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DOE reports progress on development of low-carbon and renewable sources of hydrogen production

The US Department of Energy (DOE) Fuel Cell Technologies Office’ (FCTO) 2014 Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Program Annual Progress Report (earlier post)—an annual summary of results from projects funded by DOE’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Program—described progress in the field of hydrogen production.

The objective of the Hydrogen Production sub-program is to reduce the cost of hydrogen dispensed at the pump to a cost that is competitive on a cents-per-mile basis with competing vehicle technologies. Based on current analysis, this translates to a hydrogen threshold cost of <$4 per kg hydrogen (produced, delivered, and dispensed, but untaxed) by 2020, apportioned to <$2/kg for production only.

Range of hydrogen production costs, untaxed, for near- to mid-term distributed and centralized pathways. The high end of each bar represents a pathway-specific high feedstock cost as well as an escalation of capital cost; while the low end reflects a low end on feedstock costs and no capital escalation. Bars for different years in the same pathway represent improvements in the costs of the specific pathway, based on specific reference data for the appropriate year and pathway. Source: DOE. Click to enlarge.

For FY 2014, the Hydrogen Production sub-program continued to focus on developing technologies to enable the long-term viability of hydrogen as an energy carrier for a range of applications with a focus on hydrogen from low-carbon and renewable sources. Progress continued in several key areas, including electrolysis, photoelectrochemical (PEC), biological, and solar-thermochemical hydrogen production.

There are multiple DOE offices are engaged in R&D relevant to hydrogen production. FCTO’s focus is developing technologies for distributed and centralized renewable production of hydrogen. Distributed production options under development include reforming of bio-derived renewable liquids and electrolysis of water. Centralized renewable production options include water electrolysis integrated with renewable power generation (e.g., wind, solar, hydroelectric, and geothermal power), biomass gasification, solar-driven high- temperature thermochemical water splitting, direct photoelectrochemical water splitting, and biological processes.

In addition:

  • The Office of Fossil Energy (FE) is advancing the technologies needed to produce hydrogen from coal-derived synthesis gas, including co-production of hydrogen and electricity. Separate from the Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Program, FE is also developing technologies for carbon capture, utilization, and storage, which could eventually enable hydrogen production from coal to be a near-zero-emissions pathway.

  • The Office of Science’s Basic Energy Sciences (BES) program conducts research to expand the fundamental understanding of biological and biomimetic hydrogen production, photoelectrochemical water splitting, catalysis, and membranes for gas separation.

  • The Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) is currently collaborating with EERE on a study of nuclear-renewable hybrid energy systems. Many of the systems being evaluated by this study use hydrogen production as a form of energy storage or as an input to industrial processes. The previous major hydrogen activity in NE, the Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative, was discontinued in Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 after steam electrolysis was chosen as the hydrogen production pathway most compatible with the next generation nuclear power.

In FY 2014, the major emphasis of the electrolysis activities were cost reduction and efficiency improvement through leveraging fuel cell catalyst development. Among the developments here were:

  • A nano-structured thin film catalyst anode technology was tested under electrolysis conditions and demonstrated comparable performance at 1/16th of the anode PGM loading relative to a 2013 baseline.

  • The manufacture of core shell catalyst technology developed by Brookhaven National Laboratory was successfully transferred to its facility and achieved equivalent cathode performance at 1/10th of the cathode PGM loading relative to the 2013 baseline.

  • An improved drying technique was developed with the potential to reduce drying losses in electrolyzers to less than 3.5% (compared with 11-8% in commercial systems) while operating on a variable (wind or solar) stack power profile. Testing is in progress to verify that the new technique meets SAE International Standard J2719 specifications for water content (<5 ppm).

In the area of photoelectrochemical (PEC) hydrogen production, semiconductor tandem devices were shown to have more than 300 hours of stability at ~15 mA/cm2 in III-V semiconductor photoelectrochemical tandem devices, showing a significant improvement over the previous year’s 115 hours at 10 mA/cm2. This result represents an important step toward demonstration of stabilized solar-to-hydrogen conversion efficiencies >20% using PEC devices.

In the area of biological hydrogen production, a larger, more scalable microbial reverse-electrodialysis cell design demonstrated a 0.9 L/L-reactor/day hydrogen production rate, a 12.5% increase over the 2013 demonstrated rate, using a salinity gradient instead of grid electricity. Other technical progress in this area included:

  • Increased activity of the Chlamydomonas strain was demonstrated expressing the Ca1 hydrogenase from 2% to about 11% of the native hydrogenase, with a duration of 30 minutes or more.

