British Company Developing Home Electrolyzer for Hydrogen Production; Dual-Fuel Conversion Offers Hydrogen Range of 25 Miles

29 June 2007
 The home electrolyzer unit. Click to enlarge.

A British company is developing a low-cost home electrolyzer for the production of hydrogen to refuel a converted dual-fuel vehicle that uses both low-pressure hydrogen and gasoline.

The ITM Power electrolyzer uses a 10 kW electrolyzer operating at 75 bar pressure. ITM Power modified a gasoline engine Ford Focus to make it a dual-fuel vehicle, and has fueled the converted car with the output from the electrolyzer.

The refueling is also only at 75 bar, compared to the 350- to 700-bar storage systems being developed for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. As a result, the hydrogen on-board the converted vehicle is limited, and supports an all-hydrogen range of about 25 miles before switching back to run on gasoline.

That distance, says ITM Power, is more than the more than the average commuting distance in the UK.

The bi-fuel car and refuelling system clearly demonstrate a simple, convenient and low-cost transportation solution that can significantly reduce greenhouse gases and help mitigate climate change. We believe combining electrolyzers with an internal combustion-engined vehicle brings affordable hydrogen transportation forward by many years.

—Jim Heathcote, ITM Power CEO,

Both the refuelling system, which will be able to generate and store hydrogen at home or at work, and the dual-fuel car will be demonstrated publicly later this year. Meanwhile, ITM Power is finalizing the design of a manufacturing facility in Sheffield which will deliver one of the largest electrolyzer production capabilities in the world. Manufacturing is expected to commence as early as the first half of next year.

Comments

This is, of course, much better than a plug-in hybrid, which has a 40 mile range, because it has the magic word "hydrogen" in it.

Let us see some energy usage figures...25 miles range from how many KW-hrs of energy? Should be no more than 5kW-hr for a Hydrogen Ford Focus to compete with a BEV.

Hydrogen is magic, especially when you see how much
electricity it takes to get to the end product. They do
make this thing called a battery that seems to be getting
better by the day.

Homemade H2?? Who but the e-utility, and the manufacturer of the electrolyzer has an interest in this?

Does the home hydrogen generator come with a broom?

When I worked in a hydrogen manufacturing facility back in the last millinium, we always kept a broom outside the door to the hydrogen generator. You always picked up the broom and stuck it in the room first and waved it near all the equipment. If the broom burst into flames, that was a good indication that there was a hydrogen leak. (High purity hydrogen burns without color!)

I guess I've been lucky, in that I've seen only one person burned by hydrogen (hence the effectiveness of the broom policy). Even though he was only burned on the hand and arm, it was a horrific injury, requiring a skin graft and months of rehabilitation. Hydrogen burns so hotly that the skin is easily consumed.

As for the comment of operating at 75 bar - well that is about 1000 pounds force per square inch (psi). Even the tiniest leak at that pressure will ignite when flashed to atmosphere (due to static discharge and a very low ignition energy.) The impact on human flesh to a 1000 psi blowtorch would be dramatic.

Good luck getting your insurance agent to sign off on the hydrogen generator in the basement!

Another interesting engineering exercise that will never go into production because the problems with H2 have yet to be solved: The net power for H2 is still far too negative, Storage tanks too contain the pressures are far too heavy and, as pointed out, H2 is too dangerous for home use.

Actually, it seems like a sensible, pragmatic approach. Given that PHEVs are still an opened ended question on the overall cost and reliability, its a good idea to have alternatives in the pipeline.

