Skip to comments.Hydrogen Production Method Could Bolster Fuel Supplies
Posted on 11/27/2004 10:23:36 PM PST by neverdem
WASHINGTON, Nov. 27 - Researchers at a government nuclear laboratory and a ceramics company in Salt Lake City say they have found a way to produce pure hydrogen with far less energy than other methods, raising the possibility of using nuclear power to indirectly wean the transportation system from its dependence on oil.
The development would move the country closer to the Energy Department's goal of a "hydrogen economy," in which hydrogen would be created through a variety of means, and would be consumed by devices called fuel cells, to make electricity to run cars and for other purposes. Experts cite three big roadblocks to a hydrogen economy: manufacturing hydrogen cleanly and at low cost, finding a way to ship it and store it on the vehicles that use it, and reducing the astronomical price of fuel cells.
"This is a breakthrough in the first part," said J. Stephen Herring, a consulting engineer at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, which plans to announce the development on Monday with Cerametec Inc. of Salt Lake City.
The developers also said the hydrogen could be used by oil companies to stretch oil supplies even without solving the fuel cell and transportation problems.
Mr. Herring said the experimental work showed the "highest-known production rate of hydrogen by high-temperature electrolysis."
But the plan requires the building of a new kind of nuclear reactor, at a time when the United States is not even building conventional reactors. And the cost estimates are uncertain.
The heart of the plan is an improvement on the most convenient way to make hydrogen, which is to run electric current through water, splitting the H2O molecule into hydrogen and oxygen. This process, called electrolysis, now has a drawback: if the electricity comes from coal, which is the biggest source of power in this country, then the energy value of the ingredients - the amount of energy given off when the fuel is burned - is three and a half to four times larger than the energy value of the product. Also, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions increase when the additional coal is burned.
Hydrogen can also be made by mixing steam with natural gas and breaking apart both molecules, but the price of natural gas is rising rapidly.
The new method involves running electricity through water that has a very high temperature. As the water molecule breaks up, a ceramic sieve separates the oxygen from the hydrogen. The resulting hydrogen has about half the energy value of the energy put into the process, the developers say. Such losses may be acceptable, or even desirable, because hydrogen for a nuclear reactor can be substituted for oil, which is imported and expensive, and because the basic fuel, uranium, is plentiful.
The idea is to build a reactor that would heat the cooling medium in the nuclear core, in this case helium gas, to about 1,000 degrees Celsius, or more than 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. The existing generation of reactors, used exclusively for electric generation, use water for cooling and heat it to only about 300 degrees Celsius.
The hot gas would be used two ways. It would spin a turbine to make electricity, which could be run through the water being separated. And it would heat that water, to 800 degrees Celsius. But if electricity demand on the power grid ran extremely high, the hydrogen production could easily be shut down for a few hours, and all of the energy could be converted to electricity, designers say.
The goal is to create a reactor that could produce about 300 megawatts of electricity for the grid, enough to run about 300,000 window air-conditioners, or produce about 2.5 kilos of hydrogen per second. When burned, a kilo of hydrogen has about the same energy value as a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline. But fuel cells, which work without burning, get about twice as much work out of each unit of fuel. So if used in automotive fuel cells, the reactor might replace more than 400,000 gallons of gasoline per day.
The part of the plan that the laboratory and the ceramics company have tested is high-temperature electrolysis. There is only limited experience building high-temperature gas-cooled reactors, though, and no one in this country has ordered any kind of big reactor, even those of more conventional design, in 30 years, except for those whose construction was canceled before completion.
Another problem is that the United States has no infrastructure for shipping large volumes of hydrogen. Currently, most hydrogen is produced at the point where it is used, mostly in oil refineries. Hydrogen is used to draw the sulfur out of crude oil, and to break up hydrocarbon molecules that are too big for use in liquid fuel, and change the carbon-hydrogen ratio to one more favorable for vehicle fuel.
