Hydrogen Technology Roadmap
This submission details some of the key technical aspects, needed for research and development, for the best possible implementation of the Hydrogen Economy. They are based upon the new proposed lossless Hydrogen Transmission Network, that will effectively transform the oceans into oil-wells that can never dry out. This submission follows from the ministerial encouragement for the creation of the Hydrogen Technology Roadmap.
In his letter dt. 29 August 2008 to the Hon. Anthony Byrne, MP, the Hon. Peter Garrett, Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts made the following points:
"As Mr Banerjee points out, hydrogen technology has potential as a clean fuel for both stationary energy and transport. Hydrogen fuel could reduce greenhouse and other pollutants to near zero depending upon how it is produced.
"However, significant technical challenges need to be overcome before widespread adoption of hydrogen fuel would be feasible. These include the development of sustainable means of producing and distributing hydrogen fuel and the development of affordable and efficient vehicles in the transport sector. These difficulties are, however, not seen as impossible to overcome."
It is to address the "significant technical challenges" that this submission is all about. The author had earlier presented a visionary paper "Our Hydrogen Future" where the issues were presented more from a idea-selling perspective rather than a rigorous technical perspective. Such was done to get this new idea, that the Hydrogen Economy could be effectively realized with a new approach, the Hydrogen Transmission Network. The technical aspects of the Hydrogen Transmission Network were not elaborated upon; there are patenting issues involved, which are compromised by public distribution. This present submission elaborates upon the (high-level) confidential technical issues, in the subsequent paragraphs. They form the necessary components of the Hydrogen Transmission Network.
The design approach will always seek to be modular, for the quality implications relating to loss or damage. Feedback and control systems will be enabled for health-monitoring, notification, and adaptive damage control. Another crucial design approach is no-loss: not a single atom of Hydrogen should be allowed to escape from the Hydrogen Transmission Network, when it is up and running.
Without the active and direct participation of the Government and its agencies, progress on the Hydrogen Economy and the Hydrogen Future is impossible: the scope is far too vast, and potentially encompasses literally everyone and everything, in a direct and material manner. I request proper notice of this submission, and upon prima-facie acceptance, the necessary diversification of ongoing scientific research funding and manpower induction to the following issues on a priority basis. The high importance, following national appeal and international obligations, that the present Rudd Govt. has given to environmental issues should be the key factor for the implementation of the Hydrogen Future. Adda Enterprises (now consisting of Arindam Banerjee and the poet/mathematician Ilya Shambat) will be most keen to co-operate; hence this submission as a response to the minister's letter. Arindam Banerjee's resume is also enclosed.
2. The Futuristic Hydrogen Home
The public is impressed by what is demonstrated. Acceptance and funding are easier to obtain when the concrete reality is presented. For this reason, it is necessary to have at least one demonstration "hydrogen home" where both energy and pure water and obtained using hydrogen as fuel.
To begin with, the hydrogen home should have tanks of hydrogen, that are burnt using off-the-shelf fuel cells (these are electrical devices which turn hydrogen into water and electricity). Later on, the fuel cells could be replaced by the Hydrogen Engine (described later in this document).
Enough water should be generated every day for normal requirements. The electricity involved in the process will be much more than what is required for normal use, and will be sent back to the electricity grid. The idea is that the futuristic homes, instead of consuming electricity, generate clean electricity to power the local industries. Some ranging facts and figures in this regard have been mentioned in the essay "Our Hydrogen Future".
This is the farthest or ultimate shot for the Hydrogen Future. I do not expect this to happen for all homes for at least the next 20-30 years, given the best will. For there are other issues involved, relating to safety, distribution, consumption pattern, fit with electrical grid, etc. that have to be sorted out. However to get to that stage, we at least must demonstrate how the future will look like! Also, valuable trial data will be generated related to consumption and usage, that will be necessary for planning.
This is a project that can be easily implemented by university students in energy research. The cost component should not exceed $250,000 for the labour and materials. The demonstration value should be much higher, and the trial data generated will also be even more valuable. It is not unlikely that given the advertising value, builders may fund this hydrogen home provided the Government gives its promotional encouragement.
3. Development of the Solar-Seawater to Hydrogen Collector; a proposed invention (for patenting)
In this submission we concentrate upon the use of solar power for hydrogen generation. This approach is for Australian conditions, as Australia has a fortunate combination of sun and sea for thousands of kilometers. Solar cells generate electricity from the rays of the sun - however they have not been universally considered practical because they do not use the concept of converting the generated electricity to hydrogen right at the source, and then collecting all the hydrogen thus generated and piping them to the required destination. When the resulting electricity from solar cells is not combined and transmitted (with loss proportionate to distance), then the solar cells become very useful and efficient collectors of energy.