If such a system (vehicle mod + hydrogen generator) where in the $3,000 range I think its a great idea. This also makes a lot of sense for solar powered houses instead of net-metering. Don't be skeptical, this might actually be a good approach for hydrogen. "The net power for H2 is still far too negative" Not to mention will always be in the negative. How efficient is that electrolyzer? Isn't it amazing how often we hear announcements like this one that somehow manage to omit one or more key values, like the efficiency of the electrolyzer? I'm not saying this product any any other is a scam, just that there seems to be an uncomfortable level of marketing mixed in with the engineering. Honestly, the best part of these announcements is reading the comments about them on GCC. Yes, Hydrogen is a lousy fuel. What do you all think of running "wet" ethanol in a solid-oxide fuel cell? Supposedly less pure ethanol requires a lot less energy to distill, SOFC's don't mind "wet" ethanaol, and are 50-80% efficient (depending on cogeneration techniques) compared to mid 30's percent for ICE, hence a much better well-to-wheel equation. There was a post a few days ago about Imperial College running a really small SOFC continuously as a series hybrid to recharge big batteries that like to stay hot. The "running continuously" part could really mess up the energy efficiency if the car is used irregularly, but what do you think of that, or some other scheme to make biofuel cheaper, and with a substantially better well-to-wheels value? Somebody out there please explain to me why hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are better than purely electric vehicles. I mean, it seems completely absurd to me to turn electricity from a utility or even a renewable energy source into hydrogen, so that the vehicle's fuel cell can turn that hydrogen back into electricity and power the electric drive motors. There's a huge discrepency here that deals with efficiency of the power being used. This article and the responses above warrant a discussion about the cradle-to-grave efficiency of a hydrogen fuel cell car versus an electric car. I haven't seen any comparisons of this sort, not to mention a scientific comparison to the efficiencies of a normal combustion enginer (which would be apalling I might add.). I'm skeptical as well. The issue of efficiency of a battery charge/discharge cycle vs. the electrolysis of hydrogen and its consumption in a fuel cell or hydrogen ICE is unresolved, as are the capital costs of both systems. A home electrolysis system may sound great on the surface, but if each do-dad costs$3k it may not compare well to running a $25 extension cord down the driveway to charge a PHEV/BEV. I would have been interested if it was an onboard(vehical) system to suppliment fuel usage like some US firms have made and are being used to enhance mpg and clean up emissions.The energy used to provide 25 miles driving seems a lot but I'm sure the utilities don't mind that.Big transport firms would love to reduce their fuel costs and and the motoring public and the energy to do that comes from the vehical not the grid. this has advantages over PHEV you can use your ICE Engine and inject hydrogen when avialable. batteries are far to heavy and costly here you can use a simple CNG tank from hydrogen you get 0,5 - 1,5kwh/kgr you could store energy from sun with this electrolyzier, could you do that with batteries? sure, but you have to pay additiona 5.000 of dollars for lead batteries and here you need a simple CNG tank. efficiency could be between 80-90%, even above because of the low pressure; and because producing hydrogen at a slow rate, you can get a very high efficiency ... with solar energy at ~5-8ct/kwh this is will be interesting solution Said it before, Hydrogen s...ks. However, the economic model based on fuell storage, distribution, transport, ownership AND taxes, will basically stay the same with a hydrogen solution. Big oil (then big-hydrogen / flex-fuell ?) will stay in power, the well-known carmakers can keep on making their well known car-models that are far more complicated than an all-electric car. They will break down earlier and more often, have a higher renewal rate and suit our current model of parts sales and repair services very well (a lot of money is made from repairs and maintenance.) I'm not suggesting a conspiring theory, but people choose what's best for themselves economically. Since a lot of money making is somehow connected to our current (oil-fueled) model, a lot of people will be happy in their wallets with an economy that stays rougly unchanged. Therefore I'm afraid bio-fuell and hydrogen are the way it will go, although rationally other solutions, like EV, would be more logical and efficient. give me cheap and long lasting high capacity batteries and i am behind this: " like EV, would be more logical and efficient. " but for me its not that efficient and economical to buy batteries for 15.000 dollars, which last 8-10 years; not here where power costs around 18eurocents/kwh (no way to get it cheaper) and diesel about 1eur/liter; for me the only solution to get out of the cage is cheap solar power, which could be stored in something Its a good idea to have a vehicle with 25 mile range on hydrogen, but instead of using a fuel which has to be extracted from some other fuel, we can very well use the nat-gas for which thousands of kilometers (miles) of pipelines are already in place along with the gas stations. A bi-fueled vehicle with a small CNG tank that has 10-20 mile range will cover the daily commute for many people. Also there are 6 million CNG powered vehicles in the World today. http://www.iangv.org/content/view/17/35 . I'm really sick of everyone just running on anti-hydrogen autopilot on this one, how this has anything to do with the points you brought up is really beyond me. Anyways, the idea itself has some real merit worth considering. Think of it as a PHEV that instead of batteries uses a low pressure hydrogen tank to power an ICE engine for the first few miles. Its, actually an ingenious idea if you think about it, and actually worthy of some admiration. Now the problem as I figure it is that the average efficiency for an electrolyzer seems to average about 55 KwH per 1Kp of hydrogen, which contains 134,200 BTUs of energy. So If you assume$0.05 off-peak rates, your still talking \$2.50 GGE, which is not exactly impressive in the US, but might be a big deal in Europe with their high gas prices (not sure of the electricity prices).

Anyways, stop it with the canned anti-hydrogen posts, most of you didn't make it past the first line of the story.

