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Evolution of Energy Storage and Future Role of Hydrogen:

image credit: © Alexander Kirch | Dreamstime.com

This item is part of the Special Issue - 07/2020 - Energy Storage, click here for more

In today’s world, there’s an ever growing need for energy storage because a greater percentage of electricity is expected to come from renewable sources in the future. Wind and solar power have made great strides in the past decade but are still intermittent sources of energy which depend on the availability of wind or sun. Thus, these sources require backup energy as well. Part of the demand growth in natural gas came not just from greater supply and lower pricing due to new technologies such as fracking, but also from greater demand resulting from the growth of intermittent renewable wind and solar energy. However, moving forward, cleaner energy alternatives are being demanded in power applications which include backup energy storage power or other applications such as vehicles powered by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells. Similar to technology advances made in wind and solar, the battery energy storage sector has also evolved resulting in lower cost energy storage.

The application of clean burning hydrogen as a source of energy has been gradual because of high costs associated with production and distribution. Hydrogen produced from Steam Methane Reforming (SMR) has been the most cost effective methodology but it is generated from fossil fuels. About 95% of the hydrogen produced today is from SMR which is often referred to as grey hydrogen. The most cost effective SMR hydrogen comes with large scale production which also necessitates expensive transportation costs which add to the delivered price. The only viable clean commercial source of hydrogen in the past has come from electrolysis which is significantly more costly to produce. In recent years, there have been efforts to make SMR cleaner. Blue hydrogen, for example, is an SMR process where carbon emissions are captured and stored. Also, billions of dollars have been pledged to find ways to lower the cost of electrolysis with improved catalysts or cheaper sources of input electricity from unused renewable energy, but such improvements in electrolysis will be gradual and limited due the basic technology itself. Although hydrogen can be a great source of standalone power and has more benefits than battery powered vehicles, such as longer distances and short fill-up times, its overall costs have prevented rapid widespread adoption except in cases where these added benefits outweigh the extra fuel costs, which can be found in long-haul trucking, fleets, buses or trains. In regard to forklifts, many owners have transitioned from fossil fueled vehicles to battery operated units to minimize risk and emissions. Others, such as Amazon and Walmart have taken it another step forward by converting from battery units to hydrogen fuel cell forklifts to increase productivity through the avoidance of long downtimes to recharge battery units and the loss of cranking power over time during normal operations.

In the international shipping industry, which has been responsible for a large portion of global CO2 emissions, the International Maritime Organization pledged in 2018 to cut emissions by 50% before 2050. To accomplish this, a change needs to be made to sustainable propulsion alternatives with zero or near zero emissions. A non-profit group, Transport & Environment, recently reported that the best way for the shipping industry to decarbonize its operations involves the use of battery power for short distances, hydrogen for medium distances and ammonia for long distance hauls. Batteries were seen as the most cost effective but the need for frequent charging make it less effective for longer distances. Hydrogen is less expensive than ammonia as a fuel but due to hydrogen’s low density, it takes more space to store hydrogen. On a ship, especially in long hauls, extra space for fuel is often limited or at a premium because any area used for storing fuel could have been used to carry additional cargo.

Overall, hydrogen applications as a source of fuel and substitute for energy storage have been growing steadily despite the production and delivery cost challenges and the lack of existing infrastructure to facilitate growth and fuel switching. In today’s environmentally conscious world, there is also a growing need for more green hydrogen rather than grey SMR produced hydrogen, but the cost of electrolysis has been the biggest challenge, until now. 

A recently patented (#10,611,633) new technology called magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) Hydrogen has the capability of producing green hydrogen onsite at a cost up to 75% less than the industry standard electrolysis. In the energy balance of the technology, the input energy to create hydrogen from water is a combination of a small amount of electricity and a much larger energy source derived from the chemical reaction, the magnetic component and the special regenerative catalyst. The small amount of electricity is the major cost component in MDH Hydrogen because the other input energies are very inexpensive. Since this technology is modular and small in size with unlimited scalability, hydrogen can now be produced onsite as needed without the need for expensive transportation costs. Because of its modularity, it can act as a substitute for battery energy storage at a lower cost than any battery storage technology existing today. As the production unit can run continuously, there is no intermittency or need to store hydrogen for use in downtimes. In the wind and solar industry, it’s a great improvement on battery energy storage. In the shipping industry, there is no need for extra space to store hydrogen on a ship, making it more economic than batteries or ammonia for short or long hauls, since the technology’s only required input on a continuous basis is pure water. In the transportation industry, it may switch the trend from battery powered passenger vehicles to hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles for all vehicle sizes. In that sense, it may become a real game-changer and even affect the car you drive in the future.

