Buses, Trains and Automobiles: The Hydrogen Economy Is Coming To Town PDF Print E-mail

by Tina Casey on Friday, Mar 2nd, 2018


 The low carbon hydrogen economy of the future has been off to a slow start, but signs of a rapid acceleration are beginning to emerge. In the latest set of developments, the US Air Force is touting a zero emission renewable hydrogen fuel cell bus as a step toward additional Department of Defense applications, Canada is dropping hints that it would like to be the first country in the world with a full size hydrogen fuel cell passenger train, and the auto world is buzzing about Hyundai’s new Nexo fuel cell electric crossover SUV.


Welcome to the renewable hydrogen world

If you caught that thing about the Air Force and renewable hydrogen, that’s the key to the whole thing. Hydrogen is an abundant, zero emission fuel but it does not exist naturally in a usable state. It must be extracted from something else, and right now that something is primarily fossil natural gas.

The natural gas angle explains why the dream of a low-carbon economy powered by hydrogen has long been dismissed as a kind of sustainability oxymoron.

Fortunately for hydrogen fans, the picture has changed dramatically in just the last few years with the advent of low-cost solar and wind energy.

Low cost renewable energy means that electricity is freed from fossil fuel sources. That opens up the potential for using an electrical current (aka electrolysis) to produce renewable hydrogen by “splitting” water.

Renewable hydrogen from biogas is another sustainable option, but right now it seems that most of the R&D attention is going to water-splitting.

As for why bother producing hydrogen from water when you already have wind and solar energy generating whatever power you need, that’s a good question.

One answer is that hydrogen provides another energy storage option that helps ensure 24/7 power for wind and solar.

Transportation is another angle. Hydrogen can transported with existing pipelines, which could help reduce or eliminate the need for new pipelines and power lines.

It can also be packed into containers and shipped by road. That expands the use options into remote areas where the construction of new pipelines and power lines is not feasible.

Finally, hydrogen fuel cells may provide greater range and more muscle when used in vehicles, compared to batteries. That’s why fuel cells have been popping up in buses and trains as well as military vehicles, long haul trucks and SUVs.


Hawaii is one of several US states with comprehensive programs aimed at growing the hydrogen economy. The Air Force has been exploring fuel cells there in support of the state’s 100% renewable energy goals.

In the latest news, the Air Force is using a fuel cell electric bus to ferry up to 25 passengers around Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. The demonstration-scale project is designed to showcase how hydrogen and fuel cell technology can be applied to the Department of Defense.

The project actually dates back to 2006, when it began with a focus on demonstrating hydrogen compression, storage and dispensing. In 2010 it was revamped to focus more strongly on vehicles, including the use of hydrogen in internal combustion engines as well as fuel cells (fuel cells produce generate electricity through a reaction between hydrogen and oxygen).

Among the hydrogen vehicles involved in the project are an MJ-1E fighter weapons loader and a U-30 aircraft tug.

Here’s the Air Force explaining the benefits of hydrogen in terms of wind and solar grid integration:

In a hydrogen electrolysis unit, water is separated into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity. This hydrogen is collected, compressed and stored for fuel while the oxygen is either released into the air or can be collected and used in other applications. In many cases, excess electricity created during peak production by other renewable sources, such as wind and solar, can be used in this process to reduce cost and provide nearly emission-free fuel for the fuel cells.

The collected hydrogen can then be used in hydrogen fuel cells to create electricity as needed…

Outline for Europeís first waste to methanol plant PDF Print E-mail


 Enerkem teams up with AkzoNobel and Air Liquide to turn rubbish into raw materials

A facility to convert non-recyclable waste into valuable raw materials is being planned at the port of Rotterdam. Canadian company Enerkem, is working with AkzoNobel Speciality Chemicals, and industrial gases group Air Liquide to develop a plant that will convert 350,000 tonnes of waste, including plastics, into 270 million litres of ‘green’ methanol, each year.

Enerkem’s full-scale waste-to-biofuels facility in Edmonton, Alberta

Source: © Curtis Trent

Enerkem’s full-scale waste-to-biofuels facility in Edmonton, Alberta

The consortium says this represents the annual waste of more than 700,000 households and will avoid some 300,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. 

The methanol will be used as a biofuel, and by AkzoNobel to produce dimethyl ether, chloromethane and other chemical intermediaries currently produced from fossil fuel sources. Air Liquide will provide the oxygen, and together with AkzoNobel, the hydrogen required for the reactions. 

Marco Waas, director of research, development and innovation at AkzoNobel’s industrial chemicals business, described the project as ‘a significant step toward implementing a sustainable and circular chemical industry’. He added that the agreement came at ‘a very appropriate time given the current challenges in plastics recycling in Europe.’ Recycling plants are struggling to cope since China banned imports of plastic waste, from January this year. 

The firms will make a final decision on the $200m investment later this year, once permitting and detailed engineering planning are complete. However, Enerkem says there are currently limited support mechanisms to incentivise such sustainable chemistry initiatives: the Dutch government has undertaken to bring forward new policy measures to support the project.

