There is so much discussion about Hydrogen as a source of clean energy because, it is the choice of Nature. Nature has provided us with fossil fuels which are Hydrocarbons, chemically represented by CxHy, Carbon and Hydrogen atoms. In the absence of Hydrogen in a Hydrocarbon, it is nothing but Carbon, which is an inert material. The Hydrocarbon gets its heating value only from the presence Hydrogen atom. The natural gas, now considered as the cleanest form of Hydrocarbon is represented by the chemical formula CH4, containing 25% Hydrogen by weight basis. It represents the largest Carbon to Hydrogen ratio at 1:4.This is the highest in any organic chemicals. In aromatic organic compounds such as Benzene, represented by C6H6, the Hydrogen content is only 7.69%.Even in Sugar which is an organic compound from Nature, represented chemically as C12H22O11 has only 8.27% Hydrogen. But Bioethanol, derived from sugar represented by C2H5OH has almost 13% Hydrogen. Ethyl Alcohol known as ‘Bioethanol’ derived from sugar is blended with Gasoline (Hydrocarbon), for using as a fuel in cars in countries like Brazil. Brazil is the only country that does not depend on imported Gasoline for their cars. The same Bioethanol can also be derived from Corn starch. But the starch should first be converted into sugar before alcohol is derived; that is why it is more expensive to produce Bioethanol from starch than from cane sugar molasses. The climatic conditions of Brazil are more favorable for growing Cane sugar than corn. Brazil is in a more advantageous position than North America, when it comes to Bioethanol. US is one of the largest consumer of Gasoline.US has imported 11.5 million barrels/day of oil in 2010.It has used 138.5 billion gallons of Gasoline (3.30billion barrels) in 2010) according to EIA. (US Energy Information Administration) It is estimated that Brazil’s sugar based Alcohol is 30% cheaper than US’s corn-based Alcohol. Brazil has successfully substituted Gasoline with locally produced alcohol .They also introduced ‘flexible fuel vehicles’ that can use various blends of Alcohol-Gasoline. Most of the Gasoline used in US has 10% Ethanol blend called E10 and E15, representing the percentage of Alcohol content in Gasoline. Brazil is the largest producers of Bioethanol in the world. Both Brazil and US account for 87.8% of Bioethanol production in the world in 2010 and 87.1% in 2011.Brazil is using Bioethanol blends of various proportions such as E20/E25/E100 (anhydrous alcohol) (Ref: Wikipedia). Almost all cars in Brazil use Bioethanol blended Gasoline and even 100% anhydrous Bioethanol are used for cars. Brazil has set an example as a ‘sustainable economy introducing alternative fuel’ to the rest of the world. The ‘bagasse’ from cane sugar is also used as a fuel as well in the production of ‘Biogas’, which helps Brazil to meet sustainability on renewable energy and greenhouse gas mitigation. The above example is a clear demonstration of sustainability because natural organic material such as sugar is the basic building block by which we can build our Sustainable clean energy of the future. The same Bioethnanol can easily be reformed for the production of Hydrogen gas to generate power and run Fuel cell cars. Many companies are trying to use chemicals such as metal Hydrides as a source of Hydrogen. For example, one company successfully demonstrated using Sodium Borohydride for Hydrogen production. Many companies are trying to find alternative sources of Hydrogen generation from water, including Photo-electrolysis using direct solar light and special photo catalyst materials. We know Nature produces sugar by using sun’s light, water and carbon dioxide from air by photosynthetic process. Can man duplicate this natural process and generate Hydrogen at the fraction of the cost by simply using water and sun’s light? The race is already on and only time can tell whether our pursuit for cheap and clean Hydrogen can become a commercial reality or just stay as an elusive dream.
The sun is bright and warm and your roof top solar panels and solar heaters are working hard to generate power and hot water. But the rate of power generated is too small to use immediately. The hot water is not hot enough for your shower. Your 200 watt rooftop solar panel generates only 0.12 kwhrs after 5 hours of hard work. It does not meet your expectations. You expect 200 watts solar panel to generate about 1000 watt.hrs (1kwhr) in 5 hours. It is not happening. You don’t think renewable energy can meet your electricity demand.
There is a strong wind in the island and the wind turbines are rotating faster than usual but there are hardly any people living there. Wind turbine generates good power when the wind velocity is above certain level. But the electricity generated by the wind has no immediate takers.
