Here’s more good news for fuel cell electric vehicle fans: the California company HyperSolar, which has been developing a system for producing hydrogen with an assist from solar energy, has announced a new tweak that will help bump down the cost of its process. If all goes well the result will be a competitive price for hydrogen fuel with which to fuel up your new FCEV.
Solar Energy For Renewable Hydrogen
In 2012 we described the company’s vision for large scale solar farms that mimic photosynthesis and “split” water to produce hydrogen instead of veggies, but the company dropped off our radar after that. We should have been paying more attention because a lot has happened since then.
Among the recent developments, earlier this month HyperSolar renewed its sponsored solar powered hydrogen production research program with the University of California – Santa Barbara for another six months.
That follows on the heels of an announcement last December, in which the company noted some progress in developing a new solar powered water-splitting catalyst. The new catalyst eliminates the need for more expensive materials — namely, platinum — which is a key factor in the cost of solar powered hydrogen production.
In its latest announcement, HyperSolar reports that test results have been promising:
Test results indicate that this low cost catalyst will reduce overall voltage requirements, significantly increase photocurrents, improve hydrogen production efficiency, and further reduce the cost of the Company’s hydrogen production process.
About That Catalyst…
HyperSolar’s press materials are a bit thin on the details about that new catalyst, except to note that it was developed by Syed Mubeen Hussaini of the University of Iowa. We took a little stroll through the Intertubes to find out more so this is just a wild guess, but that could be the one described in a study published last year by the Electrochemical Society, authored with fellow University of Iowa researchers
In the study, the authors note the efficiency limitations of water-splitting catalysts based on a single material. The use of combinations of materials (aka multi-junction) boosts efficiency, but results in an overly complex, expensive device.
The solution they propose is a photoelectrochemical device that uses a low cost process to deposit an inexpensive, efficient metal oxide/sulfide onto a conventional silicon solar cell. The metal acts as an anode, and the solar cell itself acts as a cathode.
Last fall HyperSolar renewed its research relationship with the University of Iowa to April 2016, so it looks like additional improvements are expected. Here’s the company’s rundown on the progress with both research partners as of last fall:
The Company announced in September 2015 that it had surpassed 1.5 Volts (V), the practical voltage needed to effectively split water molecules to produce hydrogen in real world systems…The collaboration between the two Universities led to the rapid development of the technology, as the Company surpassed both the theoretical minimum (1.23 V) then the recent 1.55 V breakthrough, within one year.
About Those Fuel Cell EVs
CleanTechnica has generally given hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles the stinkeye for a number of reasons, including the use of fossil natural gas to produce hydrogen fuel. Deploying solar energy to generate renewable hydrogen from water leaps over that hurdle, though it does raise the potential for water scarcity issues.
On the other hand, potable water is not necessarily an issue for renewable hydrogen. HyperSolar is among a number of companies and research institutions that are developing solar-powered processes that can run efficiently on non-potable water, including water drawn directly from rivers and other natural sources as well as wastewater from industrial operations.
Seawater is another potential source of hydrogen. Last year, for example, we noticed the US Navy’s interest in a transportable system that could be used to produce fuel on the go. The primary purpose is to capture carbon dioxide from seawater and convert it to a usable carbon-based fuel, but the contraption also produces hydrogen as a byproduct.
As for fuel cell EVs, Toyota is a big fan, and the company has been exploring the “hydrogen economy” concept in Japan. Toyota has already rolled out its Mirai FCEV in California, thought there appears to be a glitch (we’re thinking a temporary one) in terms of hydrogen fuel station availability
In addition, Switzerland is among several countries developing large scale power-to-gas systems that leverage renewable energy to produce hydrogen, and that deploy existing natural gas pipelines and storage facilities to distribute hydrogen.
Image: via Hypersolar.
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