Tag Archives: fuel cells

Hydrogen-powered train to start making trips in Germany by the end of 2017

Last week, French company Alstom showcased the first hydrogen-powered passenger train in the world. The vehicle will begin real-world testing on one line in Germany in 2017.

Image credits Alstom.

Hydrogen fuel cell technology allows engineers to create powerful transportation vehicles that emit only water — condensed, or as steam. Now the tech has finally been used to create a working train. Named Coradia iLint, the vehicle was unveiled at InnoTrans, an annual trade show in Berlin last week.

This super-quiet passenger train holds a hydrogen fuel tank on the cars’ roof, supplying fuel cells that generate electrical energy for the engine. Alstom hopes that this system will replace Europe’s fleet of diesel-burning trains, which are still seeing heavy use across the continent despite wide-scale electrification projects.

In the last months of 2017, the train will start running on the Buxtehude-Bremervörde-Bremerhaven-Cuxhaven line in Lower Saxony. The German Federal Railway Authority Eisenbahn-Bundesamt will start testing in fall 2016 and is expected to release a report on the vehicle by end of 2017. While yet unapproved by the Eisenbahn-Bundesamt, Lower Saxony’s local transportation authority has ordered 14 trains of the type from Alstom.

The iLint is the first train to power along railroads through hydrogen cells alone, but the idea is about a decade old now. Former AT&T strategic planned Stan Thompson coined the term “hydrail” in 2004 to describe any rail vehicle that uses hydrogen fuel cells. There have been several prototype hydrails in the past, most notably in Japan.

Hopefully, now that we have a working, commercially successful example of a hydrail, the technology will gain traction much faster — on rails and roads alike.

Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos inside the Bioenergy laboratory at the BRL, holding a phone powered by a microbial fuel cell stack. (c) Bristol University

A phone charger that’s powered by urine

Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos inside the Bioenergy laboratory at the BRL, holding a phone powered by a microbial fuel cell stack. (c) Bristol University

Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos inside the Bioenergy laboratory at the BRL, holding a phone powered by a microbial fuel cell stack. (c) Bristol University

Engineers at Bristol University have developed a microbial fuel cell (MFC) that turns organic matter, in our case urine, into electricity. The fuel cell is equipped on a mobile charger, and its creators envision the device being implemented in various other applications that can recycle urine. Restaurants, bars and various other buildings that employ public toilets might collect the urine in special containers which could then be converted into useful energy.

The MFCs work by breaking down the urine through the specially-grown bacteria’s metabolic process. The bacteria produce electrons as they consume the matter and it this natural process that creates a small electrical charge to be stored in the MFC.

“No one has harnessed power from urine to do this so it’s an exciting discovery,” said Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos, an engineer at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory where the fuel cells were developed.

“The beauty of this fuel source is that we are not relying on the erratic nature of the wind or the sun; we are actually reusing waste to create energy. One product that we can be sure of an unending supply is our own urine.”

Now, I don’t mean to discredit Dr. Ieropoulos, however a few years ago I’ve written about a similar full cell that converts the chemical energy in urea (found in urine) into electricity through an electrochemical process that does not require combustion, with heat as the by-product. True however, that particular system was not based on bacteria.

The electrons are then stored into a capacitor, whose electrical charge can be released to power a device. In this case, the Bristol researchers simply plugged in a commercial Samsung phone charger and were able to charge up the handset. Don’t get too excited yet, though. Their set-up is still an experimental prototype and so far the hurdles far outweigh the benefits. For one, its the size of a car battery and the handheld they charged only lasted for roughly the time it took to make a call.

Even so, the researchers are confident they can miniaturize their MFCs, and considering each fuel cell only costs around £1 to produce such devices could provide a new, cheaper way of generating power.

“One [use] would be to put these into domestic situations or it could be used in remote regions of the developing world,” said Dr Ieropoulos.

“The fuel cells we have used to charge a mobile phone with hold around 50ml of urine but the smallest we have had working in the laboratory hold 1ml, so we can make them a lot smaller. Our aim is to have something that can be carried around easily.”

“The concept has been tested and it works – it’s now for us to develop and refine the process so that we can develop MFCs to fully charge a battery.”

Transmission electron microscopy image showing spherical silicon nanoparticles about 10 nanometers in diameter. These particles, created in a UB lab, react with water to quickly produce hydrogen, according to new UB research. Credit: Swihart Research Group, University at Buffalo.

Just by adding water to silicon nanoparticles, scientists almost instantly produced hydrogen

Hydrogen is an extremely appealing energy source, despite the immense hurdles than come with storing it. Still fuel cells based on hydrogen are extremely useful, and a team of researchers at University at Buffalo may have found the fastest and most effective way of obtaining this element. Basically, it’s as easy as adding water.

Transmission electron microscopy image showing spherical silicon nanoparticles about 10 nanometers in diameter. These particles, created in a UB lab, react with water to quickly produce hydrogen, according to new UB research. Credit: Swihart Research Group, University at Buffalo.

Transmission electron microscopy image showing spherical silicon nanoparticles about 10 nanometers in diameter. These particles, created in a UB lab, react with water to quickly produce hydrogen, according to new UB research. Credit: Swihart Research Group, University at Buffalo.

The scientists produced spherical silicon particles about 10 nanometers in diameter. After these were immersed in water a chemical reaction commenced which formed silicic acid (a non-toxic product) and pure hydrogen. The whole reaction took place in under a minute  – that’s 150 times faster than similar reactions using silicon particles 100 nanometers wide, and 1,000 times faster than bulk silicon.

To test the resulting hydrogen for purity, the researchers used the chemical product of their reaction to supply a fuel cell that powered a small fan.

“When it comes to splitting water to produce hydrogen, nanosized silicon may be better than more obvious choices that people have studied for a while, such as aluminum,” said researcher Mark T. Swihart, UB professor of chemical and biological engineering and director of the university’s Strategic Strength in Integrated Nanostructured Systems.

This gaping differences in reaction times with water between various silicon particle sizes is due to geometry. The smaller the particle is the most likely it is to have an almost spherical geometry which allows for a more uniform surface for water to react with; if the particle is larger , however, then it forms nonspherical structures whose surfaces react with water less readily and less uniformly.

“With further development, this technology could form the basis of a ‘just add water’ approach to generating hydrogen on demand,” said researcher Paras Prasad, executive director of UB’s Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics (ILPB) and a SUNY Distinguished Professor in UB’s Departments of Chemistry, Physics, Electrical Engineering and Medicine. “The most practical application would be for portable energy sources.”

Although hydrogen was produced simply by adding water, which is something incredible by itself, the problem is that this isn’t quite the best process of obtaining the element at massive scales. In the long run, you don’t need to produce hydrogen that fast, since supply isn’t that great, and producing silicon particles of such a minute size is extremely expensive. So, indeed this technique is a lot more useful for portable applications.

“Perhaps instead of taking a gasoline or diesel generator and fuel tanks or large battery packs with me to the campsite (civilian or military) where water is available, I take a hydrogen fuel cell (much smaller and lighter than the generator) and some plastic cartridges of silicon nanopowder mixed with an activator,” Swihart said, envisioning future applications. “Then I can power my satellite radio and telephone, GPