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Category Archives: Cost of Hydrogen

Nature has a wonderful way of capturing Carbon and recycling it through a process called ‘carbon cycle’ for millions of years. The greenhouse gases in the atmosphere were restricted  within certain limits when it was left to Nature. But when human being started burning fossil fuels to generate power or to run cars, the GHG emission surpassed the limit beyond a point where global warming became an issue. The GHG level has increased to 392 ppm level for the first in our long history. Many Governments and companies are exploring various ways and means to reduce greenhouse emissions to avoid global warming. Some Governments are imposing taxes on carbon emission in order to reduce or discourage such emissions. Others are offering incentives to promote alternative energy sources such as wind and solar. Some companies are trying to capture Carbon emission for sequestration.

While we try to capture Carbon and store them underground, there are many potential commercial opportunities to recycle them. This means the Carbon emission is captured and converted into a commercial fuel such as Gasoline or Diesel or Methane so that future sources of fossil fuels are not burnt anymore. But this is possible only by using ‘Renewable Hydrogen’. Hydrogen is the key  to reduce carbon emission by binding carbon molecules with Hydrogen molecule, similar to what Nature does.

When NASA plans to send a man to Mars they have to overcome certain basic issues. Mars has an atmosphere with 95% Carbon dioxide, 3% Nitrogen, 1.6% Argon and traces of oxygen, water and methane.Nasa is planning to use Carbon dioxide to generate Methane gas to be used as a fuel and also generate water by using the following reaction.

CO2 + 4H2—–CH4 + 2 H2O

2H2O——-2H2 + O2

The water is electrolyzed to split water into Hydrogen and Oxygen using solar power. The resulting Hydrogen is reacted with Carbon dioxide from Mars to generate Methane gas and water using a solid catalyst. This methanation reaction is exothermic and self sustaining. How this can be achieved practically in Mars in those conditions are not discussed here. But this is a classical example on how the Carbon emission can be tackled to our advantages, without increasing the emissions into the atmosphere. There are several methods available to convert Carbon emission in to valuable products including gasoline. The  reaction of the methane with water vapor will result in Methanol.

2H2 + CO——– CH3OH

On Dehydration, 2CH3OH —– CH3COCH3 + H2O.Further dehydration with ZSM-5 Catalyst gives Gasoline 80% C5+ Hydrocarbon. Gas to liquid by Fischer-tropic reaction is a known process.

Carbon dioxide is also a potential refrigerant to substitute CFC refrigerants that causes Ozone depletion. Carbon recycling is a temporary solution to mitigate Greenhouse gas emission till Hydrogen becomes an affordable fuel of the future. It depends upon individual Governments and their policies to make Hydrogen affordable. Technologies are available and only a political will and leadership can make Hydrogen a reality.

Hydrogen has been accepted as a source of clean energy for many reasons. Hydrogen can eliminate anthropic Greenhouse Gas  into the atmosphere and stop global warming. It has high energy content than any other fossil fuels we are currently using, making it an efficient fuel. The combustion product of Hydrogen is only water which is   recyclable. Many people, Governments  and institutions around the world are trying develop  cheaper methods of generating Hydrogen from various sources both renewable as well as non-renewable. The non-renewable sources are supposed to facilitate a smooth transition from fossil fuel economy to Hydrogen economy.

However, all attempts to generate Hydrogen at a cost lower than the projected cost of $ 2.50 per kg by DOE has not been successful, even though many recent technologies are promising. Meanwhile massive investments are made on Renewable Energy including wind, solar and biological all over the world. Generating Hydrogen from water using Solid Polymer Membrane Electrolyzer is a known technology using renewable energy sources. One can easily deploy such systems for commercial applications even though it is now expensive.

Many people and institutions are also claiming ‘free energy’ sources with or without generating Hydrogen. In some cases researches are claiming an abnormal production of Hydrogen using ‘Cold plasma’ or ‘Plasma electrolysis’ of water, as much as 800% more than the theoretical values. Some companies claim low energy consumption using photo- catalyst to generate Hydrogen  using direct sunlight and water. Hydrogen generation using renewable sources is a distinct possibility to cut the cost of Hydrogen in the long run. However, the world is in hurry to develop a cheap and sustainable method of Hydrogen generation without any greenhouse gas emissions.