 The plant will be twice the size of Enerkem’s waste to ethanol plant in Edmonton – expected to be at full production later this year. That facility initially produced only methanol to obtain sustainability certification, and to demonstrate purity and process viability to potential European partners. 

Enerkem’s four-step process begins with gasification of the waste. The gasifier contains hot sand at 700°C, steam and very little oxygen, so when it’s added, the waste is converted to carbon monoxide and hydrogen rather than being burnt. The synthetic gas is cooled and ‘scrubbed’ to remove impurities and contaminants. Edmonton’s facility doesn’t use renewable energy, but the heat is recovered and re-used in the gasifier to maintain the fluidity of the hot sand. 

 Enerkem scheme

The syngas is heated again and the carbon monoxide and hydrogen combine at a specified temperature and pressure, in the presence of a copper catalyst. Lastly, the methanol is distilled from the gas.An Enerkem spokesman said the Rotterdam facility would benefit from ‘many small, but important’ process improvements that have been made since the Edmonton plant opened.


Research into the use of methanol as a ship’s fuel is already underway and more initiatives are needed, says the country’s Minister of Shipping and Waterways.

According to The Hindu, Nitin Gadkari made the comments during a ceremony at the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras (IIT-M) to mark the laying of a foundation stone for a national technology centre which will focus on the modernisation of India’s ports and inland waterways.

The Minister noted that the National Institution for Transforming India (Niti Aayog), a government policy think-tank established by the Narendra Modi administration, has already undertaken research into methanol, and he suggested that other institutions, such as IIT-M, could further this work and also look how India could manufacture its own methanol for industrial use.

Looking at the developing role of ports in India, Gadkari noted that the shipping industry had registered increasing profits since the BJP government came to power in 2014 and, he said: ‘This year, we are expecting profits up to ₹7000 crore.’



 09 Feb 2018

Lower investment and space requirements than LNG make methanol attractive, but the cost of bio-methanol is a barrier, according to a new Dutch study into the environmentally friendly fuel.

Over the past year the Maritime Knowledge Center, TNO and TU Delft (with support from the Dutch ministry of economic affairs), have investigated the possibilities of using methanol to cut emissions in shipping. Methanol has comparable environmental performance to LNG, but requires less space and up-front investment.

“It is a clean fossil fuel that is also available worldwide in large quantities,” said project leader Project leader Pieter 't Hart of maritime consultancy Koers & Vaart. "Moreover, the transition from grey to green (renewable) methanol is relatively simple and requires hardly any additional investment for ship owners. However, the cost price of green methanol is still too high.”

Green methanol is also subject to a subsidy system described as ‘vulnerable’ by the report. These subsides mean that green methanol is currently cheaper than marine gas oil, but they are not secure in the long term and offer little security for ship owners.

“If that financial bump can be taken, we’ll make a big leap forward towards zero-emission ships,” said Hart.

The report – which looks at methanol as marine fuel experiences to date – include Waterfront Shipping’s methanol carriers and the ro-pax Stena Germanica - can be downloaded here.

Army exploring uses for fuel cell technology beyond vehicles PDF Print E-mail
February 07, 2018 |
Ashley Tressel

A program using hydrogen fuel cells to reduce a vehicle's detectability has revealed other potential uses for the technology, which the service is exploring. Powering an assault vehicle or a command post are among the possibilities, the project lead with the Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center told Inside the Army.

A demonstration last month in Hawaii proved the system's stealth in a simulated reconnaissance mission pitting the 2nd Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, in humvees against the "enemy" in the General Motors ZH2, a modified Chevrolet Colorado fitted with a fuel cell and electric drive. Lying in wait in the ZH2 was project lead Brian Butrico, who was surprised at how close the cavalry came before they noticed his vehicle hiding in the jungle.

"They had no idea until they literally drove right past us," Butrico said of one drill. "Had we been a real enemy opposition force and had a weapons system, we would have been able to destroy the entire column of humvees very easily before they even saw us."

The ZH2 does not produce any smoke, noise, odor or thermal signature, allowing its occupants to mask their presence in the field.

"Instead of [the enemy] being able to hear us from a kilometer away, they can now only hear us from 50 or 100 meters away, so that allows us a lot of flexibility in where we set up command posts, or also freedom of movement, and allows us greater mobility and areas of approach -- more areas we can operate in without being detected," he said.

Butrico said the Army is "just scratching the surface" of possibilities with this technology and officials are excited by future applications. Kari Drotleff, who is replacing Butrico as project lead, said the service aims to determine the best possible use of the technology.

"We can put this into anything, but is it the right application?" she said.

The 25th ID used the fuel cell to quietly power its tactical operation center, eliminating noisy generators. An extensive modeling simulation by the Army will see how this could work in a larger theater, said Butrico. The service is also toying with the idea of using the technology as an auxiliary power unit on a major combat platform or even equipping soldiers with it as a wearable system to lighten their load.

The Army has already begun work to determine how to produce, store and distribute hydrogen in the field. 

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