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Published on April 27th, 2014 | by Zachary Shahan

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Taking A Deep Dive Into Hydrogen (Charts, Graphs, Tables, More)

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April 27th, 2014 by Zachary Shahan
 
We cover quite a lot of university and research institute news here on CleanTechnica. I know a lot of readers love that stuff, but there’s an important downside to news from those sources that is quite prevalent. That news is often overly colorful, optimistic, and revolutionary in its style of writing. Some of those advances will make an impact, some will make a huge impact, but almost none of them are starting a technological revolution any time soon.

Why am I mentioning all of those? Because hydrogen is a cleantech topic that gets a lot of attention in these places, and a lot of people think a hydrogen revolution is being repressed and there’s a conspiracy to keep it from the market. Not the case. Hydrogen has a good deal of potential and is used somewhat in a variety of arenas — energy storage and transportation, most notably. But it is actually not ready for the big time yet.

hydrogen factbookA new factbook on hydrogen, Hydrogen-Based Energy Conversion — More than Storage: System Flexibility*, really deals with hydrogen’s potential and limitations in a realistic and useful way.

Part of a primer sent to me along with the report, here are a few summary paragraphs:

According to the Factbook, the value of hydrogen-based solutions lies predominantly in their ability to convert renewable power into chemical energy carriers. But hydrogen is more than just an energy carrier. Utilizing the current energy networks hydrogen also acts as a bridge between the different branches of the energy supply system — optimizing the use of energy generated from renewable power at the energy-system level.

The main challenge for hydrogen conversion, however, lies not in its technology but in its economics. Most technologies in the hydrogen value-chain are proved, albeit at different stages of maturity. The FactBook considers that cost reduction is the next prerequisite on the road to commercialization, especially for flexible water electrolysis technologies. Beyond innovations that could disrupt the technology landscape, the principal areas of focus is engineering and manufacturing to allow for greater scalability and capitalize on accumulated knowledge.

Costs are only one side of the commercialization equation. The versatility of hydrogen opens the way to a wide range of end-uses that valorize the power conversion to hydrogen as a service or the hydrogen generated as a product. However, the benefits of hydrogen solutions remain difficult to assess and monetize as most end-markets are virtually non-existent today and are subject to the growing penetration of variable renewables.

If you take a stroll through the Factbook, you will see that is is extremely thorough and is a very science-based report. Of course, I haven’t made my way through the complete report yet — it’s a 280-page PDF! But from what I’ve read, it matches up excellently with the most useful information I’ve ever found on some key hydrogen topics, and then adds much more. Without a doubt, this is going to be my go-to source for information, context, and perspective on hydrogen and hydrogen-related topics for the foreseeable future.

By the way, there’s even a “history of hydrogen” timeline that extends back to 1766 (when H2 was discovered).

There’s no comparison to simply going through the report, but to wrap up this article, I’ll just share a handful of charts, graphs, and diagrams (which I know our readers love) from the report that I found particularly interesting or useful. Have a look:

types of energy storage

energy storage US

storage timeframes

Germany grid projections

types of hydrogen storage

Needless to say, there are some simplistic charts, but there are also a ton of very detailed charts that pack in more info than many articles on the subject (but in a digestible way). One last time: just go scroll through the report, and be sure to bookmark it for future reference.

*Coverage of this report was financially supported by the SBC Energy Institute.

Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.

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About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.



  • Doug

    I’m part way through the report and I am satisfied with the quality of the analysis. It seems balanced and is open concerning the drawbacks and limitations of H2 – as well as the potential future uses. If there is a critique, it’s that the report is optimistic concerning scaling up H2 infrastructure – and assumes that other technologies are static. It will be very interesting to see if H2 can compete with battery storage in the future.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I’m make the point again that if EVs become established, which should happen with affordable 200 mile range options, then for FCEVs to take over the market they will either have to sell for significantly less or cost significantly less per mile to operate.

      I don’t see a route for becoming less to purchase. That takes economies of scale.

      I certainly don’t see a route to less costly per mile. First, as point out, it takes 2x the electricity input to crack out the H2. The to that cost there has to be added in the cost of the H2 infrastructure.

      The grid is already in place. Distribution for EVs will cost almost nothing. Just some more places to plug in.