Mr. Herring suggested another use, however: recovering usable fuel from the Athabasca Tar Sands in Alberta, Canada. The reserves there may hold the largest oil deposits in the world, but extracting them and converting them into a gasoline substitute requires copious amounts of steam and hydrogen, both products of the reactor.
The Slimes have plenty of hot air, can we use that?
Are you a speed reader? I just posted it.
Oh baby when they break through on this it will slingshot the USA ahead.
Understand this: unbound hydrogen is energy expensive to produce. People pushing it either don't understand, or understand but don't want the public to understand that hydrogen is NOT an energy source. It's simply a storage medium for energy produced somewhere else.
Like battery technology, if you drop your objection to burning uranium, most of your environmental problems go away, and that has nothing to do with hydrogen. But as soon as you say nuclear power you might as well say black magic voodoo. Because when you say nuclear power, that's what the scientifically illiterate masses (and altogether too many mis-educated scientists) hear.
Harness the "paper of record" as an institutional effort for a patriotic endeavor? Did you start drinking after the previous article?
I'll ping the list in the morning. We'll see if it's still in breaking news.
Doesn't mis-educated scientist qualify as an oxymoron, just like the left likes to use that word to mock military intelligence?
It's out of breaking news already.
I think the article was very clear that hydrogen is not being used as an energy source in the processes described.
What makes hydrogen interesting is that, though it is energy expensive to produce, it compares reasonably well in energy density to other portable fuels. It is more energy dense than electricity from conventional batteries, for example. It is, though, not quite as good as gasoline, but it is not so much worse that performance of hydrogen-fueled vehicles could not be comparable to ICE engines.
Furthermore, even if the hydrogen produced by electrolysis provides only 1/2 of the energy employed to produce it, if electricity is cheap enough to generate then an important step toward economic use of hydrogen can be taken.
Look, I'm as cranky as anyone about hyperbolic liberal worries about "peak oil" and other thinly disguised misanthropy. Still, the possibility of an economical alternative to gasoline for vehicle fuels, an alternative that can be produced in abundance entirely domestically, is so important that it is worth investigating. It's interesting to see the progress being made on the hydrogen front.
Here's a link to Shell's hydrogen page with some interesting information:
Hydrogen is explosive...right??!
This could work. The utility companies have to build enough capacity to handle the peak demand. If they can use that capacity during non-peak time to produce a fuel for vehicles, it just might be feasible.
So is gasoline and natural gas.
The article is clear. Hydrogen is not an energy source from any process that exists on earth (except in thermonuclear weapons). I'm going somewhat beyond the article, because my point is that the buzz about hydrogen is a distraction--probably a deliberate one.
Still, the possibility of an economical alternative to gasoline for vehicle fuels
Perhaps, you aren't clear, however, since you call hydrogen "an economical alternative to gasoline for vehicle fuels." Hydrogen, as the article makes clear, I make clearer, and you acknowledge IS NOT A FUEL. It cannot be an alternative to any fuel. You want to make hydrogen right now, the only way you will be able to do that in quantity is by burning coal. That's it. Now, imagine burning 3.5 to 4 times as much coal as would be required to power a coal powered vehicle, and that's the amount of coal a hydrogen powered car will burn. In addition to burning all that coal, you also have transport and manufacturing problems with a highly explosive gas that you don't have with gasoline, but that's another story for another thread.
The point of the post is: forget about hydrogen, per se. If you're willing to burn uranium, then lots and lots of alternatives open up. Maybe hydrogen included, maybe not. But the point is, we suffer from a lack of common sense, not a lack of unbound hydrogen, or coal, or even energy at all.
Is anyone monitoring the *reduction* in oil requirements due to the country's increasing use of the net to conduct business?
I wish. Unfortunately, there are a lot of scientists who do just fine in their own fields who're tremendously backwards when it comes to understanding nuclear power. For that matter, there are quite a few physicists--some of them nuclear physicists, who oppose nuclear power as well.
Great, then, we're agreed that hydrogen is not a practical fuel in today's world, or even in the near future. Fine.
