Peter Hildebrandt 2015-04-20 17:28:37
Hydrogen is all around us—actually the most abundant element in the universe—so it’s only natural that any energy system that uses hydrogen would be a good fit. Though the tragic fate of the hydrogen-filled air ship Hindenburg may come to mind, hydrogen is actually quite safe when stored and used properly. Work on converting cars to run on hydrogen in order to curb greenhouse gas emissions and use less fossil fuel has been something many have focused on. However, hydrogen fuel cells are a good fit for a wide variety of uses. Hydrogen fuel cells use something called a Protonic Exchange Membrane (PEM) sandwiched between platinum sheaths. This allows hydrogen molecules to split with electrons traveling around in a circuit; water is the waste product. Today, much of our hydrogen is used as a component for fertilizer, in the oil refining process, the medical industry, and in food processing. Today, natural gas is a so-called bridge technology to cleaner sources of hydrogen for the future. According to the National Center for Hydrogen Technology, hydrogen can be exceptionally competitive. Looking ahead to the future, many believe the ultimate energy source is going to be hydrogen. There are lots of ways to make this simplest of our elements. In electrolysis, hydrogen is derived from water as the chemical bonds between hydrogen and oxygen are broken down, with oxygen vented as a waste product. The hydrogen is captured while a dryer removes the remaining moisture. Gas comes out at 150 psi before it’s compressed to 6,000 psi and placed in storage tanks. From those tanks it’s able to be diverted. Hydrogen can be derived from fossil fuels, including natural gas. Ninety percent of today’s hydrogen comes from fossil fuel, including coal which can yield hydrogen through gasification, creating liquid hydrogen. Coal has the potential to create a great amount of hydrogen. One place where the potential of hydrogen power was explored early on was in the space program: they used liquid hydrogen. In the world today, greater than 50 million tons of hydrogen are consumed; approximately one-fifth of that amount is consumed by the United States. Looking ahead, hydrogen has potential for putting energy back onto the grid or transportation. Costs will come down as the technology is developed and accepted and then eventually demanded by the public. Hydrogen at some point will become competitive. Going Greener and Grid-Less Companies such as Altergy are moving to design systems without using exotic materials which must be obtained in far off locations. They are also getting costs down by using low-cost materials. They can be controlled remotely from distant locations, come on in five seconds, and have intelligence through the use of computers to keep a watch on activities on the grid. Altergy—a Folsom, CA, fuel cell company—has deployed a fleet of Freedom Power fuel cell systems, which have now surpassed 20 million hours of field operation. While Altergy’s Freedom Power Systems provide long run times, a small footprint, low weight, long life, low maintenance, low noise, and the lowest up front capital cost and lowest total cost of ownership, their most important feature is reliability. Critical power applications such as telecommunications demand continuous power. Altergy’s product eliminates the need for batteries and generators to provide the reliability and continuous power that customers demand. “We are very proud of our products, this milestone, and the talented team that has made it possible to provide these products and reliability to our customers,” says Eric Mettler, Altergy president and CEO. “The Freedom Power products we manufacture provide freedom from the grid, freedom from foreign oil, freedom from traditional energy solutions, freedom from batteries, and freedom from pollution, and are in sum changing the way the way the world gets its power.” Working With Hydrogen Linde Group, a company with a long history in early refrigeration technology and the use of gases such as oxygen, has now moved into working with hydrogen and being as green as possible. In Quebec, they are producing hydrogen through the abundant hydroelectric power in the region. Ninety-seven percent of their hydrogen produced is from green sources. The hydrogen is then stored and transported in steel cylinders, stainless steel tube trailers, or as liquid hydrogen in large amounts. Hydrogen is actually very safe in cars, as there are numerous safety standards in place for dispensing hydrogen. Also, if any hydrogen ever were to leak, it’s lightweight, which means that it vents, escapes, and mixes with the atmosphere very quickly. Even with the Hindenburg disaster, the hydrogen burned extremely quickly before it was absorbed into the surrounding air. The diesel fuel, however burned off for a much longer period of time. It makes sense for the world be heading to a so-called “Hydrogen Economy,” since the element is the most commonly occurring element in the world. Today’s gasoline filling stations have actually had any safety features “grandfathered” in over time. Hydrogen dispensing equipment already meets safety standards. Dispensing Hydrogen . . . Safely Air Products and Chemicals Inc., in Allentown, PA, has critical dispenser features such as valence with gas detection sensors for immediate leak detection, enclosed and shrouded breakaway connectors, reinforced polycarbonate upper door with ergonomic design to provide simple, customer-friendly user interface and energy-efficient display panel with LED backlighting for clear visibility of display in all lighting conditions. All displays are equipped with clear, hard-coated sacrificial lenses for increased durability and extended life. The system’s debit payment system and 5.7-inch color LED display with on-screen training instructions for first-time users