What’s fueling hydrogen tech?

Hydrogen — the magical gas that Jules Verne predicted in 1874 would one day be used as fuel — has long struggled to get the attention it deserves. Discovered 400 years ago, its trajectory has seen it mostly mired in obscurity, punctuated by a few explosive moments, but never really fulfilling its potential.

Now in 2021, the world may be ready for hydrogen.

This gas is capturing the attention of governments and private sector players, fueled by new tech, global green energy legislation, post-pandemic “green recovery” schemes and the growing consensus that action must be taken to combat climate change.

Joan Ogden, professor emeritus at UC Davis, started researching hydrogen in 1985 — at the time considered “pretty fringy, crazy stuff”. She’s seen industries and governments inquisitively poke at hydrogen over the years, then move on. This new, more intense focus feels different, she said.

The funding activity in France is one illustration of what is happening throughout Europe and beyond. “Back in 2018, the hydrogen strategy in France was €100 million — a joke,” Sabrine Skiker, the EU policy manager for land transport at Hydrogen Europe, said in an interview with TechCrunch. “I mean, a joke compared to what we have now. Now we have a strategy that foresees €7.2 billion.”

The European Clean Hydrogen Alliance forecasts public and private sectors will invest €430 billion in hydrogen in the continent by 2030 in a massive push to meet emissions targets. Globally, the hydrogen generation industry is expected to grow to $201 billion by 2025 from $130 billion in 2020 at a CAGR of 9.2%, according to research from Markets and Markets published this year. This growth is expected to lead to advancements across multiple sectors including transportation, petroleum refining, steel manufacturing and fertilizer production. There are 228 large-scale hydrogen projects in various stages of development today — mostly in Europe, Asia and Australia.

Hydrogen breakdown

When the word “hydrogen” is uttered today, the average non-insider’s mind likely gravitates toward transportation — cars, buses, maybe trains or 18-wheelers, all powered by the gas.

But hydrogen is and does a lot of things, and a better understanding of its other roles — and challenges within those roles — is necessary to its success in transportation.

Hydrogen is already being heavily used in petroleum refineries and by manufacturers of steel, chemicals, ammonia fertilizers and biofuels. It’s also blended into natural gas for delivery through pipelines.

Hydrogen is not an energy source, but an energy carrier — one with exceptional long-duration energy storage capabilities, which makes it a complement to weather-dependent energies like solar and wind. Storage is critical to the growth of renewable energy, and greater use of hydrogen in renewable energy storage can drive the cost of both down.

However, 95% of hydrogen produced is derived from fossil fuels — mostly through a process called steam methane reforming (SMR). Little of it is produced via electrolysis, which uses electricity to split hydrogen and oxygen. Even less is created from renewable energy. Thus, not all hydrogen is created equal. Grey hydrogen is made from fossil fuels with emissions, and blue hydrogen is made from non-renewable sources whose carbon emissions are captured and sequestered or transformed. Green hydrogen is made from renewable energy. 

Where the action is

The global fuel cell vehicle market is hit or miss. There are about 10,000 FCVs in the U.S., with most of them in California — and sales are stalling. Only 937 FCVs were sold in the entire country in 2020, less than half the number sold in 2019. California has 44 hydrogen refueling stations and about as many in the works, but a lack of refueling infrastructure outside of the state isn’t helping American adoption.

#automotive, #bill-gates, #ec-food-climate-and-sustainability, #ec-mobility-hardware, #hydrogen, #hydrogen-fuel-cell, #sergey-brin, #tc, #transportation


How to Clean Up Steel? Bacteria, Hydrogen and a Lot of Cash.

With climate concerns growing, steel companies face an inevitable crunch. ArcelorMittal sees solutions, but the costs are likely to run into tens of billions of dollars in Europe alone.

#arcelormittal-sa, #carbon-caps-and-emissions-trading-programs, #carbon-dioxide, #europe, #global-warming, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #hydrogen, #steel-and-iron


Car groups throw spanner in works of EU’s hydrogen drive

The lettering "BMW i - Hydrogen Next" can be seen on the front of a BMW X5 equipped with a hydrogen drive. The car is equipped with two 700 bar tanks for a total of 6 kg of hydrogen.

Enlarge / The lettering “BMW i – Hydrogen Next” can be seen on the front of a BMW X5 equipped with a hydrogen drive. The car is equipped with two 700 bar tanks for a total of 6 kg of hydrogen. (credit: picture alliance | Getty Images)

Europe’s two biggest industrial and economic powers are laying billions on the table in an attempt to take on China in developing a “green” hydrogen sector to replace fossil fuels—but the continent’s top motor groups are wary of going along for the ride.

