energy portfolio. In its Fiscal Year 2007 request to Congress, the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy budgeted $196 million for hydrogen technology but also provided $500 million in funding for biomass, solar, wind and renewable energy programs.

In the end, the hydrogen economy will be only one of many solutions to US energy independence. It isn’t the Holy Grail, but it’s also not overblown hype. In its assessment of the hydrogen economy, The National Academies observed that “a transition to hydrogen as a major fuel in the next 50 years could fundamentally transform the U.S. energy system, creating opportunities to increase energy security through the use of a variety of domestic energy resources for hydrogen production while reducing environmental impacts, including atmospheric CO2 emissions and criteria pollutants”.

Editor’s note: This article was stimulated by the author’s objection to a Swamp Fox Insights blog post: The wrong way to sell fuel cells, or any technology for that matter. We’re especially pleased to publish articles from readers who are willing to contribute to critical discussions like this one.

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  June19, 2007
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SRNL achieves milestone en route to hydrogen economy

AIKEN, S.C. - The U.S. Department of Energy's Savannah River National Laboratory has successfully completed a 100 hour long demonstration of the sulfur dioxide depolarized electrolyzer, designed and fabricated by SRNL, to produce hydrogen from water. This represents a significant milestone in the development of an efficient, economical process for generating large quantities of hydrogen to fuel the nation's future. This demonstration showed that the electrolyzer can successfully operate continuously without significant loss of performance.

"Successful development of the Hybrid Sulfur Process could lead to sustainable, large scale, economical hydrogen production using advanced nuclear reactors, with no greenhouse gas emissions," said Dr. William Summers, SRNL's program manager for nuclear hydrogen production programs.

This electrolyzer is a key component of the Hybrid Sulfur (HyS) thermochemical process, which provides a means of using heat from next generation nuclear reactors to generate hydrogen from water. In previous demonstrations, the electrolyzer had only been operated for short durations. The 100 hour demonstration, achieved approximately one month ahead of schedule, was an important milestone required by DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy, which funds development of the Hybrid Sulfur Process in support of the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative.

The Hybrid Sulfur Process is one of the leading candidates for using high temperature heat from advanced nuclear reactors to generate hydrogen from water. It makes use of two types of chemical reactions to split water and generate hydrogen and oxygen. The first, an electrochemical reaction, uses electricity to power the electrolyzer in order to isolate the hydrogen at one pole of the device, allowing it to be collected and stored for use. In addition to water, the electrochemical reaction uses sulfur dioxide, which is recycled in the process. The second type of reaction, thermochemical, uses high temperature heat, which could be provided by a nuclear reactor, to regenerate the sulfur dioxide and release oxygen.

An important factor in the efficiency of the Hybrid Sulfur Process is low cell voltage required by the electrolyzer, which determines the amount of electricity needed. In the 100 hour test, SRNL's electrolyzer required about 0.8 volts per cell, leaving researchers optimistic that the commercial goal of 0.6 volts per cell can be achieved when operating the electrolyzer at higher temperature and pressure.

Future work will seek to further improve the cell performance and extend its operational durability. SRNL is currently building a larger, multicell electrolyzer. Plans call for beginning construction of an integrated labscale Hybrid Sulfur Process, including the larger electrolyzer, during the next fiscal year. The long-term goal is to build an engineering demonstration of the HyS Process that can be operated in conjunction with DOE's planned Next Generation Nuclear Plant, scheduled for operation after 2017 at the Idaho National Laboratory.

Hydrogen, though plentiful across the planet, is usually found locked up in water or other compounds. Being able to use hydrogen as a fuel requires extracting the hydrogen from water or hydrocarbons. Since 2003, SRNL has studied the technical and economic issues surrounding the use of a new generation of nuclear reactors to "crack" water to produce hydrogen that could be used to fuel America's vehicles.

SRNL is the applied research and development laboratory at DOE's Savannah River Site, putting science to work in the areas of energy security, national and homeland security, and environmental management. The laboratory is operated for DOE by Washington Savannah River Company, a subsidiary of Washington Group International.

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June 15, 2007
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South Carolina is hotbed of hydrogen research

With all the talk of California's Hydrogen Highway system and fuel cell vehicle prototypes coming out of Detroit, Michigan one state that is often overlooked in hydrogen development has been South Carolina. But, South Carolina has been making a name for itself over the past 5 years when it comes to hydrogen and fuel cell research.

The University of South Carolina at Columbia is spearheading the Future Fuels Initiative, which is focusing on producing impurity-free hydrogen, developing metal hydride storage and developing more durable PEM fuel cells.

The university is part of the two-mile wide Greater Columbia Fuel Cell District that includes hydrogen production, distribution, storage and educational outreach sites. In addition, the university is a participant in the Greater Columbia Fuel Cell Challenge, which seeks to commercialize such technology.

Another South Carolina resource is the Center for Hydrogen Research (CHR) at Aiken, which is part of the Savannah River National Laboratory. CHR is devoted to researching and developing hydrogen production, storage and separation. CHR has developed patented methods for separating hydrogen from water and from other gases such as carbon monoxide.

The University of South Carolina and CHR have been attracting droves of college students and researchers who wish to get involved in developing the nation's budding hydrogen transportation system and future hydrogen economy. Scientists and engineers young and old are starting to figure out that this is a career path that can last a lifetime.

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June 7, 2007

Announcing the 2007-2008 Hydrogen Student Design Contest

After a one year hiatus, the Hydrogen Education Foundation is pleased to announce the return of the Hydrogen Student Design Contest!

The HEF's 2007-2008 Hydrogen Student Design Contest gives multi-disciplinary teams of university-level students from around the world the opportunity to develop innovative design concepts using hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. After reviewing multiple proposals for this year's contest, the HEF has selected a proposal submitted by the South Carolina Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Alliance for this year's contest theme, "Hydrogen Applications for Airports," focusing on South Carolina's Columbia Airport. The contest rules and guidelines have been finalized, officially beginning this year's contest!

The winning teams will be given the opportunity to present their designs to over 1,500 energy industry professionals at the NHA's 19th Annual Hydrogen Conference in Sacramento, CA, March 29 - April 2, 2008, and will eligible to receive up to $5,000 for travel and expenses. In addition, the winning teams from the last two contests have both received funding for the construction and implementation of their contest designs, currently underway!

Sign up now to be a part of this unique contest and help foster the implementation of clean energy and the hydrogen economy. Contest rules, team registration, sponsorship information and more is available on the Contest website at www.hydrogencontest.org.

Not sure if you want to register as a team yet? Sign up for the Contest mailing list and keep up to date on all Contest developments and deadlines:

Click here to sign up.

This Year's Theme: "Hydrogen Applications for Airports"

Columbia, South Carolina has long articulated a desire to become a global model for the mass deployment and application of fuel cell and hydrogen technologies, as well as other alternative energy systems, in an urban community. The belief is that alternative energy options will revolutionize not only cities, but more importantly, the lives of citizens through the freedom that comes from energy security, increased environmental benefits and the economic opportunities that this potential trillion dollar new industry will generate. One place that can realize the benefits of using hydrogen technologies is the Columbia Metropolitan Airport.

There are several key issues that the aviation industry faces today: air and water quality, noise, maintaining safety and energy efficiency. How would you spend $3 million USD to address these issues in a way that is repeatable at airports around the world? Using the Columbia Metropolitan Airport in Columbia, as a template for their designs, teams will develop system(s) fueled by hydrogen that could be implemented by January 2009 to make the greatest positive impact on one or more of the issues mentioned above.

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