go beyond what the typical gas station today may have. But the durable EPP/TDS keypad, credit card reader, and emergency stop button and operating instructions may make users feel they are using equipment not too different than what they are used to when fueling their gasoline-powered vehicles. Other features include H70 and H35 unit price displays, unique fueling pressure selection buttons with no moving parts for durability, lower door assembly, and a radio frequency identification detector reader for vehicle identification and communications. The dispenser’s universal metal nozzle boot is durable as are the protective jackets over hoses. The SmartFuel H70/H35 hydrogen dispenser incorporates a wide range of design and safety codes. Kraus Global is a German dispenser manufacturer which does 80% of its business outside of the United States. Hydrogen gas for vehicles is not pumped as with gasoline, but moves through pressure differentiated valves that allow gas to flow. A mass flow meter is used to sense the flow of molecules. Those involved with both the vehicles and the hydrogen station technology generally agree that a lack of vehicles and a lack of stations is slowing down large scale development of the technology. Into the Future Joan Ogden is director of the Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways Program, Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis. As Ogden points out, there are zero emissions from the tailpipe of a hydrogen car. “These vehicles have been under development a long time,” she says. “Now the fuel cell can be placed under the hood of a car, and car manufacturers have put a lot of time and money into perfecting the technology as it continues to be developed over the next couple of years. “Hydrogen refueling infrastructure is still a challenge,” she adds. “Unlike gasoline, we don’t have hydrogen at every corner fuel station. We need to figure out that infrastructure. One hydrogen infrastructure possibility is a cluster strategy enabling people to refuel quickly at a nearby station. This would work well in areas that are more populated.” Early on, it will be difficult for hydrogen to compete as it will be offered in relatively small quantities at small stations. Government support has been needed to build the early infrastructure, and in 5 to 10 years, the network should build up enough so that it is self-sustaining, as well as economically viable. Fleets of hydrogen vehicles introduced regionally in selected cities along with a network of stations would be one plan of action that may be used. “At that point consumer acceptance can be gauged,” says Ogden. “In time, it will be very exciting and we can see how consumers react to these vehicles, how they are adopted, and how all of this progresses. The whole enterprise has never been this serious or focused as it is now in bringing out hydrogen fuel cells to attempt to meet our transportation needs.” Moving Forward Doosan Fuel Cell manufactures and markets a 400-kW fuel cell power system for commercial and industrial applications in the US and South Korea. The Doosan PureCell Model 400 combined heat and power system has more than 11 million hours of fleet field operation. “Our technology is known for reliability, with a 10-year cell stack life, 98% uptime, and a low service cost,” explains Kent McCord, Doosan, director of marketing strategy. Stationary fuel cells utilize natural gas to generate hydrogen in a self-contained process with low greenhouse gas emissions. Says Kent, “Doosan has installed over 100 PureCell systems in the US and South Korea. The system’s proven 98% reliability gives customers peace of mind that when the grid fails, they’ll have clean, continuous onsite power to rely on.” Doosan solutions provide clean power generation. “A Doosan fuel cell combines hydrogen fuel and oxygen to produce electricity, heat, and hot water. It operates without combustion, so it’s virtually pollution free. Many Doosan customers rely on their fuel cells to reduce their carbon footprint as an integral part of their sustainability initiatives.” “The Doosan PureCell system’s high efficiency, up to 90% overall, and scalability make it a smart choice as a standalone unit or as part of a multi-megawatt facility. Market applications include healthcare, hospitality, data centers, manufacturing, mixed-use real estate, and other energy-intensive facilities with continuous baseload power and thermal energy requirements,” he says. “The first continuous-energy commercial fuel cell was introduced by United Technologies in the early 1990s. Since that time, there have been continuous product enhancements to achieve performance efficiencies and cost reductions that benefit our customers’ bottom line. Our R&D efforts today are focused on two objectives: first, continued cost reduction through advanced technologies such as nano-material catalysts and electrolytes and advanced carbon composites such as grapheme, and second, expansion of product capabilities including microgrid energy applications, multi-megawatt solutions, and products for new global markets.” “There are multiple technologies for fuel cells, including mobile hydrogen fuel cells for cars and forklifts, and stationary fuel cells for cell tower backup power. Our fuel cell solutions are specifically designed for large commercial and industrial facilities. They run on widely available and affordable natural gas, can operate 24/7, and generate both electricity and useful heat,” says McCord. Though Doosan is an established leader in centralized power generation, the company wants to expand into distributed power generation. “What everyone is talking about in the utility world is the concept of large centralized power plants being replaced by distributed energy generation—onsite power generation at the customer’s location, right where it is being used,” he