September 2010

 

09.17.2010
Off Grid Town Pilots Energy Storage
(view article)

09.18.2010
The Future of Economic Energy: Hydrogen Technology
(view article)

09.18.2010
The Business Case for Fuel Cells: Why Top Companies Are Purchasing Fuel Cells Today
(view article)

09.22.2010
Fuel Cell Arrives; City Hall Plaza Next?
(view article)

09.23.2010
Hawaii's Great Hydrogen Fuel Experiment
(view article)

09.24.2010
Researchers Develop New Lower-Cost, Efficient Catalyst for Water Gas Shift Reaction for Hydrogen Production
(view article)


September 17, 2010
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Off Grid Town Pilots Energy Storage

by Susan DeFreitas, September 17th, 2010

Way up in rural British Columbia, far from the grid, diesel generators provide much of the power. Now, in the town of Bella Coola, something called Hydrogen Assisted Renewable Power (HARP) is set to offset those generators, curbing the community’s annual diesel consumption by 200,000 liters (52,834 gallons) and lowering greenhouse gas emissions by 600 tons annually.

According to General Electric Energy, Bella Coola’s location–about 400 kilometres (248 miles) north of Vancouver–means that it’s not connected to BC Hydro’s provincial electricity grid, and has been reliant on diesel generators and a run-of-river power facility with no storage capacity. By using the HARP system, Bella Coola will be able to significantly increase the power they’re able to use from their local hydro facility, reducing its dependence on diesel generators. GE’s microgrid controller automatically responds to changes in supply and demand, which will ensure that energy generated by the facility is managed efficiently for consistent output.

Bella Coola
image via Sustainable Development Technology Canada

HARP is described as being designed to store excess electricity generated at a local small hydropower facility by either producing hydrogen or directly charging a flow battery. In the first method, according to Sustainable Development Technology Canada, “hydrogen is produced through electrolysis, which is then stored as gas in high pressure tanks. During the peak periods the stored hydrogen is fed into a 100 kilowatt fuel cell to generate electricity.” In the second method “an electrochemical regenerative fuel cell, known as the flow battery, to store the energy. This flow battery is then capable of providing 125 kilowatt of electricity directly to the community.”

“GE’s smart grid technologies are designed to help solve the world’s toughest energy challenges,” said Larry Sollecito, vice president, smart grid for GE’s Digital Energy business, in a statement. “With our microgrid control solution powering the HARP system, we’re able to make sustainability a reality. We applaud Bella Coola for embracing innovation and being a model for remote communities around the globe.”  The project is a partnership between BC Hydro, GE and Powertech and is supported by the province of B.C. and Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC).

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September 18, 2010
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The Future of Economic Energy: Hydrogen Technology

EERC hosts a conference dedicated to the progression of Hydrogen research.

By Michael Thomas

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Nathan Twerberg
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Nathan Twerberg
The Energy and Environmental Research Center (EERC) was abuzz earlier this week when some of the nation's top hydrogen and renewable energy executives and scientists descended on the five acre campus—their mission: to discuss the future of hydrogen technology as well as provide an insight into innovative advancements being made in the field.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) headlined the third Red River Valley Research Corridor's Advancing the Hydrogen Economy Action Summit along with a number of professionals from General Motors, the Department of Energy and prominent alternative energy industries from across the country. Dorgan said that the development that goes on at UND's EERC is part of his effort to make Grand Forks the center for America's hydrogen research efforts.

Some of the biggest concerns, according to Mike McGowan, chair of the National Hydrogen Association and head of Strategic Alliances and Alternative Energy Solutions for Linde North America, are the current feelings toward hydrogen technology. He said that while there is a significant push toward alternative energy solutions, some momentum has been lost with respect to the broad usage of hydrogen.

"There has been some concern over the current administration on hydrogen technology," McGowan said, "But the industry is as convinced if not more convinced than ever that this is real … It's becoming more and more difficult to ignore the successes that we've had—not just successes in the lab, but in the field as well."