Discussions

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Jul 24, 2020

The patent referenced for "MHD hydrogen" was recently issued to One Scientific, a research company apparently affilitated with the University of Tennessee. I haven't read through the patent to see just how MHD figures into the hydrogen production, but the. process they're talking about is high temperature thermal decomposition of steam.

At a sufficiently high temperature, steam certainly will decompose into hydrogen and oxygen. The problem is that the two gases are intimately mixed, and will recombine back into steam if the temperature is lowered. One Scientific claims to have developed a "micro cyclone" separator that can separate the hydrogen from the oxygen before the temperature is lowered. It's theoretically possible, and if they have something that works well, it might be able to produce hydrogen more efficiently than electrolysis. But it wouldn't be a "small amount" of electricity being used. Unless the process is also burning fossil fuels, electricity would have to be the source for 100% of the energy used to produce hydrogen. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 25, 2020

"But it wouldn't be a "small amount" of electricity being used. Unless the process is also burning fossil fuels, electricity would have to be the source for 100% of the energy used to produce hydrogen."

And if renewables can only generate enough electricity to make a little hydrogen, and natural gas must come to their rescue (in the U.S. it always must), it's more efficient to skip the electricity-making and burn methane gas to heat the water.
Then again, the goal might be to burn as much gas as possible and send the bill to electricity customers. In that case, the least-efficient process is the most lucrative.
Solar and Gas are Best Friends.
Above, Planet of the Humans producer Ozzie Zehner shows where natural gas (methane) is piped in each morning to help maintain the illusion Ivanpah Solar Farm wasn't a complete waste of public money.

Mark Smith's picture
Mark Smith on Jul 27, 2020

Bob,

As I mentioned to Roger, only 10 kwh or electricity is needed to produce 24 kg/day of hydrogen, which makes the technology even less cost than small scale SMR or large scale SMR delivered. No fossil fuels are needed in the process. It's green hydrogen for less cost than grey hydrogen. See details below:

OSI’s unique production process makes hydrogen from high-temperature steam and uses the principles of magnetohydrodynamics (MHD), plasma catalysis, and cyclonic gas separation (MCGS) to generate and separate hydrogen and oxygen gases from pure steam. MHD is defined as the study of the magnetic properties of electrically conducting fluids. In previous years, MHD was typically used to produce higher efficiency in electrical generation but this process was not found to be economical due to the extreme high temperatures of the conducting fluids and overall high costs. OSI uses MHD in a different form at much lower temperatures to produce hydrogen and oxygen as the outputs instead of electricity with unprecedented efficiencies. The fundamental concept behind One Scientific's MHD HYDROGEN™ is the interaction of a low-temperature ionized steam plasma with a magnetic field to generate the potential electromagnetic field (EMF) needed to decompose water into a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen, which is then separated through another new OSI technology - a cyclonic gas separation system. The input energy in this methodology consists of a relatively small amount of electricity needed to generate the high temperature steam plus additional input energy from the reaction, magnetic field and catalyst. A regenerative catalyst is an essential component in the energy balance, without which substantially less hydrogen would be generated.

 

The primary cost is the input electricity (10kwh to produce 1kg hydrogen). This method is unlike any other and is not an incremental improvement on any existing hydrogen generation technology. It demonstrates the world’s most economical methodology for distributed hydrogen generation. The low production costs, small modular footprint, and unlimited scalability of this green hydrogen technology make it truly groundbreaking.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 1, 2020

"....10 kwh or electricity is needed to produce 24 kg/day of hydrogen..."

Mark, electricity is a tiny fraction of the energy required for the process you describe. From where does the energy come to create high-temperature steam and plasma, or to power your cyclonic gas separator?

The Gibbs energy of liquid water at 25C and 1 bar of pressure is −237.13 kJ/mol, thus to disassociate enough water to yield 1 kgH2, using a 100% thermodynamically-efficient electrolyzer, would require 39.4 kWh of energy.

"Please keep in mind this process is not like anything you've ever heard of previously."

Doesn't matter. It's physically impossible to do it with less than 39.4 kWh/kgH2 under those ambient conditions. There are no shortcuts.

Now I see I'm repeating Roger's comments. Practical scientist that he is, Roger has added 15% in losses. From what I understand, that's currently he best efficiency for producing industrial quantities of H2.

