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.
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