“You won’t see any hydrogen usage in cars,” said Volkswagen chief executive Herbert Diess.

The idea of a big market for vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells is “very optimistic,” according to Diess, who has overseen a €35 billion push into electric cars. “Not even in 10 years,” he told the Financial Times, “because the physics behind it are so unreasonable.”

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#cars, #hydrogen


The City Where Cars Are Not Welcome

As automakers promise to get rid of internal combustion engines, Heidelberg is trying to get rid of autos.

#austin-tex, #automobiles, #batteries, #bicycles-and-bicycling, #bloomberg-michael-r, #buses, #c40-cities-climate-leadership-group, #copenhagen-denmark, #electric-and-hybrid-vehicles, #energy-and-power, #energy-efficiency, #europe, #ford-motor-co, #fuel-emissions-transportation, #general-motors, #germany, #heidelberg-germany, #hydrogen, #international-council-on-clean-transportation, #jaguar-land-rover, #mercedes-benz, #oslo-norway, #portland-ore, #real-estate-commercial, #reckitt-benckiser, #roads-and-traffic, #rotterdam-netherlands, #sap-ag, #stockholm-sweden, #transit-systems, #united-nations-framework-convention-on-climate-change, #university-of-heidelberg, #wurzner-eckart


Sergey Brin’s airship aims to use world’s biggest mobile hydrogen fuel cell

Sergey Brin’s secretive airship company LTA Research and Exploration is planning to power a huge disaster relief airship with an equally record-breaking hydrogen fuel cell.

A job listing from the company, which is based in Mountain View, California and Akron, Ohio, reveals that LTA wants to configure a 1.5-megawatt hydrogen propulsion system for an airship to deliver humanitarian aid and revolutionize transportation. While there are no specs tied to the job listing, such a system would likely be powerful enough to cross oceans. Although airships travel much slower than jet planes, they can potentially land or deliver goods almost anywhere.

Hydrogen fuel cells are an attractive solution for electric aviation because they are lighter and potentially cheaper than lithium-ion batteries. However, the largest hydrogen fuel cell to fly to date is a 0.25-megawatt system (250 kilowatts) in ZeroAvia’s small passenger plane last September. LTA’s first crewed prototype airship, called Pathfinder 1, will be powered by batteries when it takes to the air, possibly this year. FAA records show that the Pathfinder 1 has 12 electric motors and would be able to carry 14 people. 

That makes it about the same size as the only passenger airship operating today, the Zeppelin NT, which conducts sightseeing tours in Germany and Switzerland. The Pathfinder 1 also uses some Zeppelin components in its passenger gondola. 

LTA Research and Exploration airship patent

Image Credits: LTA Patent US 2019/0112023 A1

Since the Hindenburg disaster in 1937, most airships, including LTA’s, have used non-flammable helium as a lifting gas. But using hydrogen for fuel still makes sense, according to Professor Dr. Josef Kallo of the German Aerospace Center, which is developing its own 1.5 MW fuel cell to power a 60-seater regional electric aircraft. 

“Where we could go something like 125 miles with batteries, we should be able to go nearly 1,000 miles using hydrogen,” Kallo said. “And airships are even more perfect for the efficiency of fuel cells.”

Fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce water and electricity, but are traditionally heavy and complex. Putting one in an aircraft adds extra complications such as safely transporting the liquid hydrogen in fuel tanks, storing the water produced and dealing with a lot of waste heat.

LTA’s first fuel cell will be a 0.75 MW system, built by a third party and retrofitted into one of its existing prototypes, according to the job listing. That is unlikely to happen this year, however. A planned Pathfinder 3 airship, which will run on batteries, still has not been registered with the FAA.

LTA Research and Exploration airship patent

Image Credits: LTA Research Patent US 2019/0112023 A1

“Functionality wise, there is no showstopper to using a hydrogen fuel cell,” Kallo said. “The challenge is to find someone who can afford not to look at the business case, because I don’t think it works out from an economic perspective. Maybe Sergey Brin can afford to do that.”

Brin is currently the ninth richest person in the world, with a net worth of over $86 billion. LTA’s website says the initial use case for its aircraft will be “humanitarian disaster response and relief efforts, especially in remote areas that cannot be easily accessed by plane and boat due to limited or destroyed infrastructure.” Ultimately, it intends to create a family of zero emissions aircraft for global cargo and passenger travel.

