Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

CleanTechnica
A new demonstration could provide fuel cell EV owners with a truly zero emission ride, thanks to renewable hydrogen from solar and wind energy.

Cars

New Project Makes Hydrogen For Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles, Without The Natural Gas Baggage

A new demonstration could provide fuel cell EV owners with a truly zero emission ride, thanks to renewable hydrogen from solar and wind energy.

Among the reasons why zero emission fuel cell electric vehicles get the stinkeye from CleanTechnica, the natural gas issue is probably the one we can all agree on. As with other EVs, the “zero emission” thing refers to the tailpipe. As long as fuel cells are powered by hydrogen, and as long as almost all hydrogen comes from natural gas, then fuel cell EVs are far from a clean solution to personal mobility.

However, a brand new demonstration hydrogen project is about to stand the whole hydrogen source issue on its head.

Toyota Mirai FCEV

How Natural Gas Can Benefit Fuel Cell EVs, Without The Baggage

For those of you new to the issue, natural gas has the edge over coal as a “clean” fuel because there are lower emissions at the burn point. However, there are a host of other problems up and down the supply chain.

The problem with natural gas is partly due to the drilling method known as fracking, short for hydrofracturing. Fracking has been linked to water contamination and earthquakes, as well as numerous problems with wastewater disposal.

Here in the US, fracking was once confined to thinly populated areas, but the relatively recent discovery of shale formations in more heavily populated areas has touched off new waves of local opposition.

Fracking or not, natural gas is also coming under increased scrutiny for the amount of fugitive methane emissions from drilling sites, transmission lines, and storage facilities.

That’s a whole lot of baggage for fuel cell EVs to carry around.

To be fair, if you charge up your EV battery from a grid mix that includes coal and natural gas, you’re also carrying a lot of greenhouse gas freight.

On the other hand, EV owners can escape the greenhouse trap by charging up with electricity generated by renewable energy — and in the sparkling green future, a similar option could be available to fuel cell EV owners.



The SoCalGas Power-To-Gas Renewable Hydrogen System

That brings us to this renewable hydrogen demonstration project, just announced today by Southern California Gas Company. A division of the energy company Sempra, SoCalGas has teamed up with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the National Fuel Cell Research Center at the University of California–Irvine for the project.

The idea is to split hydrogen gas from water, using solar-generated or wind-generated electricity to power the process.

We’ve covered a number of small-scale interpretations of the renewable hydrogen concept, but the new demonstration project is the first we’ve seen to launch the technology into showtime, at least in the US (you can check out Germany for another large-scale renewable hydrogen project).

Standing The Natural Gas Baggage On Its Head

Renewable hydrogen levels the playing field between fuel cell EVs and battery EVs, at least in regard to low- or zero-emission sourcing.

In terms of energy storage, all else being equal according to Sempra, fuel cells have the advantage in scale, capacity, and duration. Those advantages most obviously apply to large-scale, stationary energy storage, but according to our trickle-down theory of energy storage technology, there could also be some application to fuel cell EVs.

Fuel cells could also have another advantage in the US and other developed countries: the existence of an existing gas transmission and storage structure. Here’s the money quote from Sempra, regarding the commercialization of renewable hydrogen:

Such a commercial system could enable natural gas utilities across North America to use their existing pipeline infrastructure as essentially a large, cost-effective “battery” to store and deliver clean, renewable energy on demand.

That’s exactly what the new demonstration will set out to explore: the “feasibility and potential benefits of using the natural gas pipeline system to store photovoltaic and wind-produced energy.”

That’s the real head-standing angle — ditching the greenhouse gas liability of natural gas, and while retaining the advantages of an extensive natural gas infrastructure.

Sempra’s SoCalGas is the biggest natural gas utility in the US (21.4 million consumers through 5.9 million meters, that’s how big), so its interest in the technology is obvious. As things stand now, in some regions, the renewable generating capacity is outrunning demand, and SoCalGas may be looking at a future in which more customers choose distributed wind and solar over gas. Rather than holding the bag in terms of stranded assets, renewable hydrogen could enable the utility to squeeze more use out of its existing infrastructure, while providing a form of long-term storage for renewable energy.

SoCalGas expects results from the demo project to be in hand before the end of this year, so stay tuned.

Renewable Hydrogen For Fuel Cell EVs

The Energy Department is actually looking at a whole host of renewable technologies for generating hydrogen, as illustrated by this handy chart:

NREL renewable hydrogen for fuel cell EVs

For more information on electrolysis, pay a visit to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and tell them CleanTechnica sent you.

Follow me on Twitter and Google+.

Image Credits: (top, screenshot) Toyota Mirai fuel cell EV courtesy of Toyota; (bottom) courtesy of NREL.

 
Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!
 

Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

Former Tesla Battery Expert Leading Lyten Into New Lithium-Sulfur Battery Era — Podcast:



I don't like paywalls. You don't like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it! We just don't like paywalls, and so we've decided to ditch ours. Unfortunately, the media business is still a tough, cut-throat business with tiny margins. It's a never-ending Olympic challenge to stay above water or even perhaps — gasp — grow. So ...
If you like what we do and want to support us, please chip in a bit monthly via PayPal or Patreon to help our team do what we do! Thank you!
Advertisement
 
Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Spoutible.

Comments

You May Also Like

Clean Power

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Sandia National Laboratories, co-leads of the Heliostat Consortium, announced seven awardees from...

Clean Power

The long wait for low-cost, high-performance perovskite solar cells is coming to a close. Now the fun begins.

Clean Transport

This spring, the U.S. Department of Energy announced $7 million in funding for seven projects focused on creating regional infrastructure plans to support electric...

Clean Transport

The revolutions in power generation and vehicle technology are gaining momentum, and given the climate crisis, they can’t come too soon. Last year, renewables...

Copyright © 2023 CleanTechnica. The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by and do not necessarily represent the views of CleanTechnica, its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries.