We were just talking about using wind and solar energy to source “green” hydrogen for fuel cell electric vehicles earlier this week, and along comes two more bits of news to gladden the hearts of fuel cell EV early adopters. First up is Rice University with some new research that could make green hydrogen on the cheap, and then we’ll take a look at a new tidal energy project that hooks up with a hydrogen recovery system.
Green Hydrogen For Green Fuel Cell EVs
For those of you new to the hydrogen issue, it’s a doozy. Think natural gas fracking and you’re on the right track. In other words, hydrogen is so not a clean fuel. The advantage it has right now is zero emissions at the tailpipe, which is good but not nearly good enough for communities that host fracking and natural gas transmission operations.
We discussed the fracking/fuel cell EV issue in detail earlier this week, and to be fair, battery EVs face similar issues when they are charged from a coal or natural gas-dependent grid, but still end up much, much cleaner thanks to the efficiency of their overall systems.
Meanwhile, the future may not be so gloomy for hydrogen, and for that we thank you, taxpayers of the USA. A large-scale demo project for sourcing hydrogen from water is under way in California, under the auspices of SoCalGas with the support of the Energy Department. The system can be powered with wind or solar energy, which cuts natural gas out of the picture.
Cheap, Green Hydrogen For Fuel Cell EVs
That brings us to the Rice hydrogen research.
With your sparkling green hydrogen in hand, you still have to think about the cost of tooling around in a fuel cell EV compared to other rides. Part of that cost has to do with the catalyst used to wrench hydrogen and oxygen apart.
The current catalyst of choice is based on platinum, which needless to say is quite pricey.
The Rice team came up with a thin film based on cobalt that could do the same job, and do it better, and cheaper, too. No, really — the material itself is cheaper, and the manufacturing process is inexpensive and scalable.
The image above shows a side view of cobalt phosphide/phosphate thin film, and if you want to know how thin, you can measure it from the scale bar of 500 nanometers, located at the lower right corner.
To ice the cake, instead of just recovering hydrogen, the same material also produces recoverable oxygen.
Speaking of US taxpayers, before we get on to that tidal energy thing, let’s pause here for a big group hug, because our friends over at the Air Force Office of Scientific Research supported the Rice team through its Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative. Didn’t know we had one of those, did you?
More Green Sources For Green Fuel Cell EVs
The Rice team envisions using wind and solar energy to go with their new low-cost hydrogen catalyst, which brings us right around to that tidal energy thing.
ITM will be providing the hydrogen end of things, which is based on the a polymer electrolyte membrane.
The idea is to store excess energy from the tidal turbines in the form of hydrogen, so an on-site fuel cell is included in the ITM package.
But wait, there’s more. Excess hydrogen is also anticipated from the project, and that will be shipped off site to another energy storage system, helping to boost the reliability of power supplied by a local community wind turbine.
A Brighter Future For Fuel Cell EVs
Fuel cell EVs have taken their share of lumps over here at CleanTechnica and our sister site Gas2.org, but we would also like to point out that way back in the early days of auto manufacturing, battery electric vehicles were the way to go.
Something happened along the way — gasoline and diesel leapfrogged over electricity — and it has taken battery electric vehicles around 100 years — yes, 100 years — to even begin to catch up.
We’re not saying that battery EVs are heading for another 100-year fall, just that fuel cell EV technology should not be counted out after a mere 30 or so years of trying.
Add hydrogen produced with tidal energy to solar and wind, and then consider a drop in the cost of fuel cells, and it seems that things are moving along at a nice clip on the hydrogen front, at least as far as stationary fuel cells go.
Mobile fuel cells — aka fuel cell EVs — are a whole ‘nother ball of wax, but it seems to us that all of this hydrogen activity is going to trickle down to the personal mobility market, sooner or later.
However, aside from cost and cleanliness, they still have a lot of big hurdles to overcome. But perhaps one day in the sparkling green future the personal mobility market will accommodate both.
Photo Credit: Tour Group/Rice University
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