One of the technology bottlenecks sitting between you and the affordable fuel cell electric vehicle of the future is the hydrogen storage issue, and the Energy Department has just handed out a $7 million round of grants to help leap over that hurdle. The funds are being split among six projects that attack the problem from different angles.
Not for nothing, but we’ve been covering these Energy Department grant programs for a while now and we’ve been noticing that the sound of cricket chirps from the anti-EV crowd keeps growing louder every time. We seem to recall that just a few years ago, spending taxpayer dollars on clean tech was some kind of scandal. What changed?
$7 Million For 6 Hydrogen Storage Projects
Before we answer that question, let’s get into the meat. The new round of Energy Department projects is aimed at the obstacles that have been slowing down the pace of progress on developing commercially viable hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).
That includes weight, size, and cost, as well as range. It also includes developing a scalable system, or family of systems, that can be adapted to different sizes of vehicles.
Here’s a rundown of the projects. The first thing that jumps out at you is that the use of carbon fiber for hydrogen storage tanks could be a thing of the past, at last in its current configuration.
Materia of Pasadena, California, for example, gets $2 million to reduce the cost of compressed hydrogen storage systems by introducing a new resin system for fabricating high pressure storage tanks. That cuts down on the need for pricey carbon fiber composites.
PPG Industries of Greensboro, North Carolina gets $1.2 million to approach the storage tank angle from another angle. The company’s contribution will be an innovative, high strength glass fiber. How strong? Apparently, it beats carbon fiber at only half the cost.
New materials also come into play for Sandia National Laboratories of Livermore, California, which gets $1.2 million to deploy a screening system to identify potentially promising, low cost alternative materials hydrogen storage.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory of Livermore, California, gets $1.2 million to continue along a low cost pathway it’s been exploring for a while now. Their solution is a high capacity, reversible storage material that can bond to and release hydrogen.
Since the lab is known for its work with metal hydrides for storing hydrogen, we’re guessing that its grant dovetails with an award of $1.2 million for Ardica of San Francisco, California. That will specifically go to — you guessed it — scaling up the low-cost production of aluminum hydride.
HRL Laboratories of Malibu, California is also contributing to the reversible storage material field through a $1 million grant, focusing on practical issues related to adapting the technology for the mass market.
Progress on the FCEV Front
In terms of breaking into the mass market, FCEVs have a long way to go before they catch up to EVs. However, with the help of the Energy Department’s FCEV program, the pace has been picking up.
That’s just part of a broader global push to lower the cost of FCEVs, including the development of alternative, low cost catalysts.
The hydrogen fueling station angle has also been getting more love from DOE and the automotive industry.
Cricket Chirps For Hydrogen Storage
As for the aforementioned cone of silence, we’ll admit that hydrogen storage isn’t exactly the sexiest topic for discussion in the public marketplace of issues, and we’ll also admit that $7 million is chump change compared to other Energy Department clean energy programs.
However, the clear trend is that the wind has been sucked out of the worst of the anti-clean tech rhetoric, now that the technology is working its way into the mainstream and people are happy with the results.
For example, just the other day the Army announced a landmark 90-MW solar project split among three bases in Georgia, and not one of the usual suspects has piped up with an objection.
So, as this election cycle cranks up, we’ll be really surprised if federal support for clean tech is any kind of an issue. Nothing like the heady days of Solyndra and the Chevy Volt, right?
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