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Category Archives: Hydrogen production

The Carbon emission in the atmosphere is steadily increasing.  The latest statistics indicates that it has reached a staggering 35.6 billion tons/yr, a 2.6% increase over the previous year, thanks to the growth of China. It is becoming clear that there is a relationship between the Carbon emission, global warming and erratic weather patterns around the world. According to ‘The Guardian’,

“The chances of the world holding temperature rise to 2C – the level of global warming considered “safe” by scientists – appear to be fading fast with US scientists reporting the second-greatest annual rise in CO2emissions in 2012. Carbon dioxide levels measured at Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii jumped by 2.67 parts per million (ppm) in 2012 to 395ppm, said Pieter Tans, who leads the greenhouse gas measurement team for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The record was an increase of 2.93ppm in 1998.

The jump comes as a study published in Science on Thursday looking at global surface temperatures for the past 1,500 years warned that “recent warming is unprecedented”, prompting UN climate chief, Christiana Figures, to say that “staggering global temps show urgent need to act. Rapid climate change must be countered with accelerated action.” Tans told the Associated Press the major factor was an increase in fossil fuel use. “It’s just a testament to human influence being dominant”, he said. “The prospects of keeping climate change below that [two-degree goal] are fading away.

Preliminary data for February 2013 show CO2 levels last month standing at their highest ever recorded at Manua Loa, a remote volcano in the Pacific. Last month they reached a record 396.80ppm with a jump of 3.26ppm parts per million between February 2012 and 2013. Carbon dioxide levels fluctuate seasonally, with the highest levels usually observed in April. Last year the highest level at Mauna Loa was measured at 396.18ppm. What is disturbing scientists is the acceleration of CO2concentrations in the atmosphere, which are occurring in spite of attempts by governments to restrain fossil fuel emissions. According to the observatory, the average annual rate of increase for the past 10 years has been 2.07ppm – more than double the increase in the 1960s. The average increase in CO2 levels between 1959 to the present was 1.49ppm per year.

The Mauna Loa measurements coincide with a new peer-reviewed study of the pledges made by countries to reduce CO2 emissions. The Dutch government’s scientific advisers show that rich countries will have to reduce emissions by 50% percent below 1990 levels by 2020 if there is to be even a medium chance of limiting warming to 2C, thus preventing some of climate  change‘s worst impacts.”The challenge we already knew was great is even more difficult”, said Kelly Levin, a researcher with the World Resources Institute in Washington. “But even with an increased level of reductions necessary, it shows that a 2° goal is still attainable – if we act ambitiously and immediately.” Extreme weather, which is predicted by climate scientists to occur more frequently as the atmosphere warms and CO2 levels rise, has already been seen widely in 2013. China and India have experienced their coldest winter in decades and Australia has seen a four-month long heat wave with 123 weather records broken during what scientists are calling it ‘angry summer’. “We are in [getting] into new climatic territory. And when you get records being broken at that scale, you can start to see a shifting from one climate system to another. So the climate has in one sense actually changed and we are now entering a new series of climatic conditions that we just haven’t seen before”, said Tim Flannery, head of the Australian government’s climate change commission, this week. Earlier this week the Met Office warned that the “extreme” patterns of flood and drought experienced by Britain in 2012 were likely to become more frequent. One in every five days in 2012 saw flooding but one in four days were in drought”.

The biggest question now is how to put this Carbon genie back into the bottle? renewable energy may be an answer to curtail future Carbon emissions but what about the existing coal-fired power plants that constitutes 60% of the existing power generation in the world? There is no easy solution. But the “Law of conservation of mass” gives us a clue.The Carbon we dig from the earth in the form of coal, combusted into the atmosphere as Carbon dioxide may be captured and recycled back into the system in the form of a fuel.By this way, we may not need fresh coal to be mined.To achive this feat,we need Hydrogen from a renewable source.The renewable Hydrogen can be combined with Carbon dioxide captured from the coal-fired power plants to generate synthetic natural gas (SNG).The SNG generated by this method can be used for future power generation, substituting Coal and future carbon emission can be recycled in the form of SNG. This approach will open up a range of possibilities and potentially cut the carbon emission to zero.Annual CO2 growthAtmospheic Carbon increaseCO2 emissionsGlobal Carbon emissionHydrosol cycleHydrosol thremocycle