What's needed, then, is further R&D, with continued funding by the energy companies. First and foremost, we need new nuclear plants, of new, more efficient and safer, designs.
I'm glad we can all agree.
I'll welcome any information on energy R & D you care to post, Timm.
Oops, my #21 should have been addressed to you as well.
Yes, that was the vivid impression I retained after watching the final results of the electrolysis of water. But so are gasoline tanks, natural gas and the dust in wheat silos, IIRC. This technology might be the only way to get over the hump to dependence on just renewable resources. Nothing is guaranteed, but it certainly needs exploration.
The enviro-nuts wants to return to a hunting and gathering society. Their elites couldn't tolerate that state of affairs and survive. This argument needs to be pressed to the max.
I don't say that. What I say is that hydrogen isn't a fuel. It's not a question of practicality, but of definition: a fuel is something you can burn to get energy. If there were accessible unbound hydrogen on earth, it could be a fuel, but there isn't any of that.
Is hydrogen a viable transport mechanism for energy in the future? Yes, I think so. But I think the current buzz over hydrogen is a sales job by people with two separate agendas: 1) people who want to burn more fossil fuel, but want the general public to think hydrogen is an alternative to that and 2) people who want to burn less fossil fuel, and think that once the hydrogen economy is going smoothly they can then push alternative means for generating electricity that are very expensive. Caught in the middle there are many people--I've actually talked to them--who say, well we'll get energy independence and stop global warming and all the bad oil business by using hydrogen fuel. Bzzzzt. No, we won't. Hydrogen doesn't solve those problems.
Listen, I'm all for hydrogen if it gets people to drop their irrational fear of nuclear power. I just don't think it will. And if I know environmentalists, the first thing you're going to hear from them is: you want to generate an explosive gas like hydrogen next to a nuclear reactor? And that's the end of that track...
1) We already have a new generation of newer safer nuclear plants. They just aren't being built in the US.
2) You actually can't make nuclear plants much more efficient--if by that you mean in terms of energy produced per unit of input. The "inefficiency" of nukes cited by environmentalists has to do with the cost / KwH. That cost reflects enormous legal and licensing costs caused by--guess who--environmentalists. It's like the people who argue that capital punishment is cruel because death row inmates are strung out for 10-15 years while neglecting to mention that they're the very people funding the appeals.
"Hydrogen is explosive...right??!"
Right, as many a dunce has learned the hard way when charging or jump starting a vehicle and creates sparks near the battery.
As an automotive battery is charged, it generates hydrogen gas, have a spark or high heat near the battery's vents, and the word is, "ka-boom" from an exploded battery.
That remark could leave a wrong impression. It may not be possible. But because of their overall, relative scientific ignorance, the enviro-nuts still have almost political equality. They can still muster large numbers of scientifically illiterate voters. These dupes would wreak economic havoc trying to ameliorate increased solar radiation if that's the true cause of global warming.
Huh...well, the interest in hydrogen is precisely that it can be a vehicle fuel-- and saying that it is a fuel is perfectly consistent with acknowledging that creating hydrogen on earth requires more energy than is released by that hydrogen.
Anyway, the important point, whatever you want to insist on regarding the semantics of "fuel", is that hydrogen is not a net energy source on earth, because there are no reservoirs of free hydrogen. Yes, yes, yes-- all informed posters on this thread agree. Hydrogen is still interesting, however, because it is, at least in principle, portable. So it can be a vehicle fuel, or, if you prefer, a vehicle "energy storage medium". It is, furthermore, much more promising in energy density than electric batteries (even NiMH batteries, which use hydrogen mated to metal), and, unlike electric batteries, a possible alternative to gasoline.
The economical use of hydrogen does depend on cheap electricity-- that's true. But if the other technical problems with hydrogen's use work out, it would be a significant development that economic vehicular travel would depend *only* on there being a cheap source of electricity. For there are plenty of cheap ways to generate electricity in the U.S., and there will be in the foreseeable future. That would be a contrast to now, when we must deal with the international political problems associated with importing oil. There is also the long term possibility that oil will become more scarce and its price will rise. Then, there are the carbon emissions from ICE engines, which, while grossly overestimated by the left in their harmful influence, would nevertheless be a nice thing to be rid of. There is, after all, the possibility of producing electricity without combustion emissions in the future, through fission reactors, and, perhaps someday, fusion reactors.
