One of the most promising routes to accessing a reliable source of energy supply, which is already delivering, is the use of hydrogen, the most abundant element in the Universe.
It can be produced by the electrolysis of water using electrical energy supplied by renewable electricity sources, such as wind and solar, or by reforming natural gas.
The oil and gas industries are already high-volume global producers of hydrogen for the upgrade of heavy crude oils into refined, cleaner fuels. Once produced, hydrogen can be stored for future use. For example, it can be co-mingled into the existing gas grid or used directly in fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) and consumer devices.
“Hydrogen may be the only alternative fuel that can significantly reduce greenhouse gas and pollution emission levels,” says Dr Henri Winand, chief executive at Intelligent Energy.
Hydrogen and fuel cells combined into a highly efficient power source is not a new concept. It has been used extensively in industrial applications and international space programmes for the last 40 years. The rockets on the US Apollo missions were fuelled by hydrogen, and the fuel cells on board powered the electronics and provided critical life support to the crew. “We’ve gone to the Moon and back using hydrogen; the trick is to make it available for all and that is what we aim to do at Intelligent Energy,” says Dr Winand.
Hydrogen is very versatile and can be utilised to make many of the products we see today. Hydrogen is used, for example, to heat metals, in glass making, healthcare and in the electronics industry. One of the key factors that has spurred a sharp rise in the interest in hydrogen as a new energy vector is the need to meet economic growth in the developing world.
Focusing on India, which harbours 17.5 per cent of the world’s population, Dr Winand says: “We are seeing a growing need for an efficient, affordable and rapidly deployable energy supply to feed this growth and to power the infrastructure that goes with it. A key case in point is providing reliable energy to power the data telecommunications networks.
“The unreliable electricity grid in India means that 70 per cent of its cell towers are subject to eight hours or more of power outage per day. We estimate that the increased use of diesel generators to back up its poor electricity grid uses approximately 2.6 billion litres of diesel annually. This contributes to seven million additional metric tonnes of CO2 emissions.”
In offering a solution, Dr Winand describes how Intelligent Energy operates at the edge of the grid, providing power for distributed infrastructure in emerging markets. “We provide long-term contracts, typically eight to fifteen years, for power provision to cell-tower operators. Cell-tower sites with backup diesel generators are upgraded and then replaced by highly efficient hydrogen fuel cells,” he says.
This insatiable need for power, in the wake of economic growth and urbanisation, does not have to be at the expense of the environment. Cities and their inhabitants presently account for 67 per cent of global energy consumption and 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. Over the next 20 years, these urban zones will be where most of the world’s population growth will occur. The increased use of fossil fuels also
brings increased air pollution, which currently kills seven million people a year as a result of exposure – more than any infectious disease.
We will see this fuel percolate into every aspect of our lives, down to powering our mobile phones and laptops
So with this very real need to reduce global pollution, the automotive industry is also embracing the need to change its behaviour. One way it is attempting to address this is to significantly re-engineer the traditional internal combustion engine to reduce emissions. However, there is a need for a cleaner, more commercially viable alternative and many of the world’s leading car manufacturers have publicly stated their goal to commercialise fuel cell powered vehicles within the next decade. Indeed, Toyota recently announced that their FCEV, following its initial launch in Japan, will be available next year in the United States, Germany, Denmark and the UK.
“Fuel cell electric vehicles are viewed as a highly efficient alternative to the internal combustion engine. They offer a practical driving range, do not compromise on performance, take minutes to refuel and produce no harmful emissions at the exhaust pipe, only water vapour,” says Dr Winand.
“Our customers include some of the world’s leading automotive manufacturers, and we provide the technology and knowledge to make fuel cell electric vehicles a reality. Toyota, Honda and Hyundai have announced series production of FCEVs in the 2015-2020 timeframe and hydrogen refueling stations are under deployment.”
It is not just the telecommunication and automobile industries that are realising the huge potential of hydrogen. Dr Winand is confident that we will see this fuel percolate into every aspect of our lives, down to powering our mobile phones and laptops.
Digital consumer devices account for up to a fifth of total power consumption. However, the losses associated with converting alternating current (AC) from the mains wall socket to direct current (DC) for electronic devices is estimated to waste over a trillion kilowatt-hours of energy globally every year. Smart DC networks and hydrogen fuel-cell technology, which generates direct current from hydrogen with no AC to DC conversion, can produce a far more efficient mobile solution to powering our everyday lives.
“Since 2000, we have seen a sharp rise in DC energy consumption. Fuel cells provide direct current (DC) for digital devices using highly efficient off-grid means. We are looking at innovative ways we can power our personal consumer electronics, which will reduce energy lost during the conversion step. One way we are exploring this is with our UppTM personal energy device, which provides smartphone users with a week’s worth of energy in a hydrogen fuel cell,” says Dr Winand.
It is clear there is a global need for highly distributed, efficient power generation and not just in the developing world. There is already a big market for hydrogen. Intelligent Energy capitalises on this growth through its proprietary technology, large and growing customer base, and its tailored business model to deliver at scale.
For more information please visit www.intelligent-energy.com