"Here, we describe ‘efficiency’ as energy input in kWh per kg of hydrogen output. For commercial technologies (alkaline, PEM, AEM) this energy is supplied in electrical form, with a theoretical minimum electrical energy input of 39.4 kWh/kgH2 (HHV of hydrogen), if water is fed at ambient pressure and temperature to the system and all energy input is provided in the form of electricity. The required electrical energy input may be reduced below 39.4 kWh/kgH2 if suitable heat energy is provided to the system. High temperature electrolysis, such as PEM steam electrolysis and particularly solid oxide electrolysis could have lower operating costs if the electrolyser were co-located with a low cost or waste heat source, than if all the energy were provided through electricity."

Development of Water Electrolysis in the European Union

The next step might be to schedule a consultation with an independent chemical engineer, to get a better number for the energy consumption of your process. Investors take a dim view of exaggerated claims, and could hold your company liable.

Mark Smith's picture
Mark Smith on Aug 4, 2020

Sorry I was busy for a couple days and didn't have time to answer. When I stated that 10 kwh of electricity is needed to produce 24 kg/d of hydrogen, I didn't claim that the energy of 10 kwh is all the energy required to split the water molecules. Unlike electrolysis, the input energy in the MHD process consists primarily of input energy that is not electricity (additional energy originating from the chemical reaction, magnetic field and catalyst), as I mentioned earlier. In the MHD conversion process, in order to obtain optimum results, it requires the optimum balance of pressure (flow), temperature, catalyst and magnetic field. Also, the output energy is composed of both the specific energy of the hydrogen and oxygen. In answer to your question, the 10 kwh is used only to create the high pressure steam used in the process and the cyclonic gas separation system requires no input energy to separate hydrogen from oxygen.

MHD hydrogen is not just a theory but it is demonstrable now in a TRL 6 working pilot. Therefore, there are no exagerated claims resulting from false or inaccurate theories. The working model measures input electricity and output hydrogen and demonstrates that hydrogen can be created much more economically than electrolysis due to the fact that most of the input energy is very inexpensive - all but the input electricity which is only a small fraction of what is used in electrolysis. 

As you mentioned upfront, natural gas has "come the rescue" for many years to create affordable hydrogen, albeit "grey". When I lived in Canada, I was head of the largest natural gas marketing organization in the country, one of the largest in North America with over $1 billion in annual sales, and I believed in the "green" nature of natural gas which was preferrable over oil. One of the major gas utilites in Canada even had the motto "Blue Flame - Green Future". However, in today's world, expections are higher and natural gas is no longer considered "green". Blue hydrogen is an improvement and electroysis is environmentally ideal for the production of green hydrogen but still very expensive. Therefore, One Scientific's green hydrogen through MHD is a major breakthrough that will have significant future implications.   

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 5, 2020

"...the input energy in the MHD process consists primarily of input energy that is not electricity (additional energy originating from the chemical reaction, magnetic field and catalyst)..."

Exothermic chemical reactions usually yield energy in the form of heat, thus burning gas, coal, or oil are great ways to generate electricity. None are "green", however - all produce copious amounts of carbon that quickly combines with oxygen in the atmosphere to make CO2, a greenhouse gas.

Energy doesn't originate from magnetism or catalysts. Magnetism can serve as an energy conduit - its what turns the rotors of an electric motor - but electrical energy (electricity) is required to create the magnetic field.

"...the cyclonic gas separation system requires no input energy to separate hydrogen from oxygen..."

As Roger points out, there are not shortcuts - separating water into hydrogen and oxygen requires a minimal 237.13 kJ/mol input of energy. Based on his description of the process the energy is used to heat water, and with conduction and radiative losses will be vastly less efficient than electrolysis.

A consultation with a chemical engineer is highly recommended.

