US DOE Issues Request for Information on Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Market Development; Reports to Congress on Program
The US Department of Energy (DOE) Hydrogen Program has issued a Request for Information (RFI) on potential early markets and deployment opportunities for hydrogen and fuel cells. The information gathered is intended to help DOE to identify key early markets, validate hydrogen and fuel cell system performance through data collection and communicate results, cultivate demand and accelerate market development, and reduce non-technical barriers that hinder market penetration.
At the end of January, DOE also issued the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Activities, Progress, and Plans Report to Congress as required by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT). Among its findings, the report notes that in DOE’s assessment, “although significant progress has been made”, fuel cell cost is still too high and durability still too low to enable industry to meet the deployment goal of 100,000 hydrogen-fueled vehicles by 2010, as specified in EPACT.
Market development RFI. The RFI solicits any and all public comment on a number of specified topics. All comments are due by the end of 31 March 2009. Topics to be considered include:
Early fuel cell market applications with high volume potential. DOE is seeking to facilitate the market penetration of hydrogen and fuel cell products through higher volume purchases (e.g., hundreds to thousands of units) and stimulate market demand for the technologies. The number of fuel cell deployments has begun to grow in the material handling equipment and backup power markets, in particular. Government agencies such as the Defense Logistics Agency (for material handling equipment) and the Federal Aviation Administration (for backup power), as well as private sector entities including grocers, distribution companies, and others, are starting to incorporate fuel cells into their operations, according to DOE.
DOE is looking for information on other and related potential early market applications, including but not limited to airport ground support equipment, personal mobility applications, and grounds-keeping equipment.
Integrated renewable hydrogen systems and public-private community-based partnerships. Hydrogen produced by water electrolysis has the potential to be a useful means of storing excess electricity generated using wind, solar, and other intermittent renewable energy. In an integrated system, stored hydrogen can be converted back to electricity or used as a feedstock with atmospheric or source carbon dioxide (CO2) to produce a liquid fuel for heavy-duty vehicles including trucks and jet planes.
Such integrated systems produce both hydrogen and electricity using renewable resources and allow electricity produced in off-peak periods to be stored as hydrogen used for energy requirements such as peak electric power or for fueling vehicles (e.g. transit buses or other heavy duty vehicles).
Using biogas and fuel cells for co-production of on-site power and hydrogen. Biogas, including anaerobic digester gas, can be reformed to produce hydrogen and used in a fuel cell to produce significant amounts of electricity and heat. When biogas is produced and used on-site in a fuel cell, fuel utilization or overall energy efficiency can reach 90% and can reduce emissions by more than 90% by weight as compared to the emissions associated with grid electricity generation. In addition to fuel cells for on-site power generation, the hydrogen produced using biogas can be used to power vehicles. Wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs), waste streams from food and beverage processing plants, crop farms and animal feed facilities, and municipal landfills are all biogas sources.
Combined heat and power (CHP) fuel cell systems. DOE is interested in distributed generation CHP projects that use fuel cells as a source of secure, reliable, clean power and heat as an alternative to steam turbines, gas turbines, internal combustion engines, or other traditional CHP prime source.
Using combined heat, hydrogen, and power (CHHP) systems to co-produce and deploy hydrogen to early market customers. Stationary fuel cells can be configured to produce hydrogen – effectively providing (1) high quality, grid-independent power for stationary critical load applications, (2) additional electricity generating capacity for several applications including plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and (3) hydrogen fuel that can be used for multiple fuel cell applications – material handling equipment, backup power, and light- or heavy-duty vehicles.
Analysis of excess and/or waste hydrogen sources. DOE seeks to study the viability of using excess and/or waste hydrogen as a cost-effective and environmentally-clean means for producing the fuel needed as increasing numbers of hydrogen vehicles enter the market. Approximately 90% of hydrogen in the United States is currently produced from natural gas via steam methane reforming. For fuel cell vehicle applications, both near- and long-term hydrogen production options are being explored.
One of the options that DOE has examined is the potential for hydrogen production from coke oven gas (COG), which results from the coking process in steel mills. DOE seeks information on other sources of excess and/or waste hydrogen, including hydrogen-containing waste gases. Capturing hydrogen that is currently vented, burned, or otherwise not used could have benefits such as cost-effective hydrogen production for the emerging hydrogen vehicle market, increased industrial energy efficiency, and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
Report to Congress. DOE’s Hydrogen Program was accelerated in fiscal year (FY) 2004, when a number of activities in hydrogen and fuel cell research and development (R&D) within DOE were expanded and integrated into a coordinated effort. Since that time, DOE has dedicated $1.2 billion (FY 2004 - FY 2008), including the competitive selection of nearly $830 million (subject to appropriations) in research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) projects (nearly $1.2 billion with private sector cost-sharing).
