Current and Future Energy Conversion Methods
Hydrogen does not exist in pure form on earth. However, hydrogen is the “fuel of the future”, because the combustion or chemical recombination of hydrogen and oxygen leaves pure water as its product. Hydrogen is, therefore, seen as an almost perfectly clean means of chemical energy storage, particularly for transportation purposes (but also for residential, commercial, and industrial applications). Most hydrogen (approximately 95%) produced today uses petrochemical feedstocks which are less expensive than electricity but result in greenhouse gas emissions. However, as new power plants utilizing wind, solar, hydro or nuclear sources become operational, hydrogen will increasingly be generated by electrolysis.
It is clear that future vehicles will require hydrogen as the energy storage medium, not as a fuel in the sense that gasoline, diesel, and other fuels derived directly from naturally occurring materials (oil, natural gas, and coal) are. While hydrogen can be manufactured from fossil fuels, doing so is less efficient and releases more greenhouse gases than manufacturing hydrogen from solar and nuclear generated electric power. Cost studies lead us to believe that water electrolysis will be a competetive means of producing hydrogen if operating efficiency and costs can be improved and electric power costs remain reasonable. We have therefore focused our research and development efforts on improved membrane performance and reducing electrolyzer stack costs.
In 2008, we demonstrated our DSM™ membrane on a 160 cm2 active area cell and have met the DOE’s electrolyzer performance targets for 2012. We are now developing methods of manufacturing this supported membrane in a cost-effective manner.
Giner’s research and development engineers and scientists are actively engaged in many facets of current and future energy production and automotive applications of electrochemical technologies. Our laboratory-scale hydrogen generators are providing carrier gas without the expense and complexity of bottled gas. Giner technologies from direct methanol fuel cells to gas sensing technologies to centralized production of hydrogen using high process temperatures and SO2 depolarized electrolysis to on board electrolyzer systems for refueling at night are all under active investigation. It has even been suggested that fuel cell vehicles can be connected during daylight hours to act as peak shaving power plants and then recharged at night using a plug in model with on-board lightweight electrolyzers in a giant regenerative fuel cell that incorporates the entire electrical grid.
Our electrochemical supercapacitors offer a superior means of storing energy in regenerative braking applications for today’s hybrid vehicles as well as future fuel cell cars.
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