From information the author received from manufacturers of solar panels, who are advertising the sale of solar power systems for household use, 1 KW of power is obtained from 10 square meters of solar cell area that is to put on the roof. With mass production, it is obvious that the costs will do down, especially if we have a few hundreds of square kilometers of solar cells laid out. One single square kilometer of solar cell panels can be expected to generate as much as 100 MWatts.
In this proposal we have many solar panels near the sea or ocean. There is a pump that draws the fresh sea-water to the region near the individual solar panel. The direct-current electricity from the solar cells is passed through the sea-water. The sea-water electrolyses into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is collected in a closed reservoir, while the oxygen is released into the air. The slightly more desalinated water is released back to the ocean via a gravity process, and fresh water is drawn from the ocean. This way, there is no unclean sedimentation issue as there is continuous flushing.
The energy balance issue has to be considered - what is the percentage of energy that is lost because of the electricity to hydrogen conversion process through electrolysis of water, and the hydrogen to electrical energy conversion process through fuel cells or hydrogen engines. Contemporary opinion (as expressed by an academic in the field of hydrogen storage in RMIT Melbourne) is that this efficiency factor should be of the order of 60-70%, if we use fuel cells. Thus a 100 MW site could ultimately and over any distance generate 60-70 MWatts.
The structure of the solar cell/panel, the mechanical considerations, etc. have already received exhaustive analysis and need not be mentioned. What is new that is proposed here, is a simple pumping/gravity system (driven by the electrical energy got from the solar cells) that will keep on getting fresh sea-water to the solar panel systems, cyclically. The electric power received from solar cells can be added to the power from other renewable sources, such as windmills, tidal or geothermal power, or even nuclear power.
4. Development of the Hydrogen Pump; a proposed invention (for patenting)
The Hydrogen Pump is one of the most crucial aspects of the Hydrogen Transmission Network. Basically its job is to collect the hydrogen from a number of input sources, and squeeze them through one or more output pipes. It acts as a collection and distribution node.
The hydrogen generated from electrolysis will rise, as hydrogen is light. The generated hydrogen goes though a pipe to the input valve of the Hydrogen Pump, which opens inwards into a cavity. When the pressure in the cavity reaches a certain determined point, a plunger presses down upon the hydrogen. The increase of pressure in the (say cylindrical) cavity, with respect to the input pipes, will have the effect of closing the input valves. At some determined pressure level, the output valve/valves will open outwards to the higher pressure output pipe. The collected hydrogen gas will thus be forced into the output pipe. When the pressure upon the plunger is released, the plunger will move up and the pressure in the cavity will decrease. This will shut the output valve, as there is higher pressure in the outbound pipe. This cycle can repeat continuously, thus collecting hydrogen from multiple sources and piping them indefinitely save for trouble or maintenance reasons. This hydrogen pump will also be electrically operated, using the solar panels for the electrical source.
Multiple hydrogen pumps (of varying capacities and ratings) can keep on collecting and transmitting the hydrogen throughout the nodes of the network.
The development of the hydrogen pump is certainly a research and development issue. A lot of work has already been done by the highly established gas industry in Australia, and the Govt.'s research labs, and interested universities. It should not be too expensive or involved to seek co-operation with them, especially when they find they will be in commercially advantageous situation in the future. It is expected that existing gas pumps may need modification to take into account the lightness of hydrogen, and the particular interfaces with the remaining parts of the system.
5. Development of the Hydrogen Pipe; a proposed invention (for patenting)
A 50-Km long Hydrogen pipe already exists in Germany, and it has been referenced in the work "Our Hydrogen Future". It has been operational for a few decades. No doubt it will be instructive to make a visit to the site in Germany, and learn further details. Our proposal is to extend that concept of piping hydrogen massively, as it is lossless and hence effectively distance-independent. Unlike electricity, where there are always transmission losses because of the resistance of the conductor, gas transmission is lossless.
In the interest of safety, and considering the long distances involved overall, we should make a strong structure, of metal surrounding glass for the transmission of high-pressure hydrogen. Doubts about the lossless quality of gas piping are expected to be raised. Unlike electric transmission, where loss is inevitable because of the resistance, in gas piping the loss if any is due to the loss of physical matter, or in this case hydrogen molecules leaking from the pipe. It has been mentioned that hydrogen being very light could ooze through any solid. However, even this loss can be made zero with proper engineering design. As a proposed design, we have high pressure hydrogen flowing within a strong and thick glass tube, which is within the outer internally glass-lined steel pipe. Between the glass tube and the steel pipe, there is low pressure. Thus any hydrogen oozing out of the glass (supposing this to be practical) will be sucked out by the pumping system that is causing the low pressure. Thus, no hydrogen molecule can come out of the steel pipe.
