Crumb Trail
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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A clever hack.

The basic process, electrolysis, is nothing new: Combine water with an electrolyte, and run current through the solution, forcing the water molecules to split into hydrogen and oxygen gases. But electrolysis-formed hydrogen has long been hampered by the high capital cost of the metals used in the process, around “thousands of dollars per kilowatt,” says Richard Bourgeois, GE’s electrolysis project leader. GE’s breakthrough comes from a proprietary material called Noryl, a highly chemical- and temperature-resistant plastic developed by the GE labs, that lowers the cost of hydrogen production to hundreds of dollars per kilowatt, according to Bourgeois.

Although GE has only built a prototype in their lab, Bourgeois believes that demonstrations can come as soon as the end of next year, and commercialization will follow that. The goal of the project, according to Bourgeois, is to bring down equipment costs enough to take the cost of hydrogen from $8 per kilogram to $3 per kilogram—comparable in energy and price to a gallon of gasoline.

Currently, Hydrogen production is also limited to industrial refineries and agricultural areas, where the gas is produced on-site using methane, says Bourgeois. GE’s system—which, at approximately 10’ x 20’, can fit in a small trailer—could be marketed to smaller-scale industries. And one day, Bourgeois sees a future when drivers fill their hydrogen-fuel-cell powered cars from pumps with built-in electrolyzers. If electricity needed to produce the hydrogen is wind- or solar-generated, the entire process is, essentially, emissions-free.

Thus hydrogen could be seen as an energy storage system for intermittent generation systems such as wind, solar, wave etc.

Nitrogen fertilizer is most often made using methane feedstock for the same reason used to make hydrogen - it's the hydrogen that is of value and methane, CH4, is a very good source. But if the hydrogen could be had from water at an economical price there would be no need for methane.

posted by back40 | 6/06/2006 12:14:00 AM


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