Hydrogen nano-reactor breakthrough highlights need for energy storage solutions

December 02 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2018   Rating: 2

H2 Molecule Leiden Team

Let's clear up some confusing concepts...

A 'Hydrogen Economy' is an economy driven by electricity. 
A 'Hydrogen' car is a vehicle powered by an electric motor.

H2 is merely a way to store electricity in the form of a chemical bond. Converted in a fuel cell is produces electricity. Simple, but very profound for some market applications that need better energy storage systems.

Why is it hard to talk about hydrogen?  Because the enabling systems do not yet exist in the marketplace.  We still need to advance disruptive solutions for solid state storage and low cost, efficient production systems that tap nanoscale materials design. 

Now we have another example of how new systems can be developed by small teams with bold ambitions.

What happened?
Global Hydrogen, Inc, is a boutique energy innovation firm led by Dr. Linnard Griffin.  GH claims to have developed a hydrogen producing nano-reactor that is less than 5 cubic centimeters (e.g. standard razor blade) and generates hydrogen at a rate of 1.5 cc per minute. [No statement released on scalability of the system]

The Nano Reactor is built around a proprietary nano particle electrolyte and a (low cost, non-precious metal) zinc and metal electrode.  Hydrogen is developed on the surface of a newly-invented nano-nickel electrode that releases hydrogen by reacting to the chemicals when the switch electrically connects the nickel electrode to the zinc electrode.   Unlike other systems the Nano-Reactor produces pure hydrogen, not hydrogen and oxygen.

Why is this important to the future? Energy Storage is a Growth Sector

Global Hydrogen is not General Electric.  This is not a breakthrough at one of the world's largest industrial companies.  But we cannot underestimate the potential of individuals and small teams developing systems at the edges of science (e.g. nanoscale) to generate breakthroughs.

The Global Hydrogen breakthrough taps the power of metals-based hydrogen production.  Whether it can scale and match the performance of other systems, remains to be seen.

What this 'breakthrough' reflects is the nature of disruptive change.

We have not yet tapped the power of nanoscale materials used in catalysts that accelerate hydrogen yielding reactions.   And it would be naive to assume that no disruptiions are ahead.

 

We must focus on energy storage
We have written dozens of posts on the importance of energy storage and continue to believe that it is one of our greatest opportunities for changing the direction of the global economy.


The world needs low cost, energy storage systems that can help to manage utility grids, expand adoption of solar and wind power, accelerate adoption of electric motor vehicles, and help billions of people come online into the age of electricity. 

 

Hydrogen is a great example of an energy system that is mostly mis-understood and mis-represented on both sides.  True believers who say H2 will 'save the planet' overestimate its role as an energy storage system (not a source of energy).  It does not save the world. 

Critics underestimate how valuable (Read: $$$) energy storage is to the world economy.

Skeptics of storing hydrogen via electrolysis (splitting oxygen and hydrogen via electricity) argue that it is wasteful and inefficient

Non-believers ask:
Why would I convert electricity into hydrogen, and then back into electricity?  Why not use a battery or capacitor?

The snarky answer is- If you can use superior batteries, you would already see batteries filling the void of energy storage systems

We don't.   Energy storage is still a problem.

The less sarcastic answer is because hydrogen might offer better cost and performance qualities for some of the most important storage applications.

Another answer would be - 'in the future hydrogen systems will not be wasteful and inefficienct'.  Nanoscale catalysts can lower costs and improve conversion efficiencies to the point where there is minimal loss.  

Being critical of hydogen because it is 'wasteful' also reflects a poor understanding of current commercialized energy systems. 

We are surrounded by wasteful and inefficient energy systems.  In fact, every aspect of the world's energy sector (from electric grids to combustion engines to light bulbs) is wasteful. But they make money, and that is what drives commercialization.

A better question is - does it make sense (and money) to store electricity in the form of hydrogen chemical bonds versus other systems like batteries and capacitors.   This comes down to cost and performance in the most demanding energy storage applications.

Real world examples of the market demand for energy storage systems?

What happens if the main transmission lines are cut outside major metro areas? 
Blackout. How do you store megawatts of power at local substations inside city borders?

What is our greatest national security threat? 
Oil can come from many places.  But electricity streams being disrupted at hospitals, factories, offices and computer server farms - could cause a national meltdown.

Why won't utility providers adopt solar and wind power?
Because these systems cannot offer constant, reliable power until they integrate megawatt scale storage systems to feed grids when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine.

Why won't automakers produce electric drive cars? 
Because there are no viable energy storage systems capabale of matching the power system of the combustion engine.  We need to integrate batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.

Why can't billions of people access energy? 
Because their nations have not connected central power plants to wall sockets? 
What if they could by high density 'packets' of energy at local retail stores?  This is the power of micro-energy storage systems that go far beyond today's batteries.

 

We are glad to see Global Hydrogen continue its efforts to advance hydrogen production systems.  We would welcome an announcement that they have partnered with a larger firm that could confirm and scale their technologies.

Energy storage is a very important piece of our energy puzzle.

Now we must ask ourselves- how far can batteries take us?  What are the legitimate applications for capacitors? 

And is there a space in between for hydrogen fuel cells to grow its market share?

 

 

Story link via PhilD on Twine! (Thanks!)

Press release via Nanowerk

Image Fair Use Leiden Team

The Leiden team has recently measured the conductance of a single hydrogen molecule (Nature 419, 906 (2002)). The figure shows a model of the conducting bridge formed by a hydrogen molecule between platinum electrodes. The graph below it gives in color and height the distribution of electronic states within the hydron atoms and the neighbouring platinum atoms and it are these electrons that are responsible for the electrical conduction.

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