There is a good rain this year and the dams are overflowing and the Hydro is generating surplus power but not many people are living near the catchment area. The power has to be transmitted hundred of kilometers to the nearby town through a sub-station. When the dams are dry there is hardly any power generation and power supply is rationed to the town.
When there is a demand for power Mother Nature does not offer the resources for power generation. When Mother Nature offers the resource we do not need power. This anomalous situation is the single largest obstacle that is undermining the potential of renewable energy. Of course, the high initial cost and half-hearted approach by Governments to offer subsidies or grants for renewable energy are other factors that add to the anomaly.
The only option to get over this situation is to store the energy 24×7 when it is generated and use them when we need them. It requires good storage technology, automation and information technology that can communicate with Natures energy resources and harness them, store them and deploy them judiciously and intelligently to meet our demands.
Current battery technology cannot be a long-term sustainable solution; it is expensive, requires constant maintenance and replacement, which adds to the expensive initial investment on renewable systems. The best option is to generate Hydrogen on-site when sunshine’s or wind blows and store them under pressure that can be used as and when we need electricity using Fuel cell. It is easier to handle gas than stored electricity in batteries. Batteries are very heavy, has a limited life cycle and poses health hazard and not suitable for large-scale power storage and not sustainable in the long run.
An Electrolyzer can generate Hydrogen from water on site when a sun or wind energy available and they can work from 10% to 100% capacity depending upon the availability of renewable resources. The surplus power from Hydro can be converted into Hydrogen and stored. With so much advancement in information and communication technology, harnessing nature’s energy, storing them and deploying them in a timely manner is not major issue. Hydrogen can bridge the gap between Nature resource availability and human demand. This is what science is all about. We developed science by learning from Nature or duplicating Nature and Renewable energy is nothing different.
There is a general opinion that Hydrogen is now very expensive compared to Gasoline and Diesel. It depends on how you generate Hydrogen. We have used Gasoline and Diesel for several decades and real cost of crude oil is much lower than what we are paying for Gasoline and diesel at the service stations. Crude oil is formed naturally and all the cost involved is for pumping, transportation and refining. The cost of energy spent on transportation and refining is also comparatively low. It is the geopolitical situation in the world, supply demand gap, Government taxes and levies, inventory levels, financial market and distributors play a key role in fixing the price of these fuels.
Hydrogen can be generated from tap water without involving fossil fuels at all. But Governments are spending on research and development of Hydrogen generation using fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal. It is understandable that these sources are suitable for bulk production of Hydrogen on an industrial scale. We will also be able to use existing fossil fuel infrastructure to the most extent. But the flip side of this approach is Hydrogen generated by this route is still not pure enough to meet Fuel cell requirements. This Hydrogen may be suitable for Hydrogen combustion engines. Why they are not suitable? For example, Hydrogen is generated from natural gas by steam reforming,Syngas is generated as an intermediary product which is a mixture of Hydrogen and Carbon monoxide; but also other impurities present in natural gas such Sulfur,Phosphorus and Mercaptans etc.Natural gas has to be purified to remove all these impurities before it can be subject to steam reformation. In spite of an elaborate purification methods adopted, Fuel cell suppliers are reluctant to guarantee the life of their Fuelcell.The Fuel cell uses expensive Platinum as a catalyst which can be readily poisoned by the presence of impurities in Hydrogen, produced from natural gas. This is one of the main reasons why Hydrogen becomes expensive by this route. Industries can pay high cost for this Hydrogen, but ordinary citizens cannot afford to pay.
Hydrogen can be generated directly from tap water by simply electrolyzing it using a Direct current such as solar and wind. If we use grid power, it requires about 68kwhrs of electricity, costing about $3.40 per Kg of Hydrogen. Assuming Hydrogen will cost about $5 per kg after compression and storage, it is still worth the cost. This Hydrogen will give a mileage of 73.4 miles/kg using Fuel cell car. This is equal to 3.67 Gallons of gasoline costing about $13.76, at the rate of $3.75 per gallon. It is very clear that hydrogen is cheaper than gasoline or diesel. At the current price,Gasoline costs 275% more than Hydrogen gas.
By converting existing coal and oil based power plants into IGCC, Integrated Gasification and Combined Cycle plants, Government can cut the current emission levels of greenhouse gases, and at the same time supply electricity at the prevailing rates. We do not have to import oil or gas. Government should fund conversion of coal and oil-fired power plants into IGCC plants and create Hydrogen infrastructure, by producing more Hydrogen Fuel cell cars and Hydrogen service stations. By adopting this policy, US Government can bring down the prices of crude oil in the international market which will help cut the prices of all other petrochemical products like fertilizers, plastics, drugs and cosmetics. The crux of the issue is to divert petroleum products from fuel use to other uses. At the same time Governments can reduce their greenhouse emissions to the level demanded by scientists. By reducing the cost of solar panels to less than $.100 per watt, Renewable Hydrogen will become a commercial reality and that will be the end of fossil fuels.
