Energy Department Investments to Advance Hydrogen Infrastructure

July 25, 2012


The Energy Department on July 18 announced a $2.4 million investment to collect and analyze performance data for hydrogen fueling stations and advanced refueling components. The five projects—located in California, Connecticut, and Illinois—will track the performance and technical progress of innovative refueling systems at planned or existing hydrogen fueling stations in order to find ways to lower costs and improve operation. These investments are part of the department's commitment to support U.S. leadership in advanced hydrogen and fuel cell research and to help related industries bring hydrogen technologies into the marketplace at lower cost.

As part of a two-year initiative, the Energy Department will make $2.4 million available in fiscal year 2012, with a 50% cost share provided by the award winners. The projects selected for negotiation of award include: California Air Resources Board, which will analyze an operating hydrogen refueling station that uses natural gas to produce hydrogen; California State University and Los Angeles Auxiliary Services, Inc., which will collect data from hydrogen refueling architecture deployed at California State University - Los Angeles; Gas Technology Institute in Des Plaines, Illinois, which will analyze data from five hydrogen fueling stations; and Proton Energy Systems in Wallingford, Connecticut, which will conduct two projects providing operational data from two existing stations that integrate hydrogen generation, compression, storage, and dispensing, as well as deploying an advanced high-pressure electrolyzer at an existing hydrogen fueling station.

These new projects will collect data and monitor the performance of hydrogen fuel stations, advanced components, and other innovative hydrogen technologies using renewable energy or natural gas. By analyzing performance in real-world environments, these projects will help hydrogen fueling equipment manufacturers improve the designs of existing systems. The aim is to achieve higher efficiencies and test new system components. This data will help focus future research and development efforts, driving American manufacturing competitiveness in the next generation of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.

In addition, the Energy Department recently released the final report from its National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) about a technology validation project that collected data from more than 180 fuel cell electric vehicles (EVs). Over six years, these vehicles made more than 500,000 trips and traveled 3.6 million miles, completing more than 33,000 fill-ups at hydrogen fueling stations across the country. The project found that these vehicles achieved more than twice the efficiency of today's gasoline vehicles with refueling times of five minutes for four kilograms of hydrogen. See the DOE Progress Alert and the NREL final report on 180 fuel cell EVsPDF.


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Storage, Not Generation, is the Challenge to Renewable Energy

This post written by Gregg Maryniak: Chairman of the Energy and Environmental Systems Track of Singularity University and the Secretary of the X PRIZE Foundation

If you read newspapers, blogs and other popular reports on renewable energy, you are very likely hearing almost exclusively about power generation advances in solar cell or wind turbine efficiency or ways to reduce production costs.   But exciting as these steps are, an examination of where our energy comes from today shows that even after decades of improvement in renewable energy systems, more than 95% of the energy in the United States is still provided by fossil fuels, nuclear power and traditional hydropower.   So, what is missing from the present picture that could dramatically advance the use of renewable energy?  Economical energy storage.

The phenomenon of the world’s so-called addiction to fossil fuels is actually an aspect of a greater underlying energy truth.  What society really wants and needs is energy on demand.

greggHeadshotGregg Maryniak: Chairman of the Energy and Environmental Systems Track of Singularity UniversitySome of my colleagues have observed the significant drop in capital costs of solar cells in recent years and concluded that the energy problem is solvable, if not essentially solved.  Many have suggested that we are now within a few cost factors of achieving renewable energy cost-parity with coal.   While it is absolutely essential that we continue to drive down the costs of generating electricity from solar (and wind, which is indirect solar energy,) doing so alone will not make these renewable energy sources competitive with traditional hydro, fossil or nuclear generated electricity.   What will enable renewables to assume the lion’s share of society’s energy generation portfolio is making that energy available wherever and whenever it is needed.   Transforming the energy situation so that renewables provide the majority of the world’s usable power requires one essential missing element: energy storage.

Storage breaks out into two domains with radically different characteristics.  First, is portable storage, specifically batteries, of the sort that we use for our laptops and mobile phones. Large markets for portable devices have driven significant performance improvements in rechargeable batteries.  However, if we really want to transform the energy sector in a meaningful way, it will require attention to the other relatively ignored storage domain: grid scale power storage.

Today there is basically only one way to economically store electrical power at scale – essentially pumping water uphill to high elevation reservoirs during off peak periods.  When energy demand is high, the water is allowed to run back downhill through turbines.  While fairly efficient, as it gets back about 70% of the energy you put in, the number of places where this technique can be used is limited by geography.   Another possibility under study in various parts of the world, is compressing large volumes of air into caverns, salt domes or other subterranean features and retrieving energy from the released atmosphere as it escapes.  This method is also obviously limited by terrain and geography.

What we urgently need is a means of storing energy at large scale and low cost that can be adapted anywhere.   And it’s important not to confuse lightweight mobile energy storage with large scale stationary storage.   I recently watched some very smart students at an excellent unnamed university (whose initials are MIT) as they found themselves trapped by the Silicon Valley product mindset that all consumer products should be small and lightweight in the design style of iPods.  They tried to force a household energy storage system to be a refrigerator-sized appliance. In doing so, they lost track of the most essential characteristic of a large-scale energy storage system: it must be cheap.

But just down the hall at MIT, Professor Don Sadoway is telling his students that “to make an energy storage system as cheap as dirt, it should be made from dirt.”  Sadoway observed that the electrochemical methods used to make aluminum are similar in many respects to batteries. He and his students are now developing systems for grid-scale storage.   Their new Liquid Metal Battery Corporation is attracting investors that include Bill Gates and Vinod Khosia.

If solar and wind power are to break out of their present tiny niche positions, they will need to achieve systems parity with traditional energy supplies.  This means that the cost of conversion plus the cost of storage will have to be similar to the cost of providing energy on demand from the energy stored in chemical or nuclear fuels.    You can find some pretty shrill Internet rhetoric suggesting that the requirement for power on-demand (what the industry calls “baseload power”) is an irrelevant argument concocted by “renewables deniers.”  But the reality is that many solar energy pioneers themselves say that solar power will be severely limited in market penetration, unless competent energy storage is developed.

Our present fixation with energy generation ignores the “time value of energy.”   Instead of concentrating all of our efforts on generation we need to pay increased attention to energy storage.   Only after the cost of generation and storage of renewable energy matches the cost of on-demand generation from fossil, nuclear and hydro we will we see a transformation of the energy industry.


Utility Works to Unlock Smart-Grid Potential of Solar-Storage

By Steve Leone, Associate Editor,
July 5, 2012
New Hampshire, USA -- It's day six of the storm-induced power outage that has crippled much of the Eastern United States under unrelenting heat and painfully slow repairs. The unmistakable irony for more than 1 million people still without power on Thursday is that the sweltering sun that followed the brutal storms was tailor-made for rooftop PV with battery storage — a combination that keeps the lights on even in a blackout.