  • Esteban Sperber Frankel

    Now the US has cheap natural gas (methane H4C), NG can be crack down in 2H2+C, (C as carbon black), by cold plasma reactor, by this way is possible to get cheaper hydrogen with a byproduct carbon black, please look GASPLAS.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Does nothing to solve our carbon problem.

      Dead end idea.

  • Peter Thomas

    Video below of what is happening in California at municipal wastewater treatment plants using fuel cell technology to produce 3 value streams of electricity, hydrogen and heat all from a human waste! This is pretty impressive in my opinion for hydro-refueling infrastructure.

    “New fuel cell sewage gas station in Orange County, CA may be world’s first”

    http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/local/orange_county&id=8310315

    “It is here today and it is deployable today,” said Tom Mutchler of Air Products and Chemicals Inc., a sponsor and developer of the project.

    2.8MW fuel cell using biogas now operating; Largest PPA of its kind in North America

    http://www.fuelcelltoday.com/news-events/news-archive/2012/october/28-mw-fuel-cell-using-biogas-now-operating-largest-ppa-of-its-kind-in-north-america

    Microsoft Backs Away From Grid

    http://blogs.wsj.com/cio/2012/11/20/microsoft-backs-away-slowly-from-the-grid/

    Hyundai “Tuscon” Fuel Cell Vehicle
    $499 per month w/ Free Fuel & Free Maintenance from Hyundai!!! (pure water for exhaust)
    https://www.hyundaiusa.com/tucsonfuelcell/

    also…

    Construction of world’s largest fuel cell power plant. (in South Korea? with USA developed fuel cell technology??)
    http://www.fuelcelltoday.com/news-events/news-archive/2012/october/construction-of-worlds-largest-fuel-cell-power-plant-expected-to-commence-in-2012

    and….

    Video:
    DFC ERG Nat Gas / Fuel Cell Hybrid / Enbridge – Fuel Cell Energy
    http://enbridge.rawintegrated.com/hybrid/hybrid_complete.html

  • Steven F

    About a decade ago a book called the Hype about hydrogen was released. It explains why hydrogen economy will not happen. It basically boils down to efficiency.

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Hype-About-Hydrogen-Fiction/dp/1559637048

    To make hydrogen from water you loose about 30% of the energy. To transport that hydrogen and then store it in a car causes further loses. And then in the care the fuel cell loses another 40%.

    Todays best fuel cell vehicle get the equivelent of about 50MPG. todays Tesla model S gets gets the equivelent of 85MPG (EPA estimate). Charging electric cars will always cost less than fueling a fuel cell car with hydrogen made from electricity.

    • hydrogenie

      “To make hydrogen from water you loose about 30% of the energy”

      If you use solar energy for electrolysis the energy is free, so you don’t really “lose” 30%

      Battery EV’s lose up to 57% of their range in cold weather. Fuel cell cars don’t share that problem
      http://cars.chicagotribune.com/fuel-efficient/news/chi-electric-vehicles-lose-range-in-cold

      Hydrogen Fuel Cell cars beat out all others in well to wheel greenhouse gas emissions. See for yourself here: (PDF)
      http://www.hydrogen.energy.gov/pdfs/10001_well_to_wheels_gge_petroleum_use.pdf

      Fuel Cells are the future, and Elon Musk is the new John Delorean

      • driveby

        “If you use solar energy for electrolysis the energy is free, so you don’t really “lose” 30%”

        Compared to a battery driven car you still lose that energy, doesn’t matter if it was ‘free’ or not.

        From that link about the 57% range loss in cold weather:
        “Using the city driving test procedure of the EPA-DOE, the test found that the average EV battery range was 105 miles at 75 degrees, but then nosedived to 43 miles at 20 degrees. At 95 degrees, the average EV battery had a range of 69 miles.
        Nielsen wouldn’t disclose the 3 models by 3 different automakers, but all three are available nationwide.”
        http://newsroom.aaa.com/2014/03/extreme-temperatures-affect-electric-vehicle-driving-range-aaa-says/

        I wouldn’t call that representative..

        “Hydrogen Fuel Cell cars beat out all others in well to wheel greenhouse gas emissions. See for yourself here: (PDF)
        http://www.hydrogen.energy.gov/pdfs/10001_well_to_wheels_gge_petroleum_use.pdf

        You see the bar for EV’s that are being charged via “Ultra Low Carbon Renewables”? It says: ZERO.

        None of the bars for H2 can claim that..