Many companies round the world including DOE (Department of energy,Govt of USA) are trying to develop an economically viable method to generate Hydrogen with an estimated cost of poduction at  $ 2.50 /kg of Hydrogen. One potential method is to generate Hydrogen by splitting water using a thermo-chemical process using concentrated solar therml energy developed by European Union called “Hydrosol cycle”. The method by which Hydrogen is generated should be free from any Carbon emision. To clean up  1 Kg Carbon dioxide one will require at least 0.2kg Hydrogen. For example, a 100Mw coal fired power plant emitting about 2256 Mt CO2/day will require about 451 Mt of Hydrogen/day, costing about $1,127,500 per day.It will cost roughly $500/Mt of C02 to  put the ‘ Carbon genie’  back into the bottle! One can imagein the cost of cleaning up  35.6 billion tons of Carbon dioxide  from the atmosphere.Only a Carbon free Hydrogen derived from water can save the world from a potential catastrophe.

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We have used Hydrocarbon as the source of fuel for our power generation and transportation since industrial revolution. It has resulted in increasing level of man-made Carbon into the atmosphere; and according to the scientists, the level of carbon has reached an unsustainable level and any further emission into the atmosphere will bring catastrophic consequences by way of climate change. We have already saw many natural disasters in a short of span of time. Though there is no direct link established between carbon level in the atmosphere and the global warming, there is certainly enough evidence towards increase in the frequency of natural disasters and increase in the global and ocean temeperatures.We have also seen that Hydrogen is a potential candidate as a source of future energy that can effectively substitute hydrocarbons such as Naphtha or Gasoline. However, hydrogen generation from water using electrolysis is energy intensive and the source of such energy can come only from a renewable source such as solar and wind. Another issue with electrolysis of water for Hydrogen generation is the quality of water used. The quality of water used for electrolysis is high, meeting ASTM Type I Deionized Water preferred, < 0.1 micro Siemen/cm (> 10 megOhm-cm).

A unique desalination technology has been developed by an Australian company to generate on site Hydrogen directly from seawater. In conventional seawater desalination technology using reverse osmosis process only 30-40% of fresh water is recovered as potable water with TDS less than 500 ppm as per WHO standard. The balance highly saline concentrate with TDS above 65,000 ppm is discharged back into the sea which is detrimental to the ocean’s marine life. More and more sweater desalination plants are set up all over the world to mitigate drinking water shortage. This conventional desalination is not only highly inefficient but also causes enormous damage to the marine environment.

The technology developed by the above company will be able to recover almost 75% of fresh water from seawater and also able to convert the concentrate into Caustic soda lye with Hydrogen and Chlorine as by-products by electrolysis. The discharge into the sea is drastically reduced to less than 20% with no toxic chemicals. This technology has a potential to revolutionize the salt and caustic soda industries in the future. Caustic soda is a key raw material for a number of chemical industries including PVC.Conventionally, Caustic soda plants all over the world depends on solar salt for their production of Caustic soda.Hydrogne and Chlorine are by-products.Chlrine is used for the production of PVC (poly vinyl chloride) and Hydrogen is used as a fuel.

In the newly developed technology, the seawater is not only purified from other contaminants such as Calcium, Magnesium and Sulfate ions present in the seawater but also concentrate the seawater almost to a saturation point so that it can be readily used to generate Hydrogen on site. The process is very efficient and commercially attractive because it can recover four valuable products namely, drinking water, Caustic soda lye, Chlorine and Hydrogen. The generated Hydrogen can be used directly in a Fuel cell to generate power to run the electrolysis. This process is very ideal for Caustic soda plants that are now located on seashore. This process can solve drinking water problems around the world because potable water becomes an industrial product. The concentrated seawater can also be converted in a salt by crystallization for food and pharmaceutical applications. There is a growing gap between supply and demand of salt production and most of the chemical industries are depending upon the salt from solar pans.

Another potential advantage with this technology is to use wind power to desalinate the water. Both wind power and Hydrogen will form a clean energy mix. It is a win situation for both water industry and the environment as well as for the salt and chemical industries. In conventional salt production, thousands of hectares of land are used to produce few hundred tons of low quality salt with a year-long production schedule. There is a mis match between the demand for salt by large Caustic soda plants and supply from primitive methods of solar production by solar evaporation contaminating cultivable lands.

The above case is an example of how clean energy technologies can change water, salt and chemical industries and also generate clean power economically, competing with centralized power plants fuelled with hydrocarbons. Innovative technologies can solve problems of water shortage, greenhouse gases, global warming, and environmental pollution not only economically but also environmental friendly way. Industries involved in seawater desalination, salt production, chemical industries such as Caustic soda, Soda ash and PVC interested to learn more on this new technology can write directly to this blog address for further information.

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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