  • The genome of the bacterium Rubrivivax gelatinosus Casa Bonita Strain (CBS) was examined for candidate genes to transfer to the cyanobacteria Synechocystis to improve the expression and activity of the non-native CBS hydrogenase enzyme. The researchers identified slyD, involved in binding and inserting Ni into the hydrogenase active site, as a likely gene as it is present in CBS but absent in Synechocystis. Researchers also improved the Synechocystis expression of the CBS maturation protein HypF, which is involved in assembling the active hydrogenase enzyme, up to nine-fold.

  • The truncated light-harvesting antenna concept was applied to cyanobacteria, demonstrating that a Δcpc strain of Synechocystis, which is missing the phycobilisome portion of the photosynthetic antenna, can reach higher light levels before saturation than the wild type and has 55-60% greater rates of biomass accumulation.

Efforts in solar-thermochemical hydrogen characterized the performance of water splitting by novel, non-volatile metal-oxide based reaction materials and developed new reactor concepts to optimize efficiency of the reaction cycles. Other progress included:

  • Over three times improvement in hydrogen production was demonstrated relative to 2013 results of 100 micromole/g for isothermal operation at 1,350 ˚C for hercynite cycle materials using near-isothermal reduction/oxidation cycling.

  • Integration of major components into a pressurized button cell test facility was completed for the electrolysis step of the Hybrid Sulfur thermochemical cycle that will allow testing of catalysts and membranes at pressures up to 1 MPa and temperatures of 130oC. The team identified and screened electrocatalysts with the potential to reduce oxidation overpotential by >20 mV versus the state-of-the-art platinum catalyst. Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) also tested thin-film electrodes as candidate anode electrocatalysts, including Pt, Pd, Ir, Au, PtAu, and PtV. Au, PtAu and PtV showed 28 mV, 46 mV, and 13 mV reduction, respectively, on the anode polarization versus state-of-the-art Pt catalyst.

Pathway-specific milestones planned for FY 2015 in the Hydrogen Production sub-program projects include:

  • Demonstrate fermentation of deacetylated corn stover lignocellulose in a sequencing fed-batch bioreactor and obtain a hydrogen production rate of 450 mL H2/L/d with a total hydrogen output of 80% of that of avicel cellulose based on the same amount of cellulose loading (5 g/L).

  • Deliver 100 feet of roll-to-roll produced electrolysis catalyst with a durability of <20 mV drop after 1,000 hours of operation at 1.5 A/cm2, and with a total PGM loading of less than 0.5 mg/cm2.

  • Demonstrate the viability of stabilized photoelectrochemical systems with >15% solar-to-hydrogen efficiency using advanced tandem devices based on either III-V crystalline semiconductor or chalcopyrite thin-film semiconductor materials.

  • Develop a monolith reactor concept for integration of steam reforming reactions with in situ carbon dioxide capture and heat transfer for high-throughput hydrogen production from bio-oils. Identify optimum reforming catalysts and sorbents for >80% of equilibrium hydrogen yield at T <500°C, and >90% carbon dioxide capture under reaction conditions.

  • Continue development of conceptual designs for fully integrated solar thermochemical prototype reactors and synthesis and evaluation of perovskite and hercynite reaction materials. Demonstrate the production of spray-dried active materials that produce at least 150 μmol H2/g total and reduction of at least 1 gram of oxidized spray-dried active materials under vacuum pumping to remove released O2, and oxidation of at least 1 gram reduced spray- dried active materials with steam to produce hydrogen.

  • Completion of H2A v3 case studies for bio-fermentation and high-temperature solid oxide electrolysis hydrogen production pathways.



'This result represents an important step toward demonstration of stabilized solar-to-hydrogen conversion efficiencies >20% using PEC devices.'

Battery only advocates will no doubt be keen to point out that this is still less efficient than using a solar array to directly charge a battery.

This is true, but even in summer the sunshine in practise often needs intermediate energy storage, which is lossy, and hydrogen goes one step further as it is one of the few resources which is on the right scale to be stored to cover the winter.

This is another reason why it is up in the air what the balance will be between fuel cells and batteries.


Rather than methanogens making methane to reform for hydrogen, modify the organism to produce hydrogen, then you can produce 24/7 instead of during only 6 hours of sunlight.

"Policies for sustainable mobility" involves more than arguing about valve timing, it will take a whole new way of looking at things. The past and present views may be inadequate, so a change of thinking will be required.