        I’d say you got it wrong around in your last sentence:
        RIP monopoly hydrogen distribution industry.

      • Bob_Wallace

        The sunshine might be free. The equipment to turn sunshine into electricity is not free.

        There may be times during which there is more supply than demand and the grid may be willing to sell that surplus electricity for next to nothing. But those times will not be frequent, nor long lasting.

        You can’t run an industry with an energy supply that might be available on some sunny days for a portion of the sunny hours.

        Batteries don’t lose up to 57% of their range in cold weather if you preheat them.

        FCEVs are probably a short dead branch on the transportation tree of evolution. We’ll likely know in just a few years. If the cost of batteries comes down as expected FCEVs are done.

    • Doug

      FC electric forklifts are used in refrigerated warehouses that have very cold temps and limited ventilation. It is true that in the extreme cold, a FCEV would not suffer from reduced range.

      The issues with H2 for transportation are:
      1. Unplanned $1 Trillion dollar investment (in the US alone) is required for new fueling stations, H2 refining, storage, pipelines, etc. with no obvious financier
      2. FCEVs are twice expensive as BEVs with limited opportunities for catching up
      3. FCEV are only 50% as efficient as BEV, assuming the H2 is generated with renewables. They are also only about half as efficient as a natural gas car, assuming natural gas was the feedstock for the H2

  • JamesWimberley

    German research institute ZSW in Stuttgart has come up with a clever idea (h/t Renewables International) to synergise biomass fermentation and hydrogen elctrolysed from renewable electricity. Instead of painfully reacting the hydrogen with atmospheric carbon dioxide in a low concentration, you run it into a biomass reactor. Since biomass fermentation (basically sugar into methane) only uses half the carbon, you could in principle double the methane yield.

    Methane has its problems, as it’s a powerful if short-lived greenhouse gas if it leaks. But it is a much denser energy store than hydrogen, and one for which we already have a complete infrastructure.

    • http://www.sbc.slb.com/SBCInstitute.aspx BDecourt

      James, you’ll find a lot of insight about methanation, including chemical method as promoted by ZSW and EtoGas among other, but also the biological way, with startups such as Electrochaea, in the “power-to-gas” section of this FactBook. I fully agree with you: it is actually mainly relevant as biogas upgrader.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      A ton more detail about this in the factbook.

  • JamesWimberley
  • J_JamesM

    “a lot of people think a hydrogen revolution is being repressed and there’s a conspiracy to keep it from the market.”

    Oh God, these people, I swear… Did you know they’re the ones behind the “exploding skin” urban myth about the Hindenburg? They don’t even want to admit Hydrogen is flammable!

    • Benjamin Nead

      We’ll I’m not going to defend hydrogen as a way to supplant batteries in electric cars. I think batteries are coming on strong in the short term and hydrogen still has a lot of issues that will need years to work out before it’s really ready for prime time. I’m interested to download this study and read through it, just to keep myself up to date with fuel cell technology.

      But there is truth in the story that the Hindenburg and other Zeppelins/dirigibles of its day were sheathed in a linen skin that was coated with a nitrate-base lacquer (commonly known as “nitrate dope” in the aviation industry) and it contained powered aluminum. Anyone who has ever made even a casual study of solid rocket propellants will know that nitrates and aluminum powder are marvelous ingredients for such devices and are, indeed, very flammable.

      Hydrogen is also famously flammable, but actually not as volatile as the “Hindenburg skin” that was part of these early 20th century lighter-than-air craft. What is correctly observed in regards to the Hindenburg incident is that, if hydrogen was the only flammable component involved, the resulting fire would be almost invisible and burn upwards very quickly. The aluminized nitrate dope external fabric added immensely to the intensity of the fire in both visual display and concentrated damage. So . . . no real urban myth there.

      Ironically, American-made dirigibles (Shenandoah, Akron and Macon) were filled with non-flammable helium – which wasn’t available to the Germans, due to a Treaty of Versailles provision – but all suffered catastrophic structural failure of their aluminum framework. It seems that the Germans were far ahead of the US back then in regards to the metallurgy of strong aluminum alloys.

      One of the most successful Zeppelins was LZ126, the sister ship of the successful Graf Zeppelin, LZ127. The LZ126 was essentially “given” to the United States Navy (more Treaty of Versailles war booty) and re-gassed with helium: good German frame, safe American gas. The LZ126 was rechristened the Los Angeles and flew successfully from 1924 to 1932. The Graf Zeppelin also operated without incident over it’s long life but, since it remained in German hands throughout it’s operational career, was inflated with hydrogen.