says. Doosan is committed to providing highly reliable, high-performance energy solutions that customers can trust. “With our leading fuel cell technology we are pursuing our objective to provide customers with a clean, reliable, and cost-effective power source, now and into the future,” he adds. A Great Fit Nuvera’s mission is to create and develop innovative clean energy technology solutions, to design and develop power systems focused on customer needs, and to manufacture, market, and service power system products delivering superior value to customers. Nuvera hydrogen supply systems and fuel cell technology work in the areas of logistics, automotive, and aerospace. The company’s hydrogen generation technology is suited to provide a cost-effective source of hydrogen for multiple applications in the 25- to 250-kg-per-day range. Nuvera was formed in April 2000 with 10 years of fuel cell stack technology developed through a wealth of knowledge, know-how, and expertise in the areas of chemical reactor design, electrochemistry, and system integration. The PowerTap has been a good fit for making hydrogen more cost-effective for Golden State Foods (GSF), a leading Food Manufacturer now benefiting from a Small Fuel Cell Forklift Fleet. On November 3, 2014, GSF, a global food manufacturer and distributor to companies such as Starbucks, Taco Bell, Chick-fil-A, and Arby’s, received a Nuvera PowerTap station at its new 158,300 square-foot regional headquarters and logistics center in McCook, IL. This facility will serve over 460 McDonald’s restaurants throughout the Midwest. GSF is using a hydrogen-powered fuel cell forklift fleet to enable material handling efficiencies that deliver value to McDonald’s. Hydrogen is also part of GSF’s sustainability initiative, which includes meeting LEED Gold Certification standards and integrating green logistics processes. The GSF facility will consume less than 50 kg of hydrogen per day for 39 fuel cell forklifts (11 Class 2 standup reach lift trucks and 28 Class 3 rider pallet trucks). “The big news at the GSF operation is that onsite hydrogen generation from steam methane reforming enables the fuel cell forklift market for smaller fleets using 100 kg of hydrogen per day or less,” says Gus Block, Director of Marketing at Nuvera. “Delivered hydrogen supply has difficulty competing at this scale—and this scale represents the needs of the majority of the market.” Fuel cells overcome the challenges of lead-acid batteries: lost floor space due to battery storage and charging rooms, logistical inefficiencies of battery switching, and increased truck maintenance associated with battery voltage decay. GSF and McDonald’s are reaping all these benefits, in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and providing a cleaner environment in the workplace. On May 16, 2014, a PowerTap generator went live at Ace Hardware’s new state-of-the-art Retail Support Center in West Jefferson, OH. This is the second facility for Ace that is equipped with a Nuvera PowerTap PT-50 onsite hydrogen generator and fueling solution. The system produces and dispenses up to 50 kg per day of high-purity hydrogen to service a fleet of 35 fuel cell powered reach trucks and 36 fuel cell pallet jacks running a single 10-hour shift, five days a week, plus a floor scrubber. The investment is expected to result in electrical consumption savings for Ace of 330,115 kWh annually by avoiding the need to charge a battery-powered fleet. The PowerTap hydrogen supply equipment is located on a concrete pad outside of the facility. Indoor floor space normally occupied by the battery room is dedicated to productive use. As demonstrated at Ace’s first fuel cell forklift installation in Wilmer, TX, Ace hopes to enjoy improved operational productivity from its fuel cell forklift fleet, based on vehicle range extensions of 300% or more, full-power consistency in operational voltage, and refuel times under five minutes offered by fuel cell versus battery-powered fleets. “The implementation of a hydrogen fuel cell-based application for our material handling equipment advances Ace’s efforts to use clean energy,” says Dave Forte, Director of Distribution Support and Engineering at Ace Hardware. “Using Nuvera’s PowerTap equipment to generate hydrogen from natural gas and city water, puts us on track to reduce carbon dioxide emissions caused by material handling equipment by 70 tons within a year.” The US Department of Energy (DOE) selected Nuvera to enable the hydrogen dispenser solution to happen. Development of economical hydrogen production and delivery technologies, in tandem with zero emissions vehicle (ZEV) initiatives among 10 states, is a key enabler for the commercialization of fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). The DOE recently selected Nuvera to receive $1.5 million in order to help achieve this goal through the design and demonstration of an intelligent high-pressure hydrogen dispenser for FCEV fueling. Challenges associated with current hydrogen delivery systems include cost, inaccurate metering, and easily damaged components. Using its experience across the entire hydrogen value chain—from generation, purification, compression, storage, and delivery of hydrogen to its use in fuel cell systems—Nuvera is developing a reliable, low-cost “intelligent” dispenser. The activities to be undertaken by Nuvera under the DOE award include testing radio-based vehicle-to-dispenser communication systems, the use of components with demonstrated reliability, and mass flow meters with improved zero-calibration and temperature compensation to improve hydrogen metering accuracy. Nuvera has previously conducted successful dispenser demonstrations and currently operates the first and only hydrogen fueling station for automotive use in Massachusetts. In December 2014, Nuvera Fuel Cells Inc. was acquired by