So, the possibility of hydrogen-fueled vehicles is certainly worth some R&D money now. That's the point.
That said, I agree that hydrogen is sometimes now used as a political distraction. One suspects, for example, that Bush's advocacy of hydrogen produced by electricity from windmills(!) in his SOTU was to bolster his green credentials, such as they are, as a counterbalance to his desire to do things like drill in ANWR. (I think we should drill there, by the way.)
You may not be implying this, but just for clarification: the oxidation of hydrogen is not a significant energy component in NiMH or NiCd batteries. The energy is obtained from the metal, not the hydrides. Electrolysis in those batteries, is, in fact an unwanted byproduct of overcharging or catastrophic discharge. Excess Cadmium and other technologies are used to bind the excess hydrogen in the electrolyte to the metal, but it is an unwanted artifact, not part of the energy mechanism.
As you're probably aware, neither of these technologies is a state-of-the-art energy density solution. Li-Ion has higher density, and Li-Polymer is higher still, and these storage media don't have the problems that hydrogen has as a storage material.
In the wrong forum (not any IFAIK on FR) this will start the most unbelievable flame war you can imagine...
Hmmmmm .... ping for flame war
why, did a Freeper kill Dr Mallove?
*I* agree with your point binding acceptance of nuclear power and hydrogen (production). Subsequent posters seem to get stuck on hydrogen to the point of failing to acknowlege the difficulties in storage and transport, to the point of 'energy equal to equal amount of gasoline'.
Just this little bump of ignorance and so many problems are solved.
A thread from yesterday was making the point that we had a HUGE AMOUNT OF OIL and were not running out. It was just that some of it would require newer ways of extraction/refining to make it economical to use. And now this story. SHOVE THIS, ECCO CHICKEN LITTLES.
Yes, but not when it's in a fuel cell. You could shoot bullets into one and nothing would happen.
bttt for later read
I've never heard a Freeper killed Dr. Mallove.
I understand Dr. Mallove was a Freeper though.
Taken for what it's worth, this is a great article, especially for the NYT. Not one mention of "the free, limitless supply of Hydrogen that we could all use if the technology weren't being suppressed by Evil Big Oil". Discussions of science, engineering and economics are sorely lacking in popular articles about H2.
An added plus is that the author raises the topic of nuclear power. Unfortunately he chose to interject the word "But" at the outset.
There are many hidden "Gotcha's" involved in using H2 as an energy transport medium. Exposition is good. Thanks for an encouraging article.
Another problem they don't address is that the same people who object to gasoline REALLY object to nuclear waste!
If you are really serious about energy independence we don't need hydrogen or nuclear. Hitler's scientists learned how to make gasoline from coal 60 years ago. It isn't exactly a new breakthrough. We could have all the gas we wanted somewhere around $2.50 a gallon, I would imagine. Which is probably why the Saudis don't want to see the price of their product go up too much more. The fact that this never, NEVER enters the discussion tells you how biased the authors of this rubbish are.
FReepmail me if you want on or off my health and science ping list.
"Only the Sun can cause global warming.
Extinguish the Sun NOW!"
"Earth OUT OF the solar system!"
(Now THERE's a call for 'spaceship earth')!
"Solar power IS nuclear power!"
Ok, I'm being a little picky, but the orbiter for the space shuttle has three main engines which burn liquid hydrogen. In this sense, it IS a fuel although perhaps not a very reasonable one for most uses.
That says it all.....
Sounds about as practical as the wireless extension cord.
Let's just say that hydrogen and oxygen share a fatal attraction.
That depends on the rate of charge. A properly maintained battery produces very little hydrogen. The electrical energy goes into the electrolyte. Now if you are boiling your battery dry. . . . . . . .
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.