One US based company is claiming to have invented a new Hydrogen atom which has not been reported before in the literature. According to the inventor, this new atom of Hydrogen is called ‘Hydrino’.He has presented a detailed theory called ‘Grand Unified Theory’   that predicts catalysts that allow energy to be extracted from lower energy state of Hydrogen atom. They have demonstrated the process using a proto type in the laboratory and their claims have been validated by an independent Laboratory after conducting trial runs and analyzing the results using spectrum analysis and other techniques.

The process involves a generation of Hydrogen by using electrolysis of water. The resulting Hydrogen is then reacted with a proprietary solid catalyst developed by the company. According to the company,

“Since certain proprietary catalysts cause the hydrogen atoms to transition to lower-energy states by allowing their electrons to fall to smaller radii around the nucleus with a release of energy that is intermediate between chemical and nuclear energies, the primary application is as a new primary energy source. Specifically, energy is released as the electrons of hydrogen atoms are induced by a catalyst to transition to lower-energy levels (i.e. drop to lower base orbits around each atom’s nucleus). The lower-energy atomic hydrogen product called “hydrino” reacts with another reactant supplied to the reaction cell to form a hydride ion bound to the other reactant to constitute a novel proprietary compound. Alternatively, two hydrinos react to form a very stable hydrogen-type molecule called molecular hydrino. Thus, rather than pollutants, the byproducts may have significant advanced technology applications based on their stability characteristics. For example, hydrino hydride ions having extraordinary binding energies may stabilize a cation (positively charged ion of a battery) in an extraordinarily high-oxidation state as the basis of a high-voltage battery. Further, significant applications exist for the corresponding molecular hydrino wherein the excited vibration-rotational levels could be the basis of a UV laser that could significantly advance photolithography and line-of-sight telecommunications. A plasma-producing cell based on the extraordinarily energetic Process has also been developed that may have commercial applications in chemical plasma processing and as a light source.”

The company claims that an average generating capacity of a system will be 1000kw, with installed cost at $1000/kw with fuel cost at less than $0.001/kw with zero greenhouse emission.The solid catalyst is regenerated and recycled. The cost of Hydrogen from electrolysis becomes insignificant due to generation  of large excess thermal energy, to generate power.

The above claims are too attractive to ignore and it could be a game changer in the energy industry. The output energy is more than the theoretical values calculated,  thus violating the Law of Thermodynamics. This excess energy is attributed to the presence of ‘Hydrino’. However, one has to be open to new ideas because science is ever-changing and even well-established theories and concepts are challenged as Science evolves with new discoveries and inventions.

 

 

 

Bioethanol has successfully substituted Gasoline as a fuel for cars both in the form of blends with Gasoline or individually as an Anhydrous Ethanol. This  successful demonstration by Brazil opens up new generation of cars called flex-fuel cars that allow usage of various blends of Ethanol and Gasoline.Bioethanol can also be used to generate Hydrogen on site by steam reformation so that even Fuel cell cars such as Honda FCX can be felled by Bioethanol.This makes Bioethanol unique as an alternative fuel for transportation. It also facilitates on site electricity generation using Fuel cell, replacing diesel engines.

Substitution of Gasoline by  Bioethanol has several advantages over other alternative fuels. The biggest advantage with Bioethanol is, it is renewable and it allows reduction of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and will be eligible for Carbon credit. It can be produced by both developing  as well as developed countries using  locally available agriculture produces such as cane sugar, corn, tapioca, sorghum etc. Hydrogen generated from Bioethanol is also free from Sulfur compounds normally associated with natural gas, making it an ideal fuel for Fuel cell application in cars, as well as for power generation using SOFC (solid oxide Fuel cell) or PAFC (Phosphoric acid Fuel cell).The resulting high purity Hydrogen 99.99% can be used as fuel for all type of transportation including Fuel cell Buses, scooters and even boats.