      • Benjamin Nead

        I should also add (getting away from Zeppelins) that gasoline and currently generation electrolytes in lithium batteries are also flammable.

        • J_JamesM

          True, but it’s also a matter of safety. Nitroglycerin and paraffin are both flammable too, but it doesn’t mean one is as safe as the other.

      • J_JamesM

        “But there is truth in the story that the Hindenburg and other Zeppelins/dirigibles of its day were sheathed in a linen skin that was coated with a nitrate-base lacquer (commonly known as “nitrate dope” in the aviation industry) that contained powered aluminum for pigmentation. Anyone who has ever made even a casual study of solid rocket propellants will know that nitrates and aluminum powder are marvelous ingredients for such devices and are, indeed, very flammable.”

        I think you are mistaken as to what I was referring to. Yes, Zeppelins were doped with these chemicals, but extensive real-world testing of the actual fabrics used does reveal that they were only weakly combustible at best- they burn under a sustained flame, albeit very, very slowly. The chemicals, in other words, were combined in completely the wrong way to be conducive to creating rocket fuel or thermite.

        “What is correctly observed in regards to the Hindenburg incident is that, if hydrogen was the only flammable component involved, the resulting fire would be almost invisible and burn upwards very quickly.”

        And it did burn upwards very quickly. Pure hydrogen may burn blue, but as anyone who has burned salts in a Bunsen burner can attest, even tiny amounts of impurities can color a flame spectacularly without contributing much to it, let alone 250 tons of airship and diesel fuel.

        “The aluminized nitrate dope external fabric added immensely to the intensity of the fire in both visual display and concentrated damage. So . . . no real urban myth there.”

        Not at all. You’ve been had. There were plenty of unburned sections of the fabric in the Hindenburg crash site (I should know, as I’ve seen them myself), and they have been exonerated of adding any intensity to the hydrogen fire- which is so energetic it hardly needs to be explained away by another factor.

        “It seems that the Germans were far ahead of the US back then in regards to the metallurgy of strong aluminum alloys.”

        It’s tragic, but the simple fact of the matter is that each of those three American crashes were due to a string of massive incompetence, including crippling structural flaws that were thrown in at the last minute, unsafe flight protocols, and crew inexperience. It wasn’t bad luck or crappy materials (look to the British in that regard), it was a perfect storm of spectacular human blunders. The Los Angeles was the only “American” rigid airship that didn’t suffer from Americans designing flaws into her structure, and she was the only American rigid that managed to excel. Go figure.

  • Banned by Bob

    Even if the production economics of Hydrogen were compelling (big If), the logistics of distributing and storing Hydrogen just seem too difficult. If one had a Central Production model for manufacturing H2, we would need an all new distribution grid to get the material to market.

    Better things are coming in Renewables that are safer and easier to manage.

    • hydrogenie

      Toyota stores hydrogen in their new car with no problem. In fact, they tested the tank by shooting at it. http://articles.latimes.com/2013/nov/17/autos/la-fi-hy-fuel-cell-cars-20131117

      “Too difficult”? Once upon a time the US could do anything. “We do these things not because they are easy…”

      Now it’s just “too difficult”. Perfect summary of the spoiled, greedy and useless boomers and the gen xers that followed. Others won’t be put off by “too difficult”. And maybe they will be in countries that don’t waste trillions of dollars bombing and invading foreign lands.

      • Banned by Bob

        Well, I’m not sure how old you are but let’s review how our country has changed in the 50+ years since those words were uttered.

        The same country that sent a man to the moon doesn’t have the courage to bury a relatively small amount of nuclear waste in a mountain in the middle of nowhere.

        The same country that mobilized to defeat the Axis powers in WWII doesn’t have the courage to discontinue an Ethanol program that is nothing but political pork and has killed the ecosystem south of the Mississippi River.

        The same country that used to admire industrialists and religious leaders now worships trial lawyers and race baiters.

        Instead of JFK, we got Teddy. Instead of courage, we got cowardice. And we now have a President who has written twice as many autobiographies so far as JFK did.

        We don’t do hard any more, and you can thank the trial lawyers and our immediate gratification society for that.

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