He fully expects to see a lot of private-sector growth in the hydrogen field and says that between 2015 and 2018, we may see a considerable increase in the number of hydrogen vehicles on the country's roadways.

That, of course, is based largely on the commercial capabilities of introducing an efficient and economical way to not only produce hydrogen but to distribute it as well. Before hydrogen fuel cell vehicles can be a viable alternative to traditional petroleum-based ones, the infrastructure to handle the new technology needs to be in place.

And that, Nick Mittica, commercial manager of Allentown PA-based Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., says, is all about scale.

"There are opportunities for real returns here," he said during a panel discussion. "Even at current pricing, we see significant opportunities for growth, but it's all about scale."

Gus Block, director of business development for Nuvera Fuel Cells echoed Mittica's statement saying, "It won't take long for these costs and the investments we're making in new technologies to be returned."

Those returns are being seen in places like California, where McGowan's involvement with Linde LLC and its partnership with refuse company Waste Management, have developed and implemented technology to supply 300 garbage trucks with natural gas fuel extracted from landfills. McGowan said that while it's not hydrogen fuel cell, it represents the opportunity for companies to make significant strides in alternative energy development.

And natural gas-powered vehicles are not a far cry from hydrogen powered ones. Already, the EERC, in partnership with the Canadian company Kraus Global have developed the Hydrogen On Demand system that takes natural gas and breaks it down to purified hydrogen. Unlike already developed systems that are large and centralized like petroleum refineries, this On Demand system is compact and wholly integrated, meaning it can be set up at existing gas stations and will cut down dramatically on transportation and storage costs.

The Hydrogen On Demand system is expensive, but once again, scale and continued development seems to hold the answer to when it could be widely implemented. The EERC, through its National Center for Hydrogen Technology, is working with more than 80 commercial partners to further develop an efficient and cost-effective end-user hydrogen system.

While purified hydrogen gas has previously required a lot of energy to produce, Chris Zygarlicke, deputy associate director for research and a specialist on extracting hydrogen form renewable energy resources, said that new technologies in production have allowed for a significant reduction in cost and energy input.

Through gasification, which essentially involves the burning of grasses in an almost oxygen-void environment, researchers have been able to extract hydrogen-rich syngas which can be further purified to commercial-grade hydrogen. Mike Holmes, also a deputy associate for research who focuses on fossil fuel utilization, said that while gasification is a 1940's technology, current production techniques still in development allows researchers to reform syngas into hydrogen using much less energy.

"Right now, we're in the process of trying to get the levels of production up through engineering optimization; purification (of the hydrogen gas) is the tough part, but even that is getting easier," Zygarlicke said.

Holmes said that the EERC has been involved in hydrogen research for a number of years and in 2004 became the official home of the National Center for Hydrogen Technology (NCHT). The successes of their respective teams as well as many other individual researchers have been a result of more than $60 million of hydrogen research spending through federal and private funding.

Holmes said the Department of Energy has provided millions in seed money used in higher risk research that may not have the returns that private companies are looking for. He said, however, that this money is essential for experimenting with new processes and strategies that have enabled the NCHT and the EERC to develop systems like Hydrogen On Demand.   

The three-day event combined the efforts of the Red River Valley Research Corridor and the 6th Annual Mountain States Hydrogen Business Council's Hydrogen Implementation Conference. Dorgan said, "We've worked together to build world-class facilities to do cutting-edge hydrogen energy research and development in our state. I believe hydrogen energy is one of the ways we can create high-tech energy jobs while decreasing the nation's dependence on foreign energy. North Dakota is now a frontline laboratory in helping with those efforts."

Dorgan has aided the EERC and the NCHT with more than $242 million in investments with $3 million on its way pending federal legislation. To find out more information regarding the EERC's hydrogen research, visit their website, www.undeer.org.

