With all eyes on the great state of New Hampshire this week, naturally the topic turns to hydrogen, and Utah, where a company called Q Hydrogen has developed a system for producing renewable hydrogen, which it is transplanting to a former paper mill located in the village of Groveton, in New Hampshire. The operation is expected to be up and running this summer, so now would be a good time to take a look under the hood and see what’s cooking.
Yet Another Way To Make Renewable Hydrogen
As a cautionary note, Q Hydrogen is new on the CleanTechnica radar, but reporting by David Brooks of the Concord Monitor suggests a wastewater treatment angle (follow that link for many more details and support local journalism) rather than an electrolysis-based system.
Electrolysis deploys an electrical current to “split” hydrogen from water.
A consensus is forming around electrolysis as the most cost effective, scale-upable pathway to produce renewable hydrogen. With technology improvements, some analysts foresee that renewable hydrogen sourced through electrolysis could become commercially viable in the foreseeable future.
However, a recent hydrogen report from the firm Platts paints a somewhat gloomier picture for electrolysis, concluding that “curtailed renewables and negatively priced electricity can provide a use case for PEM electrolysis production of hydrogen, but the medium-term potential is small.”
By “curtailed renewables,” Platts means the idea that hydrogen can be used to store excess wind and solar energy. If you’re asking why not just use batteries, that’s a good question. Hydrogen has a couple of major advantages, one being the ability to store energy for days, not just for a few hours.
Another advantage relates to opening up the transmission bottlenecks that are slowing wind and solar development. Hydrogen can be transported by road, rail, or pipeline, in addition to generating electricity that can be transmitted by power lines.
So, How Does This H2 Thing Work?
That’s another good question! The Monitor has been following the story of Q Hydrogen (aka QuasarWave) since October 2018, when Brooks wrote that New Hampshire is in need of a “secret system to create hydrogen gas as the ultimate clean fuel, operating inside an old mill building next to a giant power-hungry data center that might be used to mine bitcoin.”
Secret is the operational word. Aside from noting that the company plans to use the Upper Ammonoosuc River as its water source, Brooks was unable to pry more details loose from Q Hydrogen at the time, and he voiced a note of skepticism over the whole thing.
However, Brooks followed up last month with a few more details about the project, which appears to be on track to meet its startup goal this summer. If you want to know more, check out his article archive at the Monitor.
Many Paths To Renewable Hydrogen
CleanTechnica wants to know more, too. We’re reaching out to Q Hydrogen to see if the team can tell us anything more about their renewable hydrogen system, so stay tuned for more on that.
The wastewater angle is an interesting one, to say the least. Researchers have been taking a look at producing hydrogen through microbial action in saltwater, municipal wastewater, and seawater for a while now, so it’s about time for a commercial breakthrough.
One example is the University of Colorado, which reported on a microbe-based desalination system that produces hydrogen gas back in 2010. The system can also be used to treat wastewater.
Another interesting example is the hydrogen-producing bioreactor at the heart of an award-winning solar powered toilet developed by CalTech students in 2013. When last spotted, the idea was to equip the toilet with a fuel cell, so the system could run on stored hydrogen at night in addition to using daytime solar energy.
Yet another hint unearthed by Brooks calls to mind a mineral-based approach that the US Naval Research Laboratory has zeroed in on. The lab has also been tinkering around with a renewable hydrogen device rooted in technology for extracting carbon dioxide from seawater, with hydrogen as a byproduct.
The Navy’s aim is to scavenge for an endless supply of renewable fuel at sea, and researchers are also looking into the idea of deploying the system to capture excess carbon from seawater.
As a bonus reality check, though, commercial viability for seawater-to-hydrogen systems is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.
On the other hand, analysts are reporting an upswing in commercial activity in recent months in the related field of microbial fuel cells, so there’s that.
Renewable Hydrogen For The Northeastern US
Lots going on! Meanwhile, if all goes according to plan the Groveton operation has given New Hampshire pole position in the neck-and-neck race to see who gets to renewable hydrogen first in the upper reaches of the US northeast.
Maine is looking into power-to-gas for a solution to its transmission line bottleneck while making more room for wind and solar energy on the grid, and Vermont is exploring the long-term energy storage angle for renewable hydrogen.
Helping things along is the US Department of Energy, which has just released a new round of $64 million in funding to accelerate the hydrogen economy of the sparkling green future.
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Photo (cropped): Courtesy of Q Hydrogen Solutions Corporation.
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