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Xcel and NREL Unveil Wind2H2 Project

The Wind2H2 project. Click to enlarge.

Xcel Energy and the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) unveiled a pilot facility that uses electricity from wind turbines to power electrolyzers to produce hydrogen, which is then compressed and stored at 3,500 psi.

The Wind2H2 project is designed to examine the system integration issues with wind-hydrogen production, compression, storage, and use. The project integrates wind turbines directly to the electrolyzers testing both AC and DC connections. The hydrogen is used to power a Hydrogen Engine Center (HEC) genset. (Earlier post.) A hydrogen fueling station for vehicles is planned for the future.

Today we begin using our cleanest source of electricity—wind power—to create the perfect fuel: hydrogen. Converting wind energy to hydrogen means that it doesn’t matter when the wind blows since its energy can be stored on-site in the form of hydrogen.

By marrying wind turbines to hydrogen production, we create a synergy that systematically reduces the drawbacks of each. Intermittent wind power is converted to a stored fuel that can be used anytime, while at the same time offering a totally climate-friendly way to retrieve hydrogen, to power our homes and possibly cars in the future.

—Richard Kelly, Xcel Energy chairman, president and CEO

Currently, there are limitations to both wind power and hydrogen. Wind farms only generate electricity when the wind is blowing, which is about one-third of the time in the United States. This creates the need for backup generation, which is usually fossil-fueled. Hydrogen production currently relies on the reforming of natural gas, or on electrolysis of water—energy-intensive processes that result in greenhouse gas emissions (depending on the source of the electricity).

NREL assessed the economics of wind-powered hydrogen production and concluded that while the near-term cost is around $4.03 per kg of hydrogen, long-term costs could drop down to $2.33/kg hydrogen.

NREL also concluded that it would be feasible to produce 154 billion kg of hydrogen per year from Class 4 and higher wind in the United States. Current transportation fuel usage is around 140 billion gallons per year.

The project allows our researchers to compare different types of electrolyzers and work on increasing the efficiency of a wind to hydrogen system. And, it has the potential to point the way to a completely emissions-free system of making, storing and using energy.

—Dan Arvizu, NREL director

NREL and Xcel Energy expect to offer a public update on the operation of the project around the middle of 2007. Results will also be shared with the Hydrogen Utility Group, made up of Xcel Energy and nine other utility companies interested in hydrogen’s future role in the utility industry.

The Xcel-NREL Wind2H2 project is one of several projects in the US sponsored by the DOE to investigate the combination of wind power and hydrogen production. (Earlier post.)




Roger Pham, you asked:

"What is there not to like about H2 as future transportation fuel?"

There's a great deal not to like.

For one thing, some of us are concerned that we'll end up having H2 cars before we have enough H2 from renewable sources to power them. General Motors is quite open about their desire to take their products out of the pollution equation. In other words, if every GM vehicle were powered by a fuel cell, air pollution would (finally) be someone else's problem. That's great for them, but it's not so great for the planet if we end up having a lot of fuel cell cars powered by H2 from fossil fuels.

Let's not kid ourselves. The auto manufacturers and the oil companies would be happy to shift pollution from the tailpipe to the smokestack. I don't blame them. They are in business to make money, not save the planet. I don't expect them to change. We could, however, ask each person to become better informed and make better purchasing decisions.

BEVs and PHEVs can be powered by rooftop solar panels. How many thousands (millions?) of homes would have solar power if the billions of dollars spent on hydrogen had been spent on incentives for homeowners to buy solar instead. Add to that the billions that will need to be spent upgrading the grid if we don't move towards distributed generation.

We're not using our resources wisely. We should be empowering every homeowner/business/community to generate renewable energy.

Also, I don't think it's fair to imagine a future where hydrogen storage, fuel-cell, and transportation technology has advanced to the point where H2 cars are practical, but not allow that there will also be advances in battery EV technology. When you compare EVs with batteries that take hours to charge to H2 vehicles that fill in minutes, you're comparing batteries of the past to hydrogen technology of the future. Please, let's compare apples to apples.

In his new book, "Solar Revolution," Travis Bradford argues that even with the solar technology that exists today, solar power could revolutionize how we generate and distribute energy. That's not counting the amazing advances that we have good reason to expect.

Given the choice between a hydrogen future where energy is produced primarily by giant corporations and distributed over great distances, and a solar/EV future where energy is produced locally, I choose the latter. In the long run, it will provide greater benefits to individuals and to the planet. (Giant energy corporations, sorry about your luck.)

Roger Pham


Solar electricity or solar hydrogen, the efficiency will be quite comparable, or at least the cost per kwh, anyway, when H2 is produced by high-temp process such as thermo-chemical or Solid Oxide electrolysis.

Whether you pay for H2, or you pay big bucks to have your roof-top solar panels installed and maintained, you will have to pay money to big corporations. No one can produce solar panels in their own home!

Forget about quick charging your BEV anytime soon. The upgrade investment in our electrical grid would be quite expensive to deliver such a massive current to your car battery.

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