By piping hydrogen, we essentially pipe eight times that weight in pure water as well, from the sea to any height. It will replace the far more expensive electricity and water transmission systems, in due course. It should be far more easy to maintain.
We should also put into the pipe scope for broadband and other sorts of telecommunications, as a bonus.
6. Development of the Hydrogen Buffering System; a proposed invention (for patenting)
The high-pressure hydrogen for the hydrogen pipe will be stored in a certain location, as a buffer regulating supply and demand. A high capacity Hydrogen Pump will be used to compress the hydrogen from the pipes. It will be cooled to liquid or compressed into cylinders, or processed into hydrides for use in vehicles. It is from these Hydrogen buffers that the hydrogen will be sold to wholesalers of hydrogen for use in transport vehicles.
Low pressure outlets from the Hydrogen Buffer will be used for further distribution, via hydrogen pipes to further destinations.
7. Development of the Hydrogen Engine; a proposed invention (for patenting)
Today the cost of hydrogen is comparatively high, so we have the emphasis on fuel cells for efficiency in energy conversion. It is anticipated that with mass production, the cost of hydrogen will go down. The need for such efficient energy conversion will not be that high for most purposes - rather, the potential of the hydrogen to convert to pure water will be an equal if not bigger factor for most homes and homesteads. This bring us to the concept of the Hydrogen Engine.
Alas, the Hydrogen Engine is nothing really fancy as its name may suggest - it is essentially a steam engine without the coal and the water! The hydrogen, diluted by nitrogen suitably, burns in air, creating steam, to drive a steam engine, and the "waste product" is water which is gratefully collected. This steam engine is coupled to an electrical generator. Thus we get both water and electrical energy, using the oldest kind of engine! The energy conversion will not be as high as for fuel cells, but when water is of greater need and hydrogen is cheap, this could be a easy way to get both pure water and energy.
8. Creation of "Las Vegas" communities on the dry Australian desert by the ocean (visionary)
To succeed, the Hydrogen Economy has to receive high profile attention. One of the most visible ways to do so may be to create a self-sufficient "Las Vegas" community in the middle of nowhere, like say the Nullabor plain by the ocean. That is likely to attract the rich and the famous, with consequent media attendance.
Thus we see large panels of solar cells generating electricity, and hydrogen, which is piped to the "Las Vegas" community for both energy and water. There seems to be no upward limitation to the growth of this community, given the abundance of sunlight and the unlimited source of ocean water.
9. Piping hydrogen to Australian mines (for energy and pure water)
Assuming that a Los Vegas community by the ocean thrives, and has spare hydrogen, then it is most likely they will find the mining community as customers for their hydrogen. Initially the liquid or compressed hydrogen may be trucked, but in due course it should be found that a long pipe will make things easier.
10. Piping hydrogen to small and remote communities (for energy and pure water)
It is only natural that after piping hydrogen to the mining community, there will be an extension to piping hydrogen to small and remote communities in an organic fashion. The idea of using renewable wind, tidal, geothermal and nuclear power to create hydrogen from water may also take hold. The cost of hydrogen should fall correspondingly, for commercial viability in the remote regions. Hydrogen obtained from coal could also be transmitted through the Hydrogen Transmission Network.
11. Safety Issues and Systems before branching off for general consumption
Hydrogen burns very hot, and so has to be handled carefully. Non-leakage in the network has to be a primary concern. Fail-safe switching has to be enabled, to disable gas connection if there is a leak. Control of the flow can be done at many levels - right from switching off the electrolysis process for the sea-water to hydrogen conversion, additional buffering, controlled flaring and so on. Many of the techniques are already well known to those in the gas and oil industry. However there is always scope to implement new electronic control mechanisms, for even enhanced security than presently obtained.
It is expected that after the experiences involved in piping hydrogen to rural and mining communities, over a few years, enough knowledge will be obtained to create a hydrogen network in the medium to large Australian cities. Every home will run on hydrogen; every car will run on hydrogen - one day. However, this is expected to be a gradual process, that will involve the natural and graceful degradation of the existing systems, with no harm to the current sunk investments.
One of my earliest memories is that of my mother breaking coal early in the morning to light the mud stove that would be used to cook our food. It was an arduous process, taking the best part of an hour, to get the stove working. Things became much better for her when we had a gas stove using a gas cylinder, sometime in the mid sixties.
Today we are aware about the pollution from Carbon, and its ill effects. I believe that it is likely that when the kids of our time grow up, they will live in a Hydrogen World with no carbon pollution. However, it is unlikely that we as a species will ever stop complaining!