The stoichiometric reaction of steam reformation in presence of catalyst can be represented by the following chemical reaction:

C2H5OH + 3 H2O———- 6H2 + 2 CO2

The Ethanol and water mixture is preheated and the vaporized mixture is fed into a catalytic reactor. The resulting Hydrogen is contaminated with carbon monoxide. This gas mixture is separated using membrane such as Palladium to get Hydrogen with less than 50ppm CO as contaminant. Such purity is acceptable by Fuel cell such as SOFC as well as PAFC.In future a small micro-reactor for on-board reformation may be possible making Fuel cell cars with onboard liquid fuel storage.

Commercial reformers consumes about 0.88 lits of Biothanol of 96% purity to generate 1 Nm3 of Hydrogen with 60% conversion. This translates to $ 5.90 per Kg of Hydrogen. Fuel cell cars offer a mileage of 240 from 1 kg Hydrogen costing only $5.90. For on site power generation 1 kg Hydrogen generates as much as 15Kw electricity and 20Kw heat .Onsite Hydrogen generation with steam reformation also facilitates using SOFC and PAFC for high temperature power generation applications. They are ideal for CHP (combined heat and power) applications for 24×7 operations like hospitals, hotels and super markets. These fuel cells are silent in operation without any emissions except water vapor.

Governments should encourage Bioethanol production and distribution for both transportation and power generation. There is a fear that Ethanol could be diverted for potable purposes illegally depriving Governments of potential reveneues.But this can be solved by denaturing Bioethanol and making it unsuitable for potable purposes. Denaturants such Pyridine has no effect on steam reformation and number of denaturants are available. Such policies will allow the transition from fossil fuels to Hydrogen or Bioethanol.This is a simple and straight forward step any Government can take irrespective of the size or type of nation. But it requires political will, determination and leadership. Developing countries need not wait for big greenhouse emitters such as US, China and India to make a decision on their Carbon emissions but start introducing Bioethanol as fuel locally.

Synthesis of Ammonia is one of the  remarkable achievements of Chemical engineering in forties .It is a precursor for Urea, the fertilizer  that  brought about ‘Green revolution’ in agriculture industry and helped to achieve record food production all over the world. It was a milestone in modern chemistry to synthesis a molecule containing I atom of Nitrogen and 3 atoms of Hydrogen, represented by NH3 called Ammonia. The HeberBosch process for the production of Ammonia is a well established mature, commercial technology.

The process uses a Hydrocarbon source such as Naphtha or Natural gas as the feed stock to generate a synthesis gas composed of Hydrogen and Carbondioxide.The gas mixture is separated into carbon dioxide and Hydrogen using PSA (pressure swing adsorption ) technology. The resulting Hydrogen is used to combine with Nitrogen to synthesize Ammonia.

The chemical reaction can be represented by the following equation.

N2 + 3H2 ———- 2 NH3

The above reaction takes place at a pressure of 100-200 bars and temperature of 300-500C in presence of  catalysts. It is an exothermic (heat releasing) reaction and the catalyst bed is cooled and maintained at 400C to be efficient.But this process of Hydrogen generation using Hydrocarbon emits greenhouse gases. Alternatively, Hydrogen can be generated using different methods using renewable energy sources using water electrolysis. Such process may be used in the future for this application.

Nitrogen is derived from atmospheric air. The air we breathe has about 79% of Nitrogen and 21% Oxygen. But these two gases can be separated by liquefying the air by cryogenic process and distilling them into two fractions. Alternatively, they can separated using pressure swing adsorption or membrane separation process, utilizing their density differences. In either way, Nitrogen can be separated from atmospheric air. By combining the above Hydrogen and Nitrogen, it is possible to synthesis Ammonia on a commercial-scale.

