Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hydrogen From Solar Power!

Hydrogen Becoming A Real Player In The Energy Economy

By: Eugene Wilkie

My first introduction to the process of splitting water to produce hydrogen was through a guy named Stanley Meyer back in the mid 1990s. His claim was that he was splitting water with electrolysis to produce Browns Gas (a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen) that could run cars. He was hunting investment and potential dealers for his product. I met with him and was a little put off by his car salesman like quality of a personality and was not sure if I really believed him or if it was a parlor trick. I had read articles published about Jan Rudolph Deiman and Adriaan Paets van Troostwijk using in 1789 an electrostatic machine to produce electricity which was discharged on gold electrodes in a Leyden jar with water. Then in 1800 Alessandro Volta invented the voltaic pile, and a few weeks later William Nicholson and Anthony Carlisle then used it for the electrolysis of water. When Zénobe Gramme invented the Gramme machine in 1869 electrolysis of water became a cheap method for the production of hydrogen. A method of industrial synthesis of hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis was developed by Dmitry Lachinov in 1888. Thus I knew there had to be some validity but the combination of both gases as a fuel source did not quite ring my bell.

In 1998 I had received news that Stanley Meyer had passed away under very controversial circumstances and the underground news media lit up with conspiracies that were absolutely titillating. I for one have never bought the whole government trying to supress inventions theories. Having said that I think that industries can be very protective and if his technology was viable it would have scared the good old oil boys. Anyways I just kind of filed it away in my head and went on with my renewable energy career.

In the 2001 Bloombox Energy jumped up in the market utilizing hydrogen fuel cells using natural gas and I was naturally intrigued. There were several other companies that were trying to market similar products utilizing fuel cells and we looked closely at them but their business model was not attractive.

Then came a slew of start-ups once again offering boxes that supplied what Stanley Meyers had been doing. Producing browns gas (hydrogen oxygen mixture) that was then injected into the fuel supply of your vehicle supposedly phenomenally increasing gas mileage. We were pretty busy developing utility solar and wind projects so I really did't take the time to investigate but they never really got any market traction that I know of.

It was during this time of being heavily involved in utility renewable projects that I stumbled on a pretty interesting technology. We were living in Escondido CA and I ran into this gentlemen that was just getting out of the Navy. His job there was working in the electrical sector of submarines. He had become intrigued with the thought that if you ever witnessed a submarine in the water you see bubbles coming off it. He quickly understood that this was due to electrolysis. Electricity splitting the water molecule into 2 part hydrogen 1 part oxygen.

When I met Ron he had solar panels all over his yard he had picked up on Craigslist and this bucket of water with a contraption in it. He grabbed one of the solar panels and hooked two wires (that went down into this bucket of water which made me nervous) with a hose coming out of it. On the end of the hose there was a cutting torch. He lit it with a lighter and I could not see the flame until he put it close to a one inch thick piece of metal (a true sign that it is hydrogen burning). It promptly burned a hole completely through the metal. As he was demonstrating this to me I noticed a huge black burned area on the wall of his garage and nonchalantly backed up to where I was standing just outside of the garage. I asked him about the burned mark and he kind of chuckled and said that he had not realized he was producing pure hydrogen (not Browns Gas) and had lit his cigarette and came to laying on his back outside of his garage staring at the sky.
He explained to me that he had tested this on demand production of hydrogen from water first on his weed eater and it ran like a champ. He had an old Pinto in his yard and he then ran the hydrogen into the injection of it for several months. He said when he took the engine apart it looked brand new as all the carbon had been burned out. What made Ron' hydrogen generator unique was it was the first one I had witnessed that did not require a scrubber to separate the hydrogen from the oxygen which can be expensive and requires high maintenance.

He built a very professional looking prototype of it as we had decided perhaps this was something to take to market. Like I said at the time I was heavily involved in the development of renewable projects, Ron needed to make a living for his family as he had retired from the Navy, and to be honest it was too early in the market of hydrogen. 

