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Hydrogen Explained

I think that this will be an important moment in the history of hydrogen as an automotive fuel. ITM Power, a leading British electrolyser company, in partnership with Hyundai, have released figures showing that Hydrogen is now competitive with Diesel on cost per kilometre.

The numbers:

  • Hyundai ix35 FCEV (hydrogen fuel cell vehicle) - cost per km - 4p
  • Hyundai ix35 2.0 litre CRDi 4WD diesel - cost per km - 7.9p

These numbers assume:

  • A diesel price of 139.2p per litre (forecourt price)
  • A hydrogen price of 419p per kg (generated from ITM's 1MW HGas unit)

Yes you read that correctly - the Fuel Cell vehicle is 50.6% cheaper to run per kilometre than it's diesel counterpart. The rapid reduction in cost is thanks to the continuing development within ITM through large scale Megawatt projects. Government bodies such as the technology strategy board have actively been promoting cost reductions through a number of grant funded projects.

To put this development into further context the European targets for Hydrogen pricing are:

  • £7.19 per kg in 2015
  • £4.40 per kg in 2025

This means that the price target for hydrogen in 2025 has now been hit in 2013, 12 years earlier than expected. To add to the excitement and forward momentum Hyundai's fuel cell vehicle is set to target a mass production run of 10,000 units in 2015. This is the same year in which the London Hydrogen Partnership will aim to have delivered 6 publicly available, 700 bar fast-fill refuelling stations. Additional benefits of running the ix35 fuel cell vehicle will include zero road tax and zero congestion charge fees.

You can read more about the Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) here.

The official press release from ITM Power can be viewed here.

Our readers may remember that some time ago (2010) I talked about using hydrogen as an energy storage medium for renewables:

Recent events have seen this concept come much closer to reality, both in the UK and in Germany. In the UK, the Technology Strategy Board has provided funding for the GridGas project. This is essentially a feasibility study to see if hydrogen gas generated from renewables can be directly injected in to the UK gas grid. The project's aim is to join all of the different components together and provide a well-rounded, financially viable solution. GridGas features some impressive partners, including Shell, National Grid, Kiwa, ITM Power and the Scottish Hydrogen and Fuel Cell association. ITM Power is the lead partner in the project

“Megawatt scale energy storage is now a vital plant component in the power industry to balance supply and demand and this product is ITM’s first offering to the sector.” Dr Graham Cooley CEO, ITM Power plc

Meanwhile, over in Germany ITM power have also been working with the Thüga Group project, to supply a 360kW Power-to-Gas energy storage plant. The unit will produce 125kg/day of hydrogen gas and be situated in Hessen, Frankfurt.

Michael Riechel, CTO, Thüga Aktiengesellschaft, commented: “In the decade between 2020 and 2030 we will need to store excess renewable energy in significant volumes. We have calculated that the municipal natural gas network is capable of storing all future generated excess renewable energy. In order to transform green electricity into hydrogen or methane we need an economic best practice. It is important for the advancement of Power-to-Gas technology to make the transition from lab to practical demonstration. We believe that the natural gas distribution system could be the battery of the future, and we are now building the charger.\"

There are also a number of other projects that have rapidly taken shape Germany:

The large utility companies are paying close attention as these projects solve problems that have dogged the renewable sector for some considerable time. This is reflected by the fact that Germany has the largest number of power to gas projects and a rapidly growing renewable energy sector because of the shift away from Nuclear power.

Air Product's Municipal Wastewater Facility in OC

The UK’s first Hydrogen filling station open to the general public has been unveiled at Honda’s South Marston manufacturing facility in Swindon.

BOC has provided the hydrogen refuelling station in collaboration with Forward Swindon, Swindon Borough Council's regeneration body.  Forward Swindon was awarded a £250,000 grant from the South West England Regional Development Agency in order to build the filling station. As one of the project partners, BOC is also providing further private sector funding to the venture. The project aims to encourage Honda to research and develop new hydrogen-powered cars at its Swindon plant. Currently the FCX Clarity (Honda’s first production line fuel cell car) is only being manufactured in Japan.

The infrastructure is intended to kick-start the use of Hydrogen powered vehicles and hopefully start to build a hydrogen economy in the local area. Ian Piper, Chief Executive of Forward Swindon commented, "The automative and car-making sector is very important to Swindon, and it's important for Swindon to be at the leading edge in this way."