LTA has already started its charitable work, producing more than 3 million face masks for first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic, and donating nearly $3 million last year to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

LTA is likely to operate closely with Brin’s nonprofit disaster relief force, Global Support and Development (GSD), which is based just a few miles from LTA’s Mountain View hangars. GSD has deployed medics and ex-military personnel to numerous natural disasters over the past five years. It prides itself on its ability to arrive before traditional NGOs, on occasion even using Brin’s own superyacht. Tax records show that Brin is by far the largest funder of GSD, giving it at least $7.5 million in 2019. 

#google, #hydrogen, #lta-research-and-exploration, #sergey-brin, #tc, #transportation


The Gospel of Hydrogen Power

Mike Strizki powers his house and cars with hydrogen he home-brews. He is using his retirement to evangelize for the planet-saving advantages of hydrogen batteries.

#batteries, #electric-and-hybrid-vehicles, #energy-and-power, #hydrogen, #innovation


G.M. Scales Down Nikola Deal

A new agreement, supplying hydrogen fuel cell technology from General Motors, is less sweeping than the strategic partnership outlined in September.

#automobiles, #electric-and-hybrid-vehicles, #general-motors, #hydrogen, #milton-trevor-1981, #nikola-motor-co, #trucks-and-trucking


California Is Trying to Jump-Start the Hydrogen Economy

The fuel could play an important role in fighting climate change, but it has been slow to gain traction because of high costs.

#alternative-and-renewable-energy, #automobile-service-and-charging-stations, #automobiles, #batteries, #buses, #california, #electric-and-hybrid-vehicles, #energy-and-power, #fuel-emissions-transportation, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #hydrogen, #hyundai-motor-co, #oil-petroleum-and-gasoline, #royal-dutch-shell-plc, #toyota-motor-corp


Finally, the First Room-Temperature Superconductor

It conveys electricity in the climate of a crisp fall day, but only under pressures comparable to what you’d find closer to Earth’s core.

#chemistry, #electric-light-and-power, #electronics, #hydrogen, #nature-journal, #physics, #research, #superconductors, #your-feed-science


Nikola stock plunges 26% after fraud claims complicate hydrogen plans

Hand holding hydrogen pump.

Enlarge / A Nel/Nikola refueling pump is shown in a 2019 publicity photo. (credit: Nikola Motor Company)

Shares of hydrogen truck startup Nikola plunged 26 percent on Wednesday after The Wall Street Journal reported that the company was struggling to find partners to build a planned network of hydrogen fueling stations. Nikola’s stock closed at $21.15 on Wednesday, a decline of 57 percent from the $50 peak reached on September 8, the day Nikola announced that GM would design and manufacture its Badger pickup truck.

Shortly after the GM deal was announced, the short-selling firm Hindenburg Research revealed that Nikola founder Trevor Milton wasn’t telling the truth at a 2016 event when he claimed that the Nikola One truck on the stage “fully functions.” Nikola now concedes that the truck never worked and that a promotional video of the truck was made by rolling it down a hill.

Nikola argued that this was old news because Nikola is no longer marketing the Nikola One and has a working prototype of the Nikola Two. But the revelations threw the company into chaos and forced Milton to resign on Sunday.

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#cars, #fcev, #hydrogen, #nikola, #trevor-milton


Nikola admits prototype was rolling downhill in promotional video

A Nikola video shows the Nikola One prototype rolling down a shallow hill in Utah. Nikola now says it never claimed the truck was driving under its own power.

Enlarge / A Nikola video shows the Nikola One prototype rolling down a shallow hill in Utah. Nikola now says it never claimed the truck was driving under its own power. (credit: Nikola)

When Nikola Motor Company founder Trevor Milton unveiled a prototype of the Nikola One truck in December 2016, he portrayed it as fully functional.

“We will have a chain on the seats to prevent people from coming in just for the safety. I don’t want someone to end up doing something and driving this truck off the stage,” Milton said. “This thing fully functions and works, which is really incredible.”

In January 2018, Nikola posted a video to YouTube and other social channels called “Nikola One Electric Semi Truck in Motion.” It showed the Nikola One truck moving rapidly along a two-lane desert highway.

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#cars, #hydrogen, #nikola, #trevor-milton


New Video Shows Largest Hydrogen Bomb Ever Exploded

A Russian nuclear energy agency released formerly classified footage of the Soviet Union’s 1961 Tsar Bomba test.

#classified-information-and-state-secrets, #cold-war-era, #defense-and-military-forces, #hydrogen, #nuclear-weapons, #rosatom, #russia, #united-states-defense-and-military-forces, #ussr-former-soviet-union, #video-recordings-downloads-and-streaming, #your-feed-science


Seeking Dark Matter, They Detected Another Mystery

Do signals from beneath an Italian mountain herald a revolution in physics?

