Vermont’s Renewable Hydrogen Station and Hydrogen Prius on Track

21 December 2005
 Layout of the refueling station

US Representative Bernie Sanders (I-VT) called a press conference to highlight the progress being made in a $2-million research project for Vermont,$1 million of that funded by the DOE, to build a renewable hydrogen fueling station (earlier post) and to convert a Prius to a hydrogen-burning hybrid for testing up to 350 bar onboard hydrogen storage and to validate the station.

The conversion of the Prius to an H2ICE hybrid is similar to a project being undertaken in Southern California by the Air Quality Management District. (Earlier post.)

The Vermont project, initiated in 2004 and due for completion in December 2006, is run by EVermont with Proton Energy Systems and Northern Power Systems building the fueling system and Quantum converting the Prius. It is designed to demonstrate:

• Reduced cost of hydrogen production from a domestic renewable energy source (wind) and validation of a distributed hydrogen production pathway;

• Improved electrolyzer efficiency;

• Improved on-board hydrogen storage system, advanced systems integration and controls.

 The assembled fueling station under test prior to permanent installation

The fueling station includes an Proton HOGEN H Series electrolyzer (12kg/day, 40 kW at peak production capacity) with a combination of electrochemical and mechanical compression for on-site storage at 6,000 psi in high-pressure cylinders.

The hydrogen production and fueling station is located adjacent to a 65kW AOC wind turbine. The electrical output of the wind turbine and the electrical demands of the fueling station will be monitored and correlated via the fueling station control system. Both systems will be connected through the utility grid, and part of the testing and data collection will include analysis of the optimal operation of the fueling station in relation to the output of the wind turbine and the other electrical demands at the adjacent facilities.

The car is already undergoing conversion to run on hydrogen fuel. The fueling station is already assembled and is currently being tested at Proton’s headquarters. The site, at the Burlington Public Works facility, is already permitted and the construction is 90% complete. Barring any glitches, the equipment should be up and running and the car should be driving the roads of Vermont by the spring!

And we cannot overstate the significance of the problem or our need to break away from gasoline-fueled cars. Cars are America's biggest reason for oil dependence and they represent the single biggest piece of our global warming problem. They not only spew out a huge share of the nation's global warming gases, but they also emit other harmful pollution that makes air unsafe to breathe. If we are serious about breaking our dependency on fossil fuels; if we serious about addressing global warming; if we are serious about cutting back on the pollution harming communities all over the country, we have got to move away from gasoline-fueled cars and this project can be of real help in that direction.

—Rep. Bernie Sanders

Resources:

I briefly test drove a Prius with a hydrogen ICE a few months ago. I understand that it was just a prototype, but its performance was notably sluggish and accompanied by what I can only describe as a sickly groan from the engine compartment. And there was quite a bit of shake as the various components shifted power back and forth among one another. I thought, what's the big deal? American manufacturers were building cars like this clear back in the '70s. :D (As the onetime owner of a '74 Chevy Vega, I can assure you this is no joke.)

Am I remembering correctly that 1 kg of H2 is roughly equivalent to 1 US gal of gasoline? Is this really a multimillion dollar project to produce 12kg/day, or 12 gallon equivalents per day?

On an energy basis, yes. Roughly equivalent.

To be fair, you can't really compare the operational efficiency of a $2.5 billion petroleum refinery that produces 150,000 barrels per day of liquid fuel with a renewable hydrogen research project designed to figure out if an approach is feasible, how to design and build it to work well in Vermont’s nippy weather, etc. But, yes, it's an expensive project relative to the absolute production. This a feel-good, drop-in-the-bucket project, sadly typical of today's politicians (our brave leaders). And then you have the variability of your power supply: if the wind stops blowing, whoops no hydrogen today. Somehow I don't see this making it on a large scale. For me it always comes down to whether you are funding true R&D, or building out "premature infrastructure" to make a political or public relations point. If these millions are spent to find new and better ways to make H2, that's all good. If they produce H2 at a (energy and economic) loss, without advancing the art ... well, there you are Sadly the basic issue with hydrogen is still untouched by research like this: energy loss. The same wind turbine could power 4 times more vehicles if the energy would be used directly inside grid connected batteries inside Plug-In-Hybrids or true battery electric vehicles. Becauses of the laws of physics, hydrogen batteries can not compete with lithium batteries. Projects like these are not only wasting money and time but also energy. Actauly 2 million is a drop in the bucket as far as refinery costs go. Its about 1/2500th the cost of a refinery so scaled up and experimental costs factored in when they go commercial they likely will build a 3-5 billion buck unit that produces about 3-400k lb of it. The ONLY issue with any fuel is cost at the pump and they are on thier way quite well toward competeative with gas. Interesting comment WRT at-the-pump costs. The higher they are, the easier it is to justify the plant. The lower they are, the easier it is to justify the cars. The question for year 2015 will be if there is a price that works for both ;-) The current DOE target for 2015 of$2.5-3.0/kg means that the output of this $2,000,000 test plant would be$30-36/day. That is, the DOE has projected a number that works for the cars but hurts for the producer (very poor ROI). Conversely, picking today's retail price of around $100/kg means that the plant produces$1200/day in product (good), but a "ten gallon fill-up" for your car costs $1000 (ouch!). That's some messy numbers-play, but it raises an interesting question ... is there a$/kg that works on both ends?

Tomi: "Becauses of the laws of physics, hydrogen batteries can not compete with lithium batteries."

Can you support that statement? I agree that "hydrogen batteries" are presently much less efficient than lithium batteries--although I think the difference in round trip efficiency when everything is figured in is closer to 2:1 rather than 4:1. (E.g., Helios had a round trip efficiency, solar panel output to motor input, of ~45%, while lithium batteries might have managed 90%)

But I don't know of any fundamental physical reasons why it must be so. With better membranes and nano-engineered catalysts, I don't see any reason why back-to-back electrolyzers and fuel cells couldn't manage %90 as well. I'm not saying there *is* no reason, just that I've never heard of one.

A complete discussion of hydrogen vs lithium is perhaps not suitable for this space but the bottom line is:

1. If hydrogen is suposed to be renewable then it will be created by electricity. The conversion of physical energy (electricity) to chemical energy (hydrogen) will - naturally - introduce additional losses.

2. As soon as the transport / transfer of pure hydrogen is involved, there are the physical limitations of hydrogen gas or liquefied hydrogen.

A detailed study of the issues is available from the European Fuel Cell Forum. One of the documents is:

http://www.efcf.com/reports/hydrogen_economy.pdf

If, in some process, you directly attach hydrogen to other chemical structures - in order to bypass the hydrogen issues - you would basically end up with synthetic biofuels. Or you could have chemical structures that use hydrogen internally (like NiMH batteries) that could also avoid the "hydrogen transport issues" ... but in my view both approaches are not what people understand under the term "hydrogen economy".

They think of hydrogen "gas stations" like the one mentioned in this article. "Fill her up with hydrogen .. please" ... and that just makes no sense.

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