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September 18, 2010
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The Business Case for Fuel Cells: Why Top Companies Are Purchasing Fuel Cells Today

Thirty-eight nationally recognized companies, including eleven Fortune 500 corporations, are collectively saving millions of dollars in electricity costs while reducing carbon emissions by tens of thousands of tons per year by using fuel cells, according to a new report by Fuel Cells 2000, a non-profit education and outreach organization. “The Business Case for Fuel Cells: Why Top Companies Are Purchasing Fuel Cells Today”  profiles thirty-eight companies and corporations that are purchasing and deploying fuel cells in various capacities, highlighting the attractive benefits and savings of fuel cells over competing technologies.

The companies profiled in the report, cumulatively, have ordered, installed or deployed:

  • more than 1,000 fuel cell forklifts;
  • 58 stationary fuel cell systems totaling almost 15 MW of power;
  • more than 600 fuel cell units at telecom sites.

The profiles were compiled from public information as well as conversations with the companies.  These companies, including Walmart, Whole Foods, Coca-Cola, Staples, Sysco, and Fed Ex, to name a few, are implementing fuel cells at multiple retail or warehouse sites, or are deploying fuel cells in a variety of applications ranging from motive power (forklifts, cars and vans), to primary power (buildings), to combined heat and power (power plus heat, hot water and air conditioning).  Fuel cells are also delivering high quality, computer grade power to data centers and supplying reliable back up power to critical communications equipment.

“Many people wrongly regard fuel cells as a future technology but they have been providing clean, reliable power at thousands of installations around the world for many years, and in some cases, such as the Bank of Omaha in Nebraska, for more than a decade” said Jennifer Gangi, program director, Fuel Cells 2000. “We hope this report opens the eyes of other businesses and potential end users, reporters, critics and policy makers to the potential emissions, time and cost savings fuel cells can provide today.”

Substantial savings are reported in electricity costs, labor and insurance costs, staff hours (for forklifts) as well as staggering reductions in carbon emissions.   To download the full free report, please go to http://www.fuelcells.org/BusinessCaseforFuelCells.pdf.

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September 22, 2010
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Fuel Cell Arrives; City Hall Plaza Next?

As one green power machine touched down in the Hill Tuesday, City Hall staffers worked behind-the-scenes to build another one downtown.

Students at Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy got front-row seats Tuesday as a 400-kilowatt fuel cell landed at their school, prompting one energy official to call New Haven a “hotbed” of green energy.

The fuel cell will provide power to the Clemente school and the Hill Central School, which is currently being rebuilt. It is the first fuel cell to be installed at an elementary or middle school in Connecticut, officials said; Middletown and South Windsor have them at their high schools.

Mayor John DeStefano heralded the new fuel cell as a cleaner way to send energy to the new school at 360 Columbus Ave. Meanwhile, other City Hall staffers pursued a potential new project—building another fuel cell in the plaza behind City Hall.

Three... Two... One...
The city bought the fuel cell for $2.28 million from UTC Power, with the help of a $500,000 grant from the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund.

UTC Power Vice President Mike Brown led students in a countdown to see the cell lowered, slowly, onto a concrete pad near the Clemente school’s parking lot around 11 a.m. Tuesday. (Click on the video at the top of the story to watch.)

The pre-K to 8 school plans to use the new addition not just for power, but for science lessons.

The fuel cell will take in natural gas and extract hydrogen, creating 1.5 btus of thermal energy per hour, which will sent to a heating and cooling system connected to the school, Brown said. The 400-kilowatt cell will generate “more than enough electricity” to power both schools. No water is consumed or discharged during the process, which is one reason it’s considered to be “green.”

The fuel cell was paid for mostly by city bonds. Within 10 years, it will more than pay itself back in energy savings, with an expected $2 million in savings, according to schools Chief Operating Officer Will Clark.

The unit will take about six to eight weeks to power up. That means it will be powering students’ classroom lights by Thanksgiving. The school will stay on the grid, so that it can still get electricity in case of an emergency, but it will get all its power from the fuel cell, Brown said.

In public remarks, Brown pronounced New Haven a “hotbed” for fuel cells.