NACCO Materials Handling Group Inc., the operating company of Hyster-Yale Materials Handling Inc. The acquisition marks a milestone in Nuvera’s commercialization of clean energy solutions. Hyster-Yale Materials Handling, a leading lift truck manufacturer, intends to begin rapid development of Nuvera’s fuel cell technology across large parts of the Hyster and Yale product line. In so doing, Hyster-Yale believes it will become the first major lift truck company committed to full deployment of fuel cell motive power and onsite hydrogen generation and supply solutions for the material handling market. Nuvera’s PowerTap equipment provides small- and large-scale hydrogen fuel supply for fuel cell powered industrial vehicles. The Hyster-Yale/Nuvera union will provide forklift fleet customers with increased power options for electric trucks and a single-source hydrogen solution. These options will accommodate aftermarket retrofit solutions for any brand electric powered lift truck in the market today. Where Quiet Is Critical At Toro, it has been discovered that customers want quieter, lighter, smarter machines for manicuring greens, which are often nestled amid landscaped homes. Therefore, golf maintenance needs to be done early in the morning and quiet equipment is critical. Fuel cells are the answer to this dilemma. The same tasks that have always been done in golf course grounds management can still be done with the new Toro fuel cell equipment. Differences with the machinery include those with component sizes and different weights. Repackaging is done in addition to the fact that the parts need to be protected from the weather and environment. This equipment has a PEM, as with other fuel cell powered vehicles. This is a good fit for the landscaping industry, according to Jack Gust, chief engineer with Toro. “Using the fuel cell technology means they are compact, lightweight, start up fast, and follow loads very quickly.” Compressed hydrogen typically operates at 5,000 psi stores in tanks. A bladder is used inside an aluminum tank. Hydrogen is clean to use, gives off water as a waste product, and its operation actually involves fewer moving parts. Hydrogen is safe when used properly, with training in its use being important. Compressed hydrogen is great for startup in an operation using hydrogen fuel cells. BE Peter Hildebrandt writes on engineering and scientific subjects. SIDEBAR Brewery Going Green Ken Grossman, president of Sierra Nevada Brewery, wanted conservation of energy and more efficiency to be a top priority for his company. A brewery has power needs that are 24/7. In addition to energy efficiency, Grossman wanted clean air emissions. They have four 250-kW units, which don’t need a separate source of hydrogen. Internal processes refine the hydrogen out of the feed gas. The system is fed either biogas or natural gas. The firm’s heat recovery boilers are manufactured by Cain Industries, recovering some 1.25 BTUs of steam returned to the brewing process. “Having distributed energy means that there is no loss through power lines,” adds Grossman. “Our cogeneration is 70% efficient—close to double the average of for what a fuel plant is putting out. Pipes also collect CO2 from fermentation. This gas is then compressed and stored here onsite.” The brewery also has a huge solar array on the roof of the plant, their own herd of cattle with manure produced being composted, and put to use fertilizing their own field of hops. They treat their own wastewater. A digester produces methane. Hydrogen is a great fit for sites needing heat, energy, and electricity on a continuous basis. Those uses could be casinos or hotels. “We have had this system for 10 years now,” says Cheri Chastain, Sustainability Manager with Sierra Nevada Brewery. “This system is generation one for fuel cell energy. Our service maintenance expires in May 2015, and we are currently exploring what we are going to be replacing them with. We have biogas recovery onsite, and we are using that for our boilers, while our natural gas is going into our fuel cells.” The technology has certainly grown in the time since Sierra Nevada Brewery installed their system. “However, I think FuelCell Energy has learned a lot more than we did,” explains Chastain. “Their systems have changed a lot since ours was installed, and they’ve made some great improvements in their systems’ efficiency and outputs. Looking ahead to the future, I’m not sure that we will be going with fuel cell technology for our system upgrade. “This is one of the options we are considering, but we’re not sure we’ll end up going with it. There are pros and cons to each system, and we’re in the process right now of weighing those out. We’re definitely looking for something with high combined electrical and thermal efficiencies, as well as something that is reliable and can help us carry through utility outages easily.” At their North Carolina plant, they are using a combination of solar power and biogas-fueled microturbines. Sierra Brewery doesn’t have any official mentoring relationships, but are always happy to share their experiences with other businesses interested in talking with them. Chastain thinks it’s important for folks to know that a diverse approach to energy management will work best in most instances—there isn’t a one-stop solution that fits everyone. “Not everyone will be able to benefit from the same generation technologies, and in some cases, a combination of technologies will work best. For example, we currently utilize our fuel cells to produce our baseload power and use solar to pick up peak load power. I like to emphasize how important energy efficiency is to any energy management strategy—one can generate all the green power in the world, but if it isn’t used efficiently, its purpose has been defeated.”
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