Yeah, it would be good to swap the hydrogen into something liquid at room temperature, even if it comes at an energy penalty.

Still, its like how to cook a chicken, the most important thing is to have a chicken to cook in the first place, the rest is detail!

Solar direct to hydrogen at good cost and efficiency would be pretty much game over.

Account Deleted

Batteries are prohibitively expensive for any significant use as backup power for the grid. It is easy to see why. The US uses about 10,000 kwh per person per year or 30kwh per person per day. A family of five should therefore invest 30,000 USD in a battery containing just 24 hours of backup power if the kwh price of battery backup is as low as 200 USD (30,000 USD = (5*30kwh)*200USD).

The only solution to store electricity that scales economically to anything we want is to use an electrolyser to produce hydrogen and then pump that hydrogen down in a depleted oil or gas field and subsequently use a combined cycle hydrogen power plan to make electricity and heat when needed.

Unfortunately this ultimate solution to renewable intermittency is currently expensive. 1kg of hydrogen contains about 40kwh of energy. You lose about 50% of the energy for electrolysis and compression. That means you need to use 80 kwh to produce and compress 1 kg of hydrogen. A combined cycle power plant could be up to 65% efficient. The hole process of producing hydrogen and using it for electricity production when needed is therefore only 33% efficient compared to 98% efficiency of a battery (0.33=0.5*0.65).

The cost of producing one kg of hydrogen from electolysis when assuming electricity cost 5 cents per kwh and wear down of the electrolyser and compressor is another 5 cents is therefore 8 USD per kg = 80*(0.05+0.05).

However, in a society where all power comes from wind and solar you could produce hydrogen at much lower cost as off peek hour prices for electricity would approach 1 cents per kwh and with improvement of electrolyser and compressor technology you may reach 2 cents per kwh in wear down costs. So 1 kg of hydrogen could cost 2.4 USD = 80*(0.01+0.02).


Truly distributed (i.e. non-centralized) would include small business and residential production - which would likely require a system that could intermittently produce and store from multiple inputs based on the user's criteria - cost, simultaneous use, and prevailing cost from utility grid. Local Solar/Wind + Local/Grid Bio + Grid Nat.Gas in any combination or proportion (i assume pure electrical grid input (even at cheapest kWh rates to be very cost-inefficient). Is there any evidence that the quality of H2 produce would vary with its use (i.e. vehicle FCV vs heat combustion vs energy storage only vs forklift,etc FCV)?


I believe the solar/hydrogen route will be the first low hanging fruit. One scientist had a solar cell he put in water and exposed to sunlight. The hydrogen bubbles were coming off the cell profusely.

Lots of good ideas, the problem with sun only solutions is 2000 hours per year instead of 8000, much harder to pay back the investment quickly. It was once said in the future people will be for maximizing human potential to help society, cost will be irrelevant.


Im more hopeful on hydrogen technology than battery, I feel that It can be improved and implemented to everything from synthetic fuels and cars and also trucks. If they discover an efficient way to electrolyze water than we never gonna run out of non-polluting hydrogen for synthetic fuels and hydrogen cars and trucks. It's silly to think that we can charge batteries because they are too costly and bulky. It will cost 10x to store the energy in batteries instead of almost unlimited hydrogen. Elon musk is on the wrong way and it will end by a big bankruptcy.

Also hydrogen can be store in secondary tanks for ice engines cars and truck and can be mix with gasoline or diesel combustion. There is no limits with hydrogen.

In winter it can heat homes without any pollution.

actually solar and wind are not stored and this is a lack of needed technology. I will be glad to harness and use and store energy while im sleeping or watching tv instead of paying costly gasoline or electric bills.

Account Deleted

Another perspective: Tesla's Model S goes about 300 miles on 85kwh of electricity. The underpowered, no trunk space Toyota Mirai fuel cell car spend 5 kg of hydrogen to go the same distance. However, to produce that hydrogen with electricity you need 5*80 = 400kwh. The Model S is therefore over 4 times as efficient as the underpowered small car Toyota hope to sell. Good luck with the fuel cell cars they will need it!


Henrik said:
'You lose about 50% of the energy for electrolysis and compression.'

Norsk Hydro can hit over 80% efficiency for electrolysis (HHV)

(page 20)
Other systems especially in Germany use the process hear for how water, also resulting in very high thermal + electrical efficiency.