I agree with Mike a bit, perhaps we shouldn't be too sceptical. As one of the others noted "give me cheap batteries that last for a long time , with great range and minimum recharge time". Of course that's a current problem with EV technology. But imagine, all this effort and (governmental ?) money and knowlegde was put into battery technology and solar power (to charge the batteries), instead of in hydrogen solutions. Don't you agree that the world would have a cleaner and more efficient source of energy in the end ? I'm sure battery problems would be solved and price would come down when this technolgy is embraced on a large scale. Although I applaud every attempt for developing next generation energy sources (what's the source anyway and ICE will still uses up O2) , I find it hard to see hydrogen as the ultimate solution. More to the subject; BMW had problems keeping the liquid H2 in their 700 series tanks; it dissappeared over time. Hows that in the Ford. And is the 75 Bar, or 300 - 700Bar really an issue ? How much energy does it take anyway to get and keep something under 75Bar to 700 Bar of pressure ? (It would be very tempting for certain people to know that every car has a little bomb inside. Saves them te effort of making them themselves ;-)

Hydrogen is not the solution...
to every problem.
But let's face it - nothing else is either.

This idea has its uses, like allowing existing cars to run carbon free for most day-to-day driving. The key word here is "existing." There is a lot of life left in our current fleet of vehicles and it will be some time before we switch over to BEVs.

BTW to the guy who thinks hydrogen is too dangerous for home use; once upon a time every house in London had hydrogen piped into it. Actually it was 'town gas' which is usually 3 parts H2 to 1 part CO and a couple of million people used it with little problem.

That's not to say there weren't problems, after all this was Victorian England and the technology of the time used cast iron pipes and leather valves. I think we could do better today.

Both hydrogen and EVs will have a place in our future. It's not one or the other, but please don't attack hydrogen. I am an ex-EV driver, and I look forward to H2 fuel cell vehicles for many reasons:

1) H2 has the ability to refuel in a short period of time. I have been stuck in a low charge EV when my wife was in the hospital across town, and I had to abandon the EV in an Albertson's parking lot and call a cab. It wasn't fun, knowing that my wife was hurt and I couldn't trust my car to get me there, sitting on the curb waiting for the cab. That day I would have given anything for the ability to recharge in a short time. Don't tell me you can do 10minute battery recharging - even the people at Tesla will tell you this is bogus (unless you want to destroy your battery...)

2) H2 allows a vehicle range over 250 miles. The next Honda FCX will have 270miles, on less than 4kg H2 at 5000psi. GM tested at over 300miles range. Consider the Tesla Roadster with a 450kg battery pack is only rated at 200miles. H2 allows vehicle users the convenience of driving long distances, and infrequent recharging for short trip driving.

3) Not everyone has a garage to install a recharger. In fact, most people do not have an appropriate location to install a private charger. I don't have a garage - I have street parking. I charged my EV at work and at public sites when I could, and when the public sites were operating. And for people who do have a garage, do you have 100A and 480V service for the 1 hour quick charge? It is not an option for me, but fueling at a public station in less than 5 minutes is fine.

4) H2 is made today from natural gas at over 70% efficiency. Compare this to generating electricity from natural gas, which is on average 36% today. Yes, future powerplants will be more efficient. Tesla cites a lab experiment by GE that is 60% efficient. This plant is not used in practice. Future hydrogen generation will be more efficient, too.

5) H2 allows generation from stranded renewables, because the electricty can be stored as H2. Utilities need to keep peaking natural gas generators spinning and ready, in case the wind dies down. This is expensive and highly inefficient. H2 allows the storage of energy in a pipeline for distribution when it is needed.

6) Pipeline losses are extremely low as far as transportation of H2 is concerned. Consider your powerline losses for electricity - 8% average on the entire grid, which includes consumption very close to the generation source. Long distance electrical transportation losses are huge! Why do you think there are no powerplants in North Dakota feeding Chicago? Yet natural gas is piped to Chicago and New York from Western Canada? H2 allows the transportation of energy from generation source to end use in a very efficient manner.

7) Hydrogen is easily contained in pipes and tanks. No problem. Look at the properties and I think you will conclude that it is safer than gasoline, propane, natural gas. How many people were electrocuted in the US today? Do a GOOGLE search. Hydrogen is very safe, relative to everything else we are used to.

There are many other reasons why I think hydrogen fuel cells have a very important role to play for transportation, but this post is long enough.

If any of my numbers are off, I welcome the criticism. But don't attack me without real facts and thoughts.

Thanks,

James

Even if total efficiency was the same, on board quick charge electricity storage devices (baterries and/or capacitors) + 2 or 4 in-wheel electric motors seems to be a much safer and more practical solution.

Hydrogen is not yet very easy to make, store and transport. A low cost,long lasting machine to use it efficiently in rather small vehicles is another problem. It may be OK for larger vehicles such as buses, trucks, trains and boats but it is still too large and much too expensive for compact cars.

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