The filling station itself is based upon BOC’s Hydrogen Max Fueller 90 refuelling station. It can provide refuelling capability at both 350 & 700 bar and is capable of refilling 4 cars per hour.  In order to use stored pressure and compressor capacity in the most cost-efficient manner, the station has a three-bank cascade system. It consists of three pressure storage banks (buffer sections) in which the hydrogen for the refuelling is stored.*[Quotation from BOC technical specification document]

As you may have noticed from the above comments, it appears that Hydrogen is not actually produced onsite within the unit itself. So this is effectively a dispenser system which can provide hydrogen at increased pressure from storage canisters and will itself need to be periodically refilled.

Customers who use the unit will have a smart-card account and be billed for their usage. Honda have estimated that the hydrogen works out at 5p per litre equivalent cheaper than petrol. On the station’s official opening date, Tuesday 20th September, there were eight vehicles lined up for refueling including a London Taxi, a Mercedes-Benz ambulance, a London Bus, and a micro-cab. The filling station has seen wide publicity in the UK media and more is likely to follow as additional hydrogen vehicles hit the road.

Professor Kevin Kendall, a hydrogen expert from Birmingham university commented, ’Every big manufacturer is making a hydrogen car with a fuel cell. By 2015 to 2020 when it all kicks off, there will be hundreds of thousands if not millions of these around.’

You can find out more about the BOC Hydrogen Max 90 refueller on their website at: http://www.boconline.co.uk/products/products_by_application/hydrogen_refuelling.asp

For a list of other UK hydrogen refuelling stations please see our online directory at: http://www.hydrogenclub.co.uk/main/index.php/refuelling-stations

Air Products has set up a wastewater treatment plant in Orange County USA that produces hydrogen, electricity and heat from municipal wastewater. This is the first technology application of its kind in the world and seeks to lead the way with sustainable (and affordable) hydrogen production.

The facility will produce enough hydrogen to fuel between 25 and 50 fuel cells vehicles each day in addition to providing 250 kilowatts of electricity.

The process for producing the hydrogen involves holding the wastewater in tanks until methane gas is produced. This gas is then captured and reformed to make hydrogen that is pure enough to be used in fuel cell vehicles.

Probably the most interesting part about this process is that the feedstock does not necessarily have to be sewage. Air Products’ has identified a number of other potential feedstock’s such as agricultural, food, and brewery wastes and landfill gas which can make use of the same process.

Moreover, Air Products boldy states that “If all of these available streams were converted to hydrogen, it could support fueling up to 200 million fuel cell vehicles in the U.S. with hydrogen and point to sustainable energy independence.”

You can read more about this story in Air Products’ press release here.

Here is the transcript from the interview I had in April. I thought it was worth posting just for reference purposes, as it's always interesting to look back a few years down the line and see if the predictions have actually come true!

HydroKevin: What is your vision for the hydrogen highway system that is just now starting to be built in the UK?

Andrew: My vision for the hydrogen highway system is that it will provide a benchmark for future generations of transport, just as the very first motorways did for the car. It will enable those in close proximity to  test, hire and purchase hydrogen driven vehicles, and those further afield to witness an inspiring change to the way in which we use and  store energy. Perhaps most importantly, it will prove that hydrogen is a workable solution to diminishing fossil fuel resources and environmental challenges.

HydroKevin: Who do you see as the major players in building the hydrogen highway system?

Andrew: This is an interesting question as it is shaped partly by the way in which the highway system is being funded. One example of this would be the numerous competitions held by the Technology Strategy Board (you can  visit their website at http://www.innovateuk.org/). The light-touch approach with incentives for small and medium sized technology companies is likely to bring some new competitors to the marketplace. Many of these companies are university spin-outs, meaning that they are full of  new ideas and technological innovations that have yet to reach the  mainstream.

I also see a role for the larger energy companies, but I believe that they are likely to come along much later down the line once the initial financial risks have been reduced.

At the moment my shortlist of major players would be:

Revolve Technologies – because of their ability to retrofit existing ICE vehicles •ITM Power – because of their revolutionary HFuel unit and the reduced cost of producing hydrogen

Air Products – because they already have a foot-hold in a number of Hydrogen projects in the UK. These include developing the hydrogen refueling infrastructure for London buses and the refueling station at Loughborough University

Glamorgan University – because they are next to the M4 and are already investing in a hydrogen engine test facility.

HydroKevin: What is your website’s goal in delivering this news to the United Kingdom and the rest of the world?

Andrew: My website’s goal is to inspire people about how hydrogen can be used in the real world to solve many of our fuel and energy storage problems. By providing a centralised point for contacts, information and resources in the UK I hope that people will come together and promote hydrogen on a wider scale.