Most investigation to date has been in salt cavern storage:


They are giving the round trip efficiency as 40%, not too different to your 33%, including electrolysis and electricity generating losses (pgs 8-9)

If the stored hydrogen were used in a fuel cell car however much of this loss is already accounted for, although there would be compressional losses to put it in the car tank.

In the direct solar to hydrogen path no electrolysis would be needed, of course, so some of that efficiency loss disappears.


All this discussion is interesting, especially the parts having to do with the direct production of Hydrogen from Solar. Ain't going to happen. We have too much natural gas and the predatory oil companies controlling the politics. I suggest their plan is to manufacture hydrogen by reforming natural gas, moving the hydrogen by pipeline to distribution centers and selling H2 at gas stations.

Hydrogen is being sold to the American people by an extensive PR campaign by the oil companies and car companies and coordinated by the API and the AAM. Watch it happen. All the car companies. except Tesla, but including Nissan, will have FCVs in the showrooms by 2020

Most car buyers don't care about how the fuel is produced or about the car workings; they just want to get to work in the morning, home at night and to church and Grandma's on Sunday. So far I haven't seem any serious demonstrations in the streets over SMOG and GHG.

Having said all that, I think the best bet for BEV advocates is Tesla...a computer company that manufactures automobiles.


The nice thing about a good conspiracy theory is that it is entirely self contained, and impervious to any outside data, as that is clearly planted.

It it very economical as once the precept is swallowed, it avoids the need for any thought at all, and indeed rules it out.


That sounds a bit harder than I intended.
I have no doubt that there are conspiracies galore, the problem for them is whether everyone wants to conspire too, and if it works.

No doubt the makers of whale oil were perfectly prepared to conspire with anyone available against oil from the ground, but a shortage of whales put a crimp on that.

The existence of numerous research groups into sunlight to hydrogen shows that the conspiracy against them has had limited success so far, and one hopes that continues.


Mass production of FCEVs and clean lower cost H2 will probably NOT come from USA or Canada (where vested interests in NG, Coal, Ethanol and Oil is politically super strong) but in countries like Germany, Norway, So Korea, Japan, China, India, France etc with more to gain by phasing out fossil and bio fuels. .

Roger Pham


>>>>"'This result represents an important step toward demonstration of stabilized solar-to-hydrogen conversion efficiencies >20% using PEC devices.'"

This is superior to solar PV directly charging battery. Assuming 20% solar PV efficiency and 90% efficient battery and 90%-efficient voltage converter, by the time it gets to the battery, only 16% of solar energy remains.

When H2 produced in summer, spring and fall is used for winter combined power and heat, the efficiency of utilization can approach 100%. Even battery cannot get any more efficient than this!


What make you think than the oil and gas company won't take advantage of producing direct solar to H2 at over 20% efficiency, if this will be more profitable than fossil-fuel NG or crude oil?

You stated: "All the car companies. except Tesla, but including Nissan, will have FCVs in the showrooms by 2020."
Why are you excluding Tesla from developing FCEV's? The ZEV credit may be better, and TESLA will be a lot more profitable with H2-FC which will ensure the rapid growth and prosperity of the company.

Right now, most automakers and joining in pairs or triplets or quadruplets together to co-develop H2-FC technologies. Why can't Tesla join at least one of them?
What has Hydrogen done to Mr. Musk that he hates it so much? I can see that one may have a prejudice for a certain racial or ethnic group if they have killed or enslaved your ancestors...but what has H2 done to anyone that brought about so much hatred?

Do many anti-H2 posters here have ancestors who died in the Hindenburg accident in Lake Hurst, NJ?


The "conspiracy" is all on the other side:  pushing a central-fueling business model that the oilcos already own.  Meanwhile, EVs make any power outlet an "electron pump".

I've got nothing against hydrogen except that it's expensive and hard to handle (we're likely to see CFC-type problems from H2 leakage, since it's also stable enough to get to the stratosphere).  When government keeps pushing an expensive technology there has to be a powerful interest group behind it.  "Cui bono?" is sufficient to reveal who that is.

Roger Pham

Either "oilcos" or batterycos, some business will always be in charge. No getting around it.

In the USA, petrol has been very affordable until the recent oil shortages and Middle East instability. If oilcos will be in charge of H2 business, we can expect that H2 will also be very affordable as petrol has been for most of the 20th century. The oilcos are very skillful at technologies and distribution of energy resources, such as the use of gas pipelines and underground reservoirs. They are using H2 daily in the petrol refining business so they have all the technologies required to handle H2. No one can beat existing energy companies at bringing about the Hydrogen economy.

