Home hydrogen to spark energy revolution?

George Gu - CEO
George Gu - CEO

An off-grid energy revolution was launched this week with the unveiling of the world’s first domestic hydrogen generator at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Although domestic hydrogen fuel cells are already on the market, their use has been limited by the availability of hydrogen. They have depended on the supply of bottled industrially produced hydrogen, or metal hydride canisters to make them work.

The ‘Hydrofill’ which can fit on a desk top is a hydrogen refuelling and storage device that plugs into any available power source –mains electricity, solar panels or wind turbine.

Manufactured by Singapore based Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies, it automatically extracts hydrogen from its water tank by means of electrolysis  and stores it in a solid form in small refillable cartridges. The cartridges contain metallic alloys that absorb hydrogen into their crystalline structure. The cartridges then release the hydrogen at low pressures, which claims Horizon, addresses many of the worries about storing hydrogen at high pressure.

They can be used to recharge fuel cells in hydrogen cars or to run domestic electrical devices.

Horizon claims that the new product could kick start an energy revolution. Fuel cell technology, it points out, can greatly improve the usability of many battery or engine-powered devices, and create the possibility of lower cost electric cars that drive longer distances and recharge instantly.

It may even eliminate completely the need for large-scale fuelling infrastructure investments. “We no longer need to rely on nationwide networks of hydrogen fuelling stations to enable large-scale fuel cell commercialization,” said founding partner Taras Wankewycz. “Horizon is initiating a transition that places consumers in the driving seat. Thanks to our innovation each household can gradually become a major part of tomorrow’s hydrogen fuel supply infrastructure.”

The manufacturer says this system is the most efficient storage method for hydrogen there is. It claims that it has a higher “volumetric energy density” than even liquid hydrogen. The cartridges are effectively batteries but unlike conventional batteries, they store more energy, are cheaper, and do not contain any environmentally-harmful heavy metals.

Horizon is clearly a company striving to make hydrogen power usable. It is best known for its hydrogen powered toy cars which became the world’s best selling commercial fuel cell product when launched in 2006. But the company already makes the Minipak, a palm-sized hydrogen fuel cell device for ANY electronic product requiring up to 3W of power. Its DC power output is 2.5W (5V, 400mA), delivered through standard micro-USB port and a multi-choice cable.

It also makes a rechargeable refillable solid-state hydrogen cartridges which it sells under the Hydrostik marque. When the hydrogen generator, cartridges and fuel cells are used together, and powered by renewable energy they make an autonomous,  sustainable, low impact energy source.

Hydrogen has been touted as a possible solution to global warming ever since 2002 when the then Secretary of Energy, Spencer Abraham, announced that hydrogen produced from renewable resources can provide unlimited energy with no impact on the environment.

But its development has been stymied firstly by the low energy content per unit of weight and by the problems of transporting, storing and filling containers with the highly explosive substance. In gas form, a volume of 238,000 litres of hydrogen gas is needed to replace the energy capacity of 20 gallons of gasoline. But the real killer has been the huge investment in infrastructure required to produce large quantities of hydrogen and the inefficiency of production processes.

10 Responses

  1. I found this looking for a story of a guy who did just what Ken mentioned. He powered his house with solar and wind power, the extra being converted into hydrogen for his car. He developed it all himself. I read it a few years ago, tracking the story now is REALLY difficult.

    We have to find a solution soon…

  2. Not much of an energy revolution as long as it’s powered by mains.

    The real revolution is not in the hydrogen but in independent/alternative power sources such as solar panels or wind turbine.

    Hydrogen can be useful to store energy, including for mobile use. But it remains to be seen if it’s the most efficient solution.

    I am interested in collecting the most market ready technologies to test, and produce results on a live off-grid fuel cell backed renewable energy system in Ibiza, where there is plenty of sun. Obviously the sun energy needs to be stored through longer cycles than battery so save using fossil fuels. I would like to power a 10KWH/day house. There is still a fair amount of sun in winter, but intermittent gen use would be necessary. Can this storage system keep enough fuel to power a large fuel cell for a few hours a day? Can large tanks be produced to store hydrogen, produced in summer, through to winter? Also, I would love to hear peoples ideas for their favorite fuel cell product, hydrogen production and storage systems as contenders for this trial. Bear in mind that this system needs to power a comfortable family home, not a hermit house or just a laptop.