Wind is a potential source of renewable energy, especially for islands with an average wind velocity of 5mts/sec and above. Many islands in pacific ocean have some common problems like sea erosion, shortage of power and drinking water. These small islands with little population are fully depending on diesel fuel. In fact their life depends on diesel fuel and any increase in price significantly affects their daily life. Their main source of income is only by fishing and they live day to today.
I had a personal experience of visiting a small island off Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. They call it Dougo Island or ‘Fisherman’s island’ with population of less than 700 people. It is about 4.5km wide and 2km long. It is a coral atoll pushed out of the sea. One can take stroll on the beach and it is one of the most beautiful experiences one can have. It gives a feeling that you are far away from the rest of the world. There is a small abandoned World War II Airfield. The people in the island do not have any electricity or drinking water and most of them are fishing on small boats. Their boats are fuelled by diesel. They will go to nearby city of Port Moresby and sell their fish and with that money they will buy drinking water and diesel in cans and return to the island. This is their daily life.
Such an island is an ideal location to set up a wind turbine and a small sea water desalination plant, that can easily solve their problem of water and power. The trade wind from the Coral Sea in the island of Papua New Guinea blows almost 7-8 months in a year and their wind velocity averages 7 mts/sec. Two wind turbines of each 250 kW capacity and a small seawater desalination SWRO plant of capacity 15,000lts/day will be sufficient to solve their problems. The desalination plant will consume about 4.5Kwhrs/m3 of water generated. About 2000 kwhrs/day of power can be supplied to the village, each family consuming about 2.85 khrs/day for 6 hours/day and also for the desalination plant. The system will generate a surplus power.
Renewable wind energy is the best option for such islands to generate on-site power and also to desalinate seawater for supply of drinking water. With increasing global warming and sea level rising, these small island face seawater intrusion and inundation. Many islands are slowly disappearing into the vast sea. Moreover, these islands are the most vulnerable to the fluctuating diesels prices and they are walking on a tight rope.Industrialised countries with an average power consumption of several kilowatt-hours per day are crying foul about rising energy cost while people in such small islands barely manage their food and shelter after paying for the diesel.
Recently the Government of Maldives conducted their cabinet ministers meeting under the sea, to showcase their plight due to sea level rise caused by global warming, to the rest of the world. Small islands can cry loud but their voice is muffled by roaring sea, while rest of the world carries on their business as usual.
There are many ways to increase the energy efficiency of an existing system which also helps invariably to cut your carbon footprint. The inefficiencies breed pollution. Such inefficiencies can emanate from power generation methods or from power distribution methods. Energy cannot be stored but has to be used. That is one of the main reasons why the power companies look for large consumers and offer them the lowest tariff. Some industries like Caustic soda plants and Aluminum smelters, consume large power.
If you are using power from the grid then you can discuss with your service provider and check whether you can switch over to green power. The tariff may be slightly higher than a standard tariff but certainly helps you to reduce your carbon footprint. Some service providers show your carbon foot print by way a chart in their monthly energy bill. Most of the energy providers supply green power such as solar and wind as part of their energy mix to make sure that they don’t lose customers who may insist on green power.
You can check various power tariffs in your place such a peak tariff and off-peak tariffs and you will be surprised at the difference. The peak tariff is when everybody use power , normally 9am to 5pm.The usage of air-conditioners during peak hours in tropical countries is high They can use rooftop solar panels with batteries and inverters because many counties in Asia do not have feed-in tariff method by which you can export your surplus solar power to the grid. Moreover they do not have a choice in selecting a service provider because power generation and distribution are mostly runs by Governments or by very few service providers. The best method for such users is to store the solar energy in batteries and use them when they want. Even consumers who use grid power can store electricity during off-peak period using batteries and then use them during peak period using an inverter. This is an ideal solution for Asian countries where the power outage is frequent and unexpected.
