Clean Transport

Published on May 20th, 2014 | by Tina Casey


FCEV Hydrogen Storage Bottleneck Get $7 Million Solution

May 20th, 2014 by  

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?

hydrogen storage

Hydrogen FCEV (cropped) courtesy of US DOE.

$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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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • Ronald Brakels

    Technically a methane or propane fuel cell could be a more environmentally friendly range extender than an internal combustion generator for an electric car, but I’m not exactly holding my breath here waiting for a cost effective one to be developed. And if and when one is developed we can just slot it in to where the generator goes in plug in hybrid cars. Simple. A range extender can get away with being expensive to run. But as for hydrogen powering cars, that dog don’t float. (In these days of rising ocean levels and declining biodiversity it is more important to have a dog that can float than hunt.)

  • JamesWimberley

    The window of opportunity for hydrogen is closing. It’s as dangerous as gasoline, harder to store, and lower density. You need a huge investment in the filling stations, which is getting less attractive by the day as reasonably priced ev chargers are rolled out. Planes will either fly on synthetic or bio liquid fuels, or go all-electric. Stanley Steamer, anybody?

    • Rick Kargaard

      Remember the Hindenburg.

  • one.second

    The crickets chirp for hydrogen storage, because the fossil fuel industry wants to sell us fracking gas.

    • TinaCasey

      Excellent point. I’ve raised that issue in other posts, and we’ve also covered emerging clean energy alternatives for hydrogen manufacturing as well as renewable biogas alternatives.

  • driveby

    RiP FCV.

    And thank (insert deity of your choice here) for RC models, mobiles phones, battery power tools and laptops that brought us better battery technology.

  • Michael Berndtson

    When reading about the hydrogen economy and the push for transportation use, I think back to when Amory Lovins (Rocky Mountain Institute) gave a talk at an American Institute of Chemical Engineers meeting about 15 years ago or so. Lovins was a big proponent of hydrogen at the time. The talk was great. The Q&A was even better. A bunch of old refinery engineers asked some great questions and responded with true insight about handling hydrogen. These guys spent their careers worried about hydrogen storage and transmission safety. Despite all this wonderful tech stuff, there’s still a safety issue. And remember who works at service stations. Unless Google’s robots will do the fill ups.

    Here’s my guess on our interest in hydrogen: presumed cheap shale gas to last one hundred years (pursuant to many on the development and sales side of oil and gas production. In reality, it’s more like around 15 to 25). Stripping hydrogen off of methane molecules is less costly than water electrolysis via wind or solar. Way less. DOE’s head Moniz loves natural gas almost as much as he loves nuclear. Natural gas is even cheaper than nuke for electrolysis. Bush used “the hydrogen economy” as a red herring – to move us away from traditional renewables and focus on oil and gas. Obama admin seems to be doing the same.

  • Doug

    I’m still having trouble grasping the scale of investment needed to reach the point where a FCEV would be preferable to a BEV.

    Just to build the national infrastructure to enable FCEVs to replace gasmobiles in the US alone may be $1Trillion or more. Why are we even considering FCEVs as an option?

    BEVs are first to market and affordable. What is the world sales forecast for FCEVs compared to PHEV/BEVs through 2020?

    • Byron Meinerth

      I agree with Doug completely. Tesla’s Supercharger system and Fastned in the Netherlands do have practical applications, but it’s important to remember that the network for charging EVs already exists wherever there’s electricity. In that regard, we have to look at systems like the Supercharger partly as marketing, simply to convince the majority of people who rarely drive that far that they could if they wanted to. (I should add that I think the Supercharger has done more than anything else to get naysayers to stop talking about range anxiety, even if most EVs don’t get the range of a Tesla Model S 85kWh.)

      The only negative is that our current system is generally not equipped for charging vehicles quickly. Nevertheless, installing charging piles and stations requires much less work and capital than an FCEV network. Moreover, individuals, businesses, governments and other organizations all have some level of incentive to install these, depending on how many EVs they use or plan to use.

      • Bob_Wallace

        If we start with X units of renewable electricity, use it to crack/compress/distribute hydrogen less than 50% makes it into kinetic energy (makes the car move).

        It would cost 2x or more as much per mile to fuel an FCEV.

        Add infrastructure cost to the extra energy cost and FCEVs just don’t make sense.

      • Bob_Wallace

        We would have to build hydrogen fueling stations for 100% of all FCEVs.

        We will need rapid charge stations only for those EVs that are taking long trips on any given day. 5% or less?

    • Agree. FCVs are just smoke & mirrors for those who don’t want us to transition away from fossil fuels, imho. Excellent exposé here:

    • Rick Kargaard

      FCEV,s may be a better option for heavy vehicles like transport truck, buses, ships, or military vehicles. I agree that the simpler BEV is likely the best option for passenger cars. We just need to see longer ranges.
      Hydrogen can also fuel piston engines and dual fuel transportation may have a place.

      • Doug

        Trains, big rigs, buses, ships, forklifts, vehicles in extreme cold climates are potential candidates. Military vehicles are a bit problematic as transporting gasoline already accounts for ¼ of military casualties. H2 is even harder to transport because of it’s lower density.

        Passenger cars? Not so much. The range “problem” is solved by faster charging – which is becoming standard.

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