#aprile-elena, #dark-matter-astronomy, #gran-sasso-national-laboratory, #grandi-luca, #hydrogen, #italy, #neutrinos, #physics, #research, #space-and-astronomy, #sun, #tritium, #wilczek-frank-a, #xenon-collaboration, #your-feed-science


Fractal flaming hydrogen wiggles through tiny gaps

Lab technician setting fire to a ball with hydrogen blowtorch.

Enlarge / Lab technician setting fire to a ball with hydrogen blowtorch. (credit: JohnAlexandr | Getty Images)

Hydrogen is not your friend. This was the first lesson I learned when I sent a PhD student off to study hydrogen reactions on a surface. Hydrogen is explosive over a huge range of concentrations, making even the tiniest leak an invitation to study the joys of high-velocity stainless steel, with an added bonus of third-degree burns. I’ve now learned that the situation is actually worse than I thought, because hydrogen is also able to burn in very confined spaces as well.

Fire needs three things: fuel, oxygen, and heat. If you have a well-mixed fuel-oxygen combination, the first two aren’t going to be a problem, so you just need to add heat. When ignition is sparked off, the fuel and oxygen are quickly exhausted locally, so a front of combustion will expand outward from the ignition point, consuming the fuel and oxygen as it goes. For that expansion to take place, the heat generated from combustion must be transferred outward with the flame front, otherwise the gas will not be hot enough to ignite.

In a large space, this is not a problem, because gases don’t take much energy to heat up. In a confined space, though, the walls start to play a role. Energy will go into heating the walls, but the wall temperature may never get above the ignition temperature of the gas. So, if the walls are close enough, a spark will not result in a propagating flame front; instead, the flame dies locally. For hydrogen, though, the story turns out to be a bit more complicated.

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#combustion-physics, #hydrogen, #science


New material releases hydrogen from water at near-perfect efficiency

Image of the setting Sun.

Enlarge (credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

Solar energy is currently dominated by photovoltaic devices, which have ridden massive economies of scale to price dominance. But these devices are not necessarily the best choice in all circumstances. Unless battery technology improves, it’s quite expensive to add significant storage to solar production. And there are types of transportation—long-distance rail, air—where batteries aren’t a great solution. These limitations have made researchers maintain interest in alternate ways of using solar energy.

One alternative option is to use the energy to produce a portable fuel, like a hydrocarbon or hydrogen itself. This is possible to do with the electrons produced by photovoltaic systems, but the added steps can reduce efficiency. However, systems that convert sunlight more directly to fuel have suffered from even worse efficiencies.

But a Japanese group has decided to tackle this efficiency problem. The team started with a material that’s not great—it only absorbs in the UV—but is well understood. And the researchers figured out how to optimize it so that its efficiency at splitting water to release hydrogen runs right up against the theoretical maximum. While it’s not going to be useful on its own, it may point the way toward how to develop better materials.

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#energy, #green, #hydrogen, #materials-science, #renewable-energy, #science, #solar-power


Hydrogen as Fuel? An Italian Pasta Factory Shows How It Could Work

A producer of orecchiette and paccheri is using the potentially clean energy source in a trial.

#alternative-and-renewable-energy, #corporate-social-responsibility, #factories-and-manufacturing, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #hydrogen, #italy, #orogiallo-pasta-co, #pasta, #snam-spa


Researchers engineer photosynthetic bacteria to produce hydrogen

Image of strings of small green cells

Enlarge (credit: State of Oklahoma)

The price of photovoltaic power has plunged, making it competitive with fossil fuel-powered electrical generation. But there is still a range of applications, like ships and aircraft, where electrical power doesn’t help much. And storing the electricity produced by solar power so that it can be used at night remains an unsolved problem. For those reasons, there’s been continued interest in converting solar power to a fuel that can be stored, either through the use of electricity generated by photovoltaics or by using light to directly power fuel generation.

There’s obviously a means of generating fuel through light that’s been in use for roughly 3 billion years: photosynthesis. But photosynthesis requires a large and complex suite of proteins that’s hard to maintain outside of cells. And inside of cells, the products of photosynthesis are quickly put to use to help the cells grow. So, engineering a version of photosynthesis that might be useful for fuel production has been challenging.

Earlier this week, however, researchers from the University of Kiel described how they’ve rearranged some photosynthetic proteins to make bacteria that emit hydrogen when exposed to light.

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#biochemistry, #bioengineering, #biofuels, #biology, #cyanobacteria, #hydrogen, #photosynthesis, #renewable-energy, #science