Rick Ross of the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund agreed. Fuel cells have been around for 150 years, but the first commercially available fuel cell didn’t hit the market until 1992, he said. Since then, 300 commercial fuel cells have been put to use in 20 countries. Fuel cells like the one at Clemente are “helping the world transition to hydrogen,” and wean off of dirtier methods of energy production, he said.

While New Haven doesn’t have the most fuel cells in the state—Middletown and Bloomfield are ahead—it has been very busy of late, Ross noted.

The city’s first fuel cell was built in 2002 at the Water Pollution Control Authority. Yale recently built one at the Peabody Museum. Another one recently arrived at the downtown 360 State apartment tower. Then came the new one at Clemente.
“That’s a pretty good concentration of fuel cells.

City Hall Solution?
Now the city has been talking to the Clean Energy Fund about buying another fuel cell, officials revealed Tuesday.

After public remarks, City Hall staffer Giovanni Zinn took Ross aside and told him of the project.

Zinn, an environmental consultant at the city’s Office of Sustainability, has been working with consultants SourceOne to come up with a more efficient plan on how to heat and cool City Hall.

The city has long been engaged in a money-losing arrangement with the owners of the Chase Financial Center next door, to share heating and cooling services from a plant in the plaza behind City Hall.

Aldermen in 2008 gave the city an OK to spend $5 million to build a new city power plant in that spot. The plant was never built; instead, the city opted to extend its agreement with the Chase family until the end of 2013, according to Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts.

Smuts said the $5 million figure was based on a “more conventional plan.” The city is now zeroing in on a new solution—this time, involving a fuel cell.

Zinn and SourceOne settled on that solution as the most cost-effective and green way to heat and cool City Hall, Smuts said.

On Tuesday, Zinn took a moment to fill Ross in on the plan.

The tentative plan calls for installing a 400-kilowatt fuel cell behind City Hall. That would “reduce our reliance on conventional thermal sources” from the plant that’s shared with Chase. If a new fuel cell is built, it would meet 60 percent of City Hall’s heating needs and 30 percent of its chilling needs, Zinn said.

“We’re still in the early stages,” cautioned Zinn. Nothing has been put out to bid.

Smuts said the city would still use the existing heating and cooling plant for some of its power. It would have to renegotiate terms of the agreement with Chase.

“We’re reviewing our options,” Smuts said. “We don’t want to put Chase out if we can help it. A fuel cell option might be the win-win.”

“We’re excited about it,” Smuts said. “We think it works well for everybody. It looks like it’s the cheapest option, and also a very green option.”

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September 23, 2010
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Hawaii's Great Hydrogen Fuel Experiment

Analysis by Zahra Hirji
Thu Sep 23, 2010 10:12 PM ET

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The Hawaiian island of Oahu is far ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to ushering in a new era for climate-friendly transportation and energy infrastructure. The state’s gas company recently teamed up with General Motors to set up an island-wide hydrogen fuel system by 2015, complete with hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars and numerous fueling stations.

Hydrogen fuel is one of the more attractive energy alternatives to oil: it is abundant and it produces only water as waste, rather than carbon and other fossil fuels.

So why are we not using it already? As with any fuel alternative to oil, it requires infrastructure and huge piles of cash investments.

Hawaii, however, provides an ideal location to test out the technology at a low cost. Oahu is small and isolated, meaning cars would not end up driving out of state and into places lacking infrastructure.

More importantly, however, the island already has a steady supply of hydrogen. Hydrogen gas is produced as a byproduct of the state’s natural gas production industry and is already pumping through the 1,000-mile state utility pipeline.

According to an LA Times article, “Hawaii’s Gas Co. currently makes the hydrogen equivalent of 7,000 gasoline gallons per day...[this] could power as many as 15,000 fuel-cell vehicles.” Doubling that production would require only minimal effort.

The ready supply of hydrogen drops the production cost of each hydrogen fuel pumps from a couple million dollars down to $300,000-500,000.

The goal is set up several fueling stations along a densely populated 25-mile stretch of roads encompassing Honolulu. These stations extract hydrogen from the utility pipeline and then separate out hydrogen protons and electrons. In isolation the electrons create electricity. 