The ammonia can be easily split into Hydrogen and Nitrogen by passing Ammonia through a bed of Nickel catalyst at 200-400C as and when required to generate on site Hydrogen. This Hydrogen can be used for power generation or to run our cars using PEM Fuelcell.As we have seen previously, we are now looking for various sources of Hydrogen, and Ammonia is one of the promising sources for couple of reasons. The process and technology of Ammonia production, transportation and usage is well documented and has been practiced for few decades. It does not emit  greenhouse gases.Liquified Ammonia has been widely used in air-conditioning and refrigeration systems. Ammonia can be easily metered into any system directly from the cylinder.

It is easier to use Ammonia directly into a convention internal combustion engines in place of Gasoline and this technology has already been practiced in 1880. Ammonia is pungent and any leakage can be easily identified. The advantage of using Ammonia as a fuel in cars, it does not emit any smoke  but only water vapour.It can be admixed with Gasoline or used as 100% anhydrous Ammonia. It also helps in reduction of NO2 emission, especially is diesel engines.

Ammonia has a great potential as a source of future fuel provided the sources of Hydrogen comes from water using renewable technologies or by photo electrolysis using direct sunlight.

One of the wonders of Mother Nature is her ability to sustain life on earth with sun light, water and Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere producing food. No toxic chemicals, no polluting gas emissions and no noise. We can only admire the majesty and power of Nature with our  fragile knowledge of science and try to duplicate Nature to satisfy our growing energy needs. Nature produces Carbohydrates C6H12O6 using sun’s light, Carbon dioxide from atmosphere and water by a chemical reaction as shown below:

6H2O + 6 CO2  ———–   C6H12O6 + 6O2

The same Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is now threatening the globe with warming. Can’t we grow more trees so that all the carbon dioxide emissions from our power plants and cars can be converted into more carbohydrates? It sounds very simple and logical but is it feasible? The carbon dioxide in the atmosphere before industrialization was about 280ppm but it has now increased to 392ppm which is almost double. It has grown roughly 2.2% exponentially in the last decade. It is the highest in the past 800 years and likely higher than in the past 20 million years. (Ref: Wikipedia). Couple of things happened during this period. The industrial and population growth increased rapidly building up carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere and at the same time displacing tropical and rain forests with people and industries; it resulted in the buildup of greenhouse gases to a level, which scientists say are unsustainable. We don’t have enough forest to absorb so much of carbon dioxide.

Alternatively, scientists are now trying to interfere with Nature’s photosynthesis process using micro algae called chlamydomonas reinhardtii that will support the production of Hydrogen instead of Oxygen in a normal photosynthesis reaction. This was based on the discovery that if an algae growing culture medium is deprived of Sulfur, it will generate Hydrogen instead of Oxygen. They also found out that such an algae can thrive in a Carbon source such as Carbon dioxide or even in  Acetic acid medium. They tested the process using a pilot Photo bioreactor and concluded that the cost of producing Hydrogen by this route will be about $ 42/kg.The cost is high compared to the target cost of Hydrogen by DEO  (Department of Energy,USA) at $2.80/kg which is fifteen times lower. However scientists are still working to cut the cost.

Meanwhile scientists are also working on Hydrogen production using Photoelectrolysis.The water electrolysis using Direct current is a known process but the cost of energy in this process is still high. The high cost is due to several stages involved. In the first stage, one has to generate power using PV cells. In the second stage the PV generated electricity will be used to split water electrolyticlly.But scientists are now trying to substitute both the above steps with a single step of utilizing direct sun light to split water into Hydrogen and Oxygen.Thie requires a catalyst known as Photocatalyst which will use light energy instead of electrical energy to split water into elements. Using TIO2 (Titanium dioxide coated electrode) and ultraviolet rays of the sun they believe that a 20m2 PV solar panel can generate about 5m3 of Hydrogen ad 2.5m3 of Oxygen in 24 hours, equal to a power generation capacity of 15kwhrs or roughly about  2.01 gallons of Gasoline from 4 liters of pure water.

Scientists are now  hoping that light energy, more precisely ultraviolet rays from the sun will come to the rescue of human beings in solving one of the greatest  energy crisis  in the history of mankind. At last we can hope to see some ‘light’ at the end of the tunnel.

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