    The goal is to prove such a system, and publish the results to give the public confidence in such a system, prove viability and cost on the latest domestic systems.
    Hydrogen powered micro turbine generators could be considered as the generators if specs seem to outdo fuel cells.

    I am at an information gathering stage, and your assistance would be greatly appreciated.

    Many thanks,

    Nigel Atkin.

  4. In answer to nigel. I have been living off-grid for 9 years (solar
    panels, wind generator) . Produce more than enough electricity,
    but only able to store what batteries will hold and the batteries are
    expensive and need to be replaced every 4 or 5 years. To have the
    ability to produce hydrogen and have a fuel cell to produce electricity would obviate the need for batteries . This would make
    off-grid living much more appealing. Also one could power a fuel
    cell powered electric car for very little.

  5. Good to see more players in the game, but I think I’m right in saying that a domestic hydrolyser is nothing new. ITM Power in the UK presented one last year for example and… so far it has gone nowhere. Partly, I suspect, because of the lack of Government support for such enterprise to help create green start-up markets, and partly because everyone is more concerned with keeping their jobs than making their homes run on hydrogen, here in the UK – the country supposed to be ‘leading the world in carbon emission reductions’, if you listen to the politicians – Ha Ha, big joke!
    On a more serious note however, I think it’s true to say that hydrogen hydrolysation is only going to help mitigate carbon emissions when the electricity driving it is also zero carbon, or near to. This fundamental is what is really required to move us forward and unlock all manner of low carbon energy stream spin-offs, like home hydrogen and electric vehicles for example. On a global stage, the world is in what amounts to a stand-off position of mutually assured destruction while major economies fail to really commit the resources to large scale generating from renewable energy. I believe this position will only change when the USA takes the lead and shows the world it is committed and demonstrates the technology is feasible to run a country. The US has, after all, got one of the best opportunities for doing this due to it’s natural resources, technology and infrastructural base, a relatively keen government and a single international border enclosing millions of square miles of sun and wind resourced land, with two big oceans either side. If the US can’t demonstrate to the rest of the world that schemes like Desertec (for example) make sense then we can not expect other major emitters to follow suit down a decarbonisation pathway. They will continue to point out that there is a moral imperative for the big industrialised rich countries to clean up their act on the global stage first and not make the first move. I am sorry that this comment has digressed somewhat, but I believe it is at the heart of the matter before we all rush out to buy domestic hydrolysers and imagine we are going green. If you are living off-grid though, and have got your own wind turbine in the back yard, then maybe a hydrogen hydrolyser makes some sense for cooking or heating in a few rare cases. Most people though, would opt to just burn the electricity directly on cooking, heating, light and EV battery charging wouldn’t they?

  6. When I read ” . . . or to run domestic electrical devices.”,
    I thought, how stupid, if charged by electricity in the first place. ???
    Then I started thinking and I wonder: if it were connected to a windmill, would it simply produce hydrogen in a volume(at a rate) that directly corelates to the wind speed? If so, you may get by with a cheaper windmill that did not have to be concerned with wind speed or voltage outputs, all it would have to do is turn. The faster it turned, the more hydrogen it made . . . all regulators would be on the generator . . . fueled by the hydrogen. Seems simpler to me . . . yes? Or would it all equal out in the end?

  7. You are right on point illuminating the start of the off-grid energy revolution. The type of solution that Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies is offering in their Hydrofill product is a very apt (if not yet efficient enough) model for the future. Because of the efficacies in new electrolysis methodologies in prototype around the world, these will both, eliminate those limitations noted in the problems associated with transporting, storing and filling while also significantly reducing the huge investment in infrastructure that is currently envisioned as required. The infrastructure needs will have radically changed. The combination of these efficacies in H2 gen and the recent breakthroughs in fuel cell costs will create significant cost incentives, the pull of which will drive market adoption ahead of current projections. We should see far more efficient H2 production units with a very broad range of applicability within two years, well ahead of the targeted 2015 FCV fleet deployment targets. This is a very exciting revolution we get to watch from its beginning.

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