The best method will be to use an Electrolyzer to generate Hydrogen using off-peak power and tape water and store them under pressure. You can generate your own electricity using small Fuel cell .This electricity can be a Direct current that can be readily connected to a host of Direct current operated appliances including your air-conditioners and refrigerators. If your electricity load is relatively high then you can integrate both solar panels and grid power in such a way that you can store enough electricity by way of Hydrogen or in a battery and use them during peak period. By this method you can be certain of an uninterrupted power supply and at the same time a reasonable power tariff. You can reduce your carbon foot print substantially by utilizing solar power with Hydrogen storage.
You can choose energy-efficient appliances by looking at their star ratings.A star rating of 6 and above is considered very energy-efficient. You can choose LED bulbs for lighting and I would suggest using Direct current for LED bulbs directly from Fuel cell or battery and not from grid supply using an inverter. You can also check the type of refrigerants used in air conditioners and Refrigerators and their star ratings. If you have a roof top solar panel as part of electricity supply then I will recommend to use Direct current operated Air-conditioners and regfigerators.When you choose these appliances you can look for the type of motor, compressor and fans used, because these are the main parts that use electricity. An energy-efficient motor and the type of compressor used are critical components in determining the capacity, airflow and noise levels. The energy ratings are based on these factors only.
You can save energy and cut your carbon footprint in every step of the way if you are keen to do it. The most important factor in achieving energy efficiency is an understanding of your contribution to the environment and the prudence with which you can achieve these goals.
Renewable Hydrogen is the key that can offer us energy independence in the twenty-first century. Fossil fuel usage will still continue for some more time because the world has already invested massively on fossil fuel infrastructures. The stacks are too high for them to switch over to renewable over night. It is the Mother Nature who provided us coal, oil and gas all these years using her manufacturing process under the earth over millions of years. But we human beings exceeded her tolerance limit by emitting greenhouse emission by our rapid growth in population and industrialisation.We failed to discover an alternate fuel in time and continued with an age-old technology with all its inefficiencies. Inefficiencies breed pollution. We were keen to use the heat of combustion by burning a fossil fuel to generate electricity or drive our cars, but paid no attention to the gases released during such combustion. We learnt Thermodynamics and the relationship between heat and work, but failed to understand the consequences of gases of combustion and its impact on our environment.
There are two issues involved in burning a fossil fuel to generate electricity. The heat of combustion is an exothermic reaction and we get a certain amount of heat. Then we convert this heat energy into electrical energy and the overall efficiency of such conversion is about thirty-five percent. Only thirty-five percent of the heat input energy becomes electrical energy and the remaining sixty-five percent heat along with gases of combustion are released into atmosphere. Of course part of this heat is recovered in a commercial plant, but the bulk of heat is released into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases. We failed to understand the potential of Hydrogen even though we used Hydrocarbon for several decades. We even discovered Urea, the fertilizer that caused ‘green revolution’ in agriculture, using the same Hydrogen present in the Hydrocarbon feedstock. It is time for us to make best use of a fossil fuel to its most potential when we burn each kilogram of fuel. We should burn coal not just with air but also with steam so that we can generate Hydrogen rich gas that can run a gas turbine in a combined cycle or run our cars on roads. Such a conversion will lead to a substantial increase in energy efficiency as well as in greenhouse gas emission reduction. Governments in industrialized countries should make it a mandatory to convert all their power plants to syngas generation as described above. They should also discourage new plants using fossil fuels with punitive power tariffs and encourage renewable energy projects with higher tariffs. Governments can also impose similar tariffs for transportation depending upon the fuel used such as fossil fuel or Hydrogen.
Governments should encourage renewable energy projects such as solar and wind to generate Hydrogen from water as centralized power plants and distribute DC (direct current) by rural electrification. If the country side is electrified using this system then, agriculture, business and industries can thrive in rural areas. Direct current (DC) distribution net work can be installed in rural areas and encourage people to use energy-efficient appliances such as Direct current air-conditioners with energy star ratings and tariffs. Governments can bring about these changes by adopting a ‘carrot and stick ‘policy to encourage renewable and discourage fossil fuels.
Solar energy is the key from which all other forms of energy emanate such as wind, geothermal and ocean thermal energy conversion system. It is of paramount importance to increase the efficiency of renewable systems and improve energy efficiencies of appliances we use. It is simpler to use LED bulbs using a Direct current generated by Renewable Hydrogen. It is once again the Mother Nature that can come to the rescue of human beings through solar, wind and water to generate clean energy for the twenty-first century.
Energy generation and distribution is no longer a business or revenue issue but a moral and ethical issue for Governments. It is only people who can bring about such sweeping changes by electing the right Government who can care for the environment. The future generation will judge us only based on what kind of environment we leave them behind.