Battery, on the other hand, has always been expensive!!! The price of battery has been coming down, however, nothing can beat the $0.50 per kWh capacity cost of a steel gas tank, or $10 per kWh capacity cost of H2 tank. At $250 per kWh of capacity, battery will have a very long way to go before becoming competitive.

I do not see H2 listed as a GHG.
The atmospheric life span of H2 is only 1-2 years, as oppose to 100-200 years for CO2.


You call it conspiracy; I call it business planning and implementation; anyway, my hope is to reduce the damage hydrocarbons cause the World. I think at times we forget what needs to be done....reduce hydrocarbon usage to save the people.


I wonder if the earlier concern that water vapor might be 'the warming culprit'.

I know of no good numbers relating to that but anti A G Warming crew believe that increased water vapor 'from weather' could be a game changing future player.

I haven't seen any meaningful consensus or even expanded explanation and modeling on it's warming potential.

I would prefer e's battery storage but have lost no relatives to H2 airships or trans fats so understand that H2 has important functions including motive power.


Lad said:
'my hope is to reduce the damage hydrocarbons cause the World. '

Me too. I have supported nuclear power for 50 years or so!


BTW, I have nothing against battery electric cars.
I think it premature however to write off fuel cell cars, and they offer their own set of advantages, as well as disadvantages.

I do not see H2 listed as a GHG.

That's because it's not troublesome as a GHG (though the water it oxidizes to is a GHG), but because it will generate water above the tropopause's "cold trap" and create clouds where there have never been clouds.  Ice particles in the stratosphere are catalytic surfaces for ozone destruction, and high clouds in general block outgoing IR radiation.

Bob Wallace

"Batteries are prohibitively expensive for any significant use as backup power for the grid."

Let's examine that for a moment.

EOS Energy Storage's zinc hybrid cathode battery specs are -

10,000 cycles
30 year calendar life
75% efficiency


Now let's assume 6% financing over a 20 year term. That means an annual payment of $13.80 per kWh. (I'm leaving out the cost of battery charger and inverter. Thirty year financing would lower the annual payment.)

Cycle that battery every day (4c/kWh electricity with efficiency loss = 5.3c/kWh input costs) and the stored electricity would cost 9.1 cents. It's unlikely H2 with it's high loss rate could touch that.

The cost of storing electricity for a week jumps to 32 cents. That's less than the average cost of gas peaker power in California (49 cents).

Storing electricity for a year in an EOS battery would cost 1,385 cents. Obviously that's too expensive.

There is probably some point in terms of number of days of storage where H2 would be less expensive than batteries. But batteries are pretty much the best choice for short term storage.

I'll suggest that the cost of battery charger and inverter can be ignored. These batteries will operate for grid smoothing as well as storage and the BoS costs would likely be paid through their grid regulation role.

One starts with a grid regulation system and hooks up more batteries for storage. The additional cost is a parking space and some cable.


I like the idea of creating hydrogen by electrolysis and storing it away when overproduction from green energy sources fill up the batteries. I also like the idea of using the stored H2 nd FCs to power hybrid electric airplane. But, now I'm thinking twice because E-P says hydrogen can damage the upper atmosphere.

Maybe we should be discussing population reduction instead.


Batteries are fine for overnight storage, although the expense is substantial.
They are a couple of orders of magnitude out for seasonal storage, where you are talking about ~1000 kwh for a flow of 1kw.


There is some suggestion that hydrogen MAY damage the upper atmosphere.

The studies have not been done in enough detail to confirm whether or to what extent that is the case.

Just about anything you do MAY have adverse consequences.

You don't drop it just because there are concerns.

It seems on first blush unlikely to be of larger consequence than our present, pretty dire, systems of burning vast amounts of fossil fuel with its emission.


The Hydrogen Hoax continues.
- Yes, there's no way hydrogen can compete economically with Solar and two EV's in the garage, unless you goal is to Extract the most economic "Rent" from the middle class. If your goal is what's best for society then Solar and battery development is the best way forward.

SOLID STATE BATTERIES coming in 10 years.
There's not a snowballs chance... that hydrogen will ever outperform the Solar EV solution.
With this short time horizon Hydrogen is a total waste of time for the automobile population.

If we're at peak oil, then hydrogen for truck transportation makes sense.
Buses? Better as Pure Electric.

The DOE and the CARB should stop pumping PUBLIC TAXPAYER MONEY into the Auto Fleet DEAD END.

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