In the report, DOE says that it has made significant progress in:
Reducing the projected cost of hydrogen production from distributed natural gas (assuming widespread deployment) from $5 to $3 per gallon gasoline equivalent (gge). The 2015 cost target was $2-$3/gge.
Reducing the projected, high-volume manufacturing cost of automotive fuel cell systems from $275/kW in 2002 to $73/kW in 2008 and improving the projected durability of fuel cell systems in vehicles from 950 hours in 2006 to 1,900 hours in 2008. The Program’s 2015 targets are $30/kW and 5,000-hour durability (approximately 150,000 miles of driving), which, it says, will enable fuel cells to be competitive with current gasoline internal combustion engine systems.
Developing a membrane electrode assembly (MEA) with more than 7,300-hour durability in the lab, with voltage cycling. This has the potential to meet the 2010 target of 5,000-hour durability for MEAs in an automotive fuel cell system.
Identifying several promising new materials for high-capacity, low-pressure, on-board hydrogen storage systems. New materials have provided more than 50% improvement in storage capacity since 2004, with some materials achieving nearly 10% material-based capacity by weight. R&D conducted to modify the performance characteristics of these materials has also resulted in enabling room temperature storage in sorbent materials (which would normally require cryogenic temperatures) and has increased the rates at which hydrogen is released from materials (including increasing the release rate from one material by a factor of 60).
Developing and demonstrating a novel cryo-compressed tank concept. This tank achieved a system gravimetric capacity of 5.4 wt%, which exceeds the 2010 system target of 4.5 wt%, and has a volumetric system capacity of approximately 31 g/L. System cost remains an issue.
Reducing the projected cost of hydrogen production using renewable-based technologies—e.g., electrolysis and distributed reforming of bio-derived liquids (ethanol, sugars)—from $5.90 to $4.80 per gge (assuming widespread deployment)
Completing installation and initial testing of a system that directly integrates wind-based electric-power generation and water electrolysis, reducing and simplifying power conditioning between the wind turbine and the electrolyzer and resulting in a significantly reduced hydrogen production cost.
Improving hydrogen-from-coal technologies, including developing membranes for separation and purification that show the potential, at laboratory scale, to achieve the 2010 technical targets for flux (200 ft3/hr/ft2).
Developing and initiating integrated laboratory-scale experiments for producing hydrogen from nuclear power, using both high-temperature electrolysis (operating three 240-cell modules with a target hydrogen-production level of 5,000 liters/hr) and the sulfur-iodine thermochemical cycle using three integrated modules.
Advances in the understanding of the fundamental science related to hydrogen and fuel cells include:
Performing first-principles calculations to understand how the shape of carbon catalysts on sodium alanate (NaAlH4) affects the electron affinity of the bonding of the molecule, which can then reduce the hydrogen desorption temperature of this hydrogen storage material.
Improving understanding of size range and spatial distribution of nano-scale water channels in Nafion membranes, commonly used in fuel cells to control water and proton transport, using small-angle x-ray scattering (SAXS) in conjunction with nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) imaging.
Creating tailored nanorod structures for hydrogen production from solar water splitting that maximize solar absorption and increase the ability to utilize the photocurrent using less expensive catalyst materials.
Developing a unique and highly efficient hybrid hydrogen generator utilizing a special molecular wire to link a highly efficient biological solar absorber with a robust inorganic catalyst; this unique design increases hydrogen generation efficiency by as much as three orders of magnitude over other hybrid systems.
This progress has kept the Program on track to meet critical path technology goals by 2015 and will enable industry to make decisions regarding commercialization of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and fueling infrastructure in the 2020 timeframe. However, some targets and milestones relating to non-critical path technologies—e.g., centralized hydrogen production and delivery systems—have slipped.
As noted above, DOE believes that fuel cell cost is still too high and durability still too low to enable the auto industry to meet the deployment goal of 100,000 hydrogen-fueled vehicles by 2010, as specified in EPACT.
Designs for vehicles manufactured in 2010 would need to be locked-in now, but automakers cannot provide vehicles based on current technology at an affordable cost or with a reasonable warranty. For example, a 2008 independent study estimated that the high-volume manufacturing cost of automotive fuel cell systems (using current technology and assuming 500,000 units per year) would be $73/kW, which equates to almost $6000 for an 80-kW system. This current technology would be more than twice as expensive as internal combustion engine systems. And, based on the highest demonstrated durability to date, fuel cell systems would have a lifespan of approximately 1900 hours, which equates to about 57,000 miles and is still substantially lower than today’s estimated vehicular lifespan of 150,000 miles.
Furthermore, while fuel cell technology development is currently on track to meet the Program’s 2015 technology-readiness targets, it is too early to determine whether industry can achieve the 2020 vehicle deployment goal of 2.5 million hydrogen-fueled vehicles identified in [EPACT} section 811(a). However, analyses conducted by Oak Ridge National Laboratory indicate that such a deployment scenario would not be achieved without substantial supportive policies and incentives.