In the mean time three things have happened in the hydrogen industry that has made me rethink the viability of bringing this back to the table as a viable product that could be of use in the energy market. You can see our current crowd funding campaign to help Ron launch his hydrogen technology at http://nowhydrogen.com

First is that Siemens has taken the process of generating hydrogen  from wind energy seriously.

World's largest electrolysis system transforms wind power into hydrogen

In the German city of Mainz Siemens, together with the public utilities of Mainz, Linde and the RheinMain University of Applied Sciences, has laid the foundation stone for a new type of energy storage system. From spring 2015, the system, equipped with an electrolyzer from Siemens, will convert surplus electricity from wind farms to hydrogen. The hydrogen will then be stored locally in tankers or fed directly into the natural gas grid for subsequent power or heat generation. In this way, it will be possible to store electricity from renewable sources over longer periods of time. The tankers will also be able to supply the growing network of hydrogen filling stations for emission-free fuel-cell vehicles. The system will have a peak rating of up to 6 megawatts and thus be the largest of its kind in the world. The project, which will cost 17 million, is being financed with the support of the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology as part of the Energy Storage Funding Initiative.

The principle of electrolysis has been tried and tested for decades. What is special about the Mainz system is that it involves highly dynamic PEM high-pressure electrolysis which is particularly suitable for high current density and can react within milliseconds to sharp increases in power generation from wind and solar sources. In this electrolyzer a proton exchange membrane (PEM) separates the two electrodes at which oxygen and hydrogen are formed. On the front and back of the membrane are precious-metal electrodes that are connected to the positive and negative poles of the voltage source. This is where the water is split. The system in Mainz will thus have a capacity relevant for bottlenecks in the grid and small wind farms.

Second is the car industries aggressive entrance into the hydrogen car market. Several of the car manufacturers have really made a large investment and entrance recently.
Toshiba Corp. has developed a system to produce hydrogen from water using sunlight. (Provided by Toshiba Corp.)
Toshiba Corp. has developed a system to produce hydrogen from water using sunlight. (Provided by Toshiba Corp.)
Toshiba Corp. has developed an energy supply system that may be the ultimate in eco-friendliness because it uses only sunlight and water, with no carbon dioxide emissions, to produce hydrogen.
Moreover, the system has a portable component that allows it to be transported to disaster-hit areas where normal utilities may not be operating.
The system involves using solar power to generate electricity, which is used to electrolyze water to produce hydrogen. The hydrogen can be stored in tanks and used in fuel cells to generate electricity and heat water during emergencies.
“Once the technology progresses further, we will be able to apply it to storage batteries for large-scale solar generation facilities (that can only generate power during the day) and hydrogen stations to refuel fuel-cell vehicles,” said company President Hisao Tanaka.
Toshiba plans to begin selling the system in fiscal 2015.
The unit fits into the containers normally used by ships, trains and trucks to store and transport cargo, allowing for easier transport to disaster-hit areas.
Because one unit is expected to cost several hundreds of millions of yen, the company is planning to sell the equipment primarily to local governments.
The hydrogen stored in one tank is enough for 300 evacuees to survive for one week at a minimum level of subsistence.
Hydrogen is currently extracted from gas used in public utilities or liquefied petroleum gas, but carbon dioxide is emitted in the process.
By SHIGEO OHATA/ Staff Write
I have a friend in the industry that was also a bit ahead of his time and had come up with drawings of huge utility solar PV sites that their sole purpose was to generate electricity to power the production of hydrogen. He went so far is to get MOU on land in California but could not seem to get the interest of investment. Perhaps it is time to revisit such out of the box thinkers.

Honda Hydrogen Fueling Station

If you would like more information contact Eugene Wilkie at eugene@nowsolarwa.com


  1. Replies
    1. I'm your man !...if started from "0" it's the solution for Congo (RDC)...we're working on several projects re.solar energy and stocking ...hydrone...
      Send me the brochure and more info please / Rgds Steve R.L.Stevens / "Affinité RDCongo"

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