Hydrogen Conference

Years ago I attended one of the first solar energy conferences. At the time solar cells were relatively new, not very efficient and very expensive. There was a feeling of excitement that these devices were really cool but that it would also take years of research and innovations to get the prices down and the efficiencies up.

Much time has passed since then, solar cell efficiencies have gone up and prices have come down but they haven't reached anywhere like the market penetration that was assumed years ago. While photovoltaics continue to be a growing, important part of the alternative energy market, emerging fuel cell technology manufacturers are positioning themselves to revolutionize the way we get our electricity.

The 14th annual fuel cell conference recently took place in montreal, canada. We were witnessing a part of history. Many companies were represented and while it was amusing to see government bureaucrats rush around and introduce themselves, it was also very clear that after years of development, these devices are getting very close to being available to consumers.

BMW AG had a display of their bi-valent hydrogen car. the following excerps are from their news release:

"dr helmut panke chairman of bmw ag a leading hydrogen car developer stated" the end of the age of mineral oil does not mean the end of business for us; on the contrary, we wish to remain a successful automobile company even in the distant future".

In a few years, BMW will be manufacturing a series production hydrogen car based on their 7 series combustion engine.

the bi-valent hydrogen car uses a sophisticated spark ignition system, allowing the car to be driven with hydrogen or regular gasoline. This will allow anyone to drive with either fuel and not have to worry about finding a hydrogen fueling station.

BMW is an official sponsor of the 14th annual hydrogen conference. BMW's world tour including a fleet of hydrogen powered cars, began in sacramento, usa then london, stockholm, montreal, johannesburg and china.

The hydrogen fleet of cars has completed 170,000 km (100,000 miles) since june 2001 without a single breakdown.

The series has a twelve cylinder engine, unbelievably quiet, powerful and clean, these test vehicles have been treated harshly, from trips through death valley and l.a rush hour.

The BMW series 7 fleet of hydrogen automobiles use an internal combustion engine to burn hydrogen unlike the pem fuel cells that ballard of vancouver and others are developing. after 20 years of research, bmw's hydrogen car has moved from research and development, to the finalised bmw clean energy drive.

In the mid 1980's, the BMW research division was formed and a 745i was converted. It had six cylinders with a turbo charger. the first one needed a couple of engineers around to keep it running for more than a few feet.

These days a BMW 750hl can be driven by anyone. As further explained in the BMW press release, the early engines had problems with tanks and external carburation. injecting hydrogen directly into the intake tube caused uncontrolled ignition when the gas contacted hot engine parts but after many hours of researching combustion chamber misfirings, these problems were solved.

Last year workshops and events included:

in 2001, the first california hydrogen filling station was set up at the bmw emisssion control center in oxnard, ventura county.

Some of the workshop topics that were discussed included:

fill up and infrastructure development

construction of supplier-services

correct examination of tanks, fittings and connectors and handling the inevitable accidents that cars get into.

hydrogen training for police and fire officials.

BMW has certainly done their homework and poured millions of dollars into the development of these vehicles. They have also highlighted some of the countries ready to take advantage of it, in particular england, china and canada. BMW's press release went on to describe China as having abundant resources of solar, developed wind energy and other easy means of mass producing hydrogen. They also have a deep understanding of their increasing energy needs.

England has ample wind and tidal energy sources that are being developed. Both technologies are well suited for hydrogen generation. England also has excess engine manufacturing capacity. british companies produce about 1.5 million engines per year but capacity is rated at just over 3.5 million.

Britain, in alliances with bmw and others, could begin turning out more than 2 million hydrogen engines per year.

Canada has enormous hydro electric resources (about 341 terawatts per year). this figure is more than half the amount of power needed to fuel all road vehicles in germany as an example. Other smaller hydro, solar and wind energy projects are underway to demonstrate hydrogen production.

There are other notable areas of the world that are well suited for hydrogen production. in Dubai, right in the center of the sun belt and a large oil emerate, emphasis is being placed on producing hydrogen from the sun with solar cells.

BP and other oil companies have long taken notice of the hydrogen world. bp produces about 1200 tons of hydrogen daily, providing energy for prototypes and manufacturers worldwide. most of bp's hydrogen is derived from natural gas, a finite resource that also produces co2.

BP also just happens to be the worlds leading supplier of solar cells. hydrogen production through electrolysis is ideal. BP's calculations have shown that the production of hydrogen can be cost competitive with gasoline".

H Power

H Power was one of the many companies represented at this years conference. one of their products is the h core 500 watt 48 vdc hydrogen power generator.

The unit is modular and stackable, allowing higher power and voltage demands when coupled to an inverter. Nominal power rating is 500 watts, start up - full load= 5 minutes maximum. Another product being tested from h power is the residential cogeneration unit (rcu).

the RCU uses either prophane or natural gas and is composed of four major subsystems.

a) fuel processor converts prophane or natural gas to hydrogen.

b)fuel cell combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce d.c power and hot water

c) batteries and inverter convert d.c. power to a.c. and batteries handle peak and start up loads.

d) heat recovery uses a liquid to liquid heat exchanger to dissipate heat from the fuel cell and produce hot water for domestic use.

the system can operate as a grid connected unit, or off grid.

voltage output=120/240 or 100/200-30 vac for world wide applications- 50/60 hz. the unit is still being tested and is not available yet.

power rating=4.5 kilowatts from fuel cell

stuart energy

Stuart Energy was at the conference demonstrating their hydrogen refueling station. this canadian company is a world leader in developing refueling and infrastructure systems to enable hydrogen cars to be refueled safely and easily.

Savannah River Technology Center

Another interesting fuel cell vehicle on display was the deere gator. This industrial vehicle uses a fuel cell designed by Teledyne Energy Systems. the project team included the u.s. department of energy, savannah river technology center, south east technology center, deere and company, teledyne energy systems, york technical college and the university of south carolina.

The vehicle looks like a large lawn tractor and uses a teledyne fuel cell and a metal hydride for fuel storage developed by Savannah River Technology Center and is employed as a metal "foam" encased in canisters that look like small mufflers or catalytic converters. The motor is a 48vdc series wound and the power output of the fuel cell is rated at 8.5 kilowatts. the mission was to develop a light industrial vehicle employing a fuel cell power system and metal hydride storage.

Besides BMW's hydrogen combustion engines, natural gas and prophane are expected to be important bridge fuels to help pave the way. until the hydrogen fuel cell refilling infrastructure is fully in place these fuels will offer a cleaner alternative and are expected to be the first fuels used for home and vehicle fuel cells. While these technologies have taken years to develop, the excitement these days is palpable. slowly over the next several years they will make their way into our homes, computers, phones and cars becoming firmly entrenched in the emerging hydrogen economy.

excerps from the BMW press release

© copyright 2002

author - keith anderson

© copyright 2002