GM already has 119 Chevy Equinox fuel cell cars driving around the U.S. as part of it’s Project Driveway consumer test-loan program, of whichup to 50 are potentially going to Hawaii. The company hopes to make more fuel cell vehicles available to the market by 2015.

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September 24, 2010
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Researchers Develop New Lower-Cost, Efficient Catalyst for Water Gas Shift Reaction for Hydrogen Production

By Green Car Congress on 09/24/2010 – 7:15 am PDT

A team of researchers from Tufts University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Harvard University report that alkali ions (sodium or potassium) added in small amounts activate platinum adsorbed on alumina or silica for the low-temperature water-gas shift (WGS) reaction (H2O+CO→ H2+CO2) used for producing hydrogen.

Their work also reveals a new type of active site for the low-temperature Pt-catalyzed WGS reaction—a partially oxidized Pt-alkali-O2 species. They say that their findings are useful for the design of highly effective—but less costly—catalysts on standard, inexpensive support metal oxides.

Led by Maria Flytzani-Stephanopoulos, a Tufts University School of Engineering professor of chemical and biological engineering, and Manos Mavrikakis, a UW-Madison professor of chemical and biological engineering, the research team published its findings in the 24 Sept. issue of the journal Science.

According to the US Department of Energy, US demand for hydrogen is currently about 9 million tons per year. Manufacturers produce about 95% of this hydrogen through steam reforming of natural gas, a catalytic process in which steam reacts with methane to yield syngas (carbon monoxide and hydrogen).

The WGS reaction, which removes residual carbon monoxide from hydrogen generated through steam reforming, is a key step in all carbon-based fuel processing aimed at producing and upgrading hydrogen. WGS catalysts used in industry are conventionally copper-based, supported on zinc oxide and alumina. Such copper-based catalysts are pyrophoric (can spontaneously ignite when exposed to air).

For use in low-temperature fuel cells, the authors note, WGS catalysts must be nonpyrophoric, active over a wide temperature range, and stable during frequent shutdown-restart operation cycles. To meet these criteria researchers have been considering platinum group metals as a substitute.

However, platinum is costly and, says Flytzani-Stephanopoulos, researchers must prepare it in very fine particles on more exotic supports, such as the rare-earth oxide ceria, which makes it effective for a low-temperature water-gas-shift reaction. However, while cerium is the most abundant of the rare-earth elements, this natural abundance occurs in just a few places around the world, and, says Mavrikakis, access to it may be limited for various reasons, including geopolitical.

The Tufts researchers initially discovered that sodium improves the platinum activity in the water-gas-shift reaction, which now can take place at low temperatures, even on inert materials like silica. They carried out detailed structural studies and found extra active oxygen species on the surface that helped the platinum complete the reaction cycle. They also found that the sodium or potassium ions helped to stabilize the catalytic site.

In later experiments, they saw their catalyst perform as well as platinum on ceria. Collaborator David Bell of Harvard University used atomic-resolution electron microscopy to view stabilized platinum clusters and atoms on the silica support—visual confirmation that the new catalyst operates like those on ceria supports.

The new catalyst contains only trace amounts of platinum, yet is robust and effective at low temperatures. Essentially, its structure is a series of small clusters comprising only a few atoms, each in a specific arrangement. Each cluster is composed of one or a few a platinum atoms surrounded by a mixture of oxygen, hydroxyl and potassium atoms and is seated on the standard aluminum or silica support.

The US Department of Energy and National Science Foundation provided primary funding for the research.

Resources

  • Yanping Zhai, Danny Pierre, Rui Si, Weiling Deng, Peter Ferrin, Anand U. Nilekar, Guowen Peng, Jeffrey A. Herron, David C. Bell, Howard Saltsburg, Manos Mavrikakis, and Maria Flytzani-Stephanopoulos (2010) Alkali-Stabilized Pt-OHx Species Catalyze Low-Temperature Water-Gas Shift Reactions. Science 329: 1633-1636 doi: 10.1126/science.1192449

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