Mark Smith's picture
Mark Smith on Jul 27, 2020

Thank you for your comments Roger. The "small amount" of electricity needed to produce 24kg/d of hydrogen is only 10kwh. The high temperature steam is relative as it is a low temperature steam plasma. The temperature needed is significantly less than what has been required in the past to create electricity directly using MHD technology. That is partly why is so much more economic. Most of the input energy is not in the input electricity used to generate the steam plasma. That's why much less electricity is needed compared to electrolysis. Perhaps it would help if I explained the process in more detail. Please keep in mind this process is not like anything you've ever heard of previously. It's a completely new technology which includes the cyclonic gas separation system which was also created by One Scientific, Inc. I have witnessed a live demonstration so I know it works. See below:

OSI’s unique production process makes hydrogen from high-temperature steam and uses the principles of magnetohydrodynamics (MHD), plasma catalysis, and cyclonic gas separation (MCGS) to generate and separate hydrogen and oxygen gases from pure steam. MHD is defined as the study of the magnetic properties of electrically conducting fluids. In previous years, MHD was typically used to produce higher efficiency in electrical generation but this process was not found to be economical due to the extreme high temperatures of the conducting fluids and overall high costs. OSI uses MHD in a different form at much lower temperatures to produce hydrogen and oxygen as the outputs instead of electricity with unprecedented efficiencies. The fundamental concept behind One Scientific's MHD HYDROGEN™ is the interaction of a low-temperature ionized steam plasma with a magnetic field to generate the potential electromagnetic field (EMF) needed to decompose water into a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen, which is then separated through another new OSI technology - a cyclonic gas separation system. The input energy in this methodology consists of a relatively small amount of electricity needed to generate the high temperature steam plus additional input energy from the reaction, magnetic field and catalyst. A regenerative catalyst is an essential component in the energy balance, without which substantially less hydrogen would be generated.

The primary cost is the input electricity (10kwh to produce 1kg hydrogen). This method is unlike any other and is not an incremental improvement on any existing hydrogen generation technology. It demonstrates the world’s most economical methodology for distributed hydrogen generation. The low production costs, small modular footprint, and unlimited scalability of this green hydrogen technology make it truly groundbreaking.

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Jul 29, 2020

Hydrogen gas has a specific energy of about 45 kWh per kilogram. If OSI is only using 10 kWh to produce it, where is the rest of the energy coming from? (Magnetic fields and catalysts are not energy sources.)

Mark Smith's picture
Mark Smith on Jul 29, 2020

Roger, 

Thank you for your inquiry. It must be hard to imagine input energy coming from the MHD chemical reaction, magnetic fields or catalyst. After all, this process has never been done previously. I should emphasize that the process, unlike electrolysis, does not require an electrochemical reduction and does not require a sacrifice of carbon as is the case in water-gas-shift or steam reforming. Our theory of where the rest of the energy comes from is assumed to be part of those three components. We don't know how much comes from which source yet except for the input electricity which we can measure at this time. The most important point is that we have a working prototype - TRL6 which demonstrates proof of concept. Therefore, at this time we don't just have a theory to test but actually know that it works (10kwh to produce 24 kg/day) but we don't yet have all the details concerning how it works and where each part of the input energy is sourced. But given the amount of energy needed to split a water molecule, we know that the majority of the input energy is not originating from the input electricty which makes up almost the entire cost since the magnets and catalyst are very inexpensive and long lasting. That's why this technology is such an industry game-changer.

Without the catalyst, the hydrogen produced would be much less. Without the magnetic field, the process wouldn't work. If such additional energy sources sound hard to believe, you could verify the process by witnessing a working demonstration at our facility in Madison, Indiana. After such a verification, as I have also witnessed in person, the only remaining question is how it works with so little input electricity and at such a low cost.

Before I finish, let me give you some additional food for thought. Were you aware that the US military has done research which shows that the efficiency of electrolysis could be doubled with the aid of magnetic fields? I mention it not because our process is any form of electrolysis but to illustrate that perhaps we can't always make assumptions on the energy balance of new scientific technologies based on past models. 

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Aug 4, 2020

MHD is not a chemical reaction. It refers to the way conductive fluids move and interact in the presence of a magnetic field. Most often, the fluid of interest is an ionized gas (i.e., plasma), but it can also be a conductive liquid.

Catalysts are materials that facilitate particular chemical reactions but are not incorporated into the end products of the reaction. In chemical terms, they influence the kinetics of a particular chemical reaction, but can't shift equilibria. They can't supply net energy to the reaction.

It's possible that what OSI is calling a catalyst is not actually a catalyst, but is instead a reactant. I.e. something like a powdered metal that reacts with the oxygen in water molecules, producing hydrogen and oxidized metal. Energy would subsequently be needed to used to regenerate the powdered metal oxide back to powdered metal.

That's in fact one of the known ways to produce hydrogen from water. But the energy required to produce a kilogram of hydrogen that way will be at least as high as the energy needed to do it by electrolysis. There's no shortcut around the conservation of energy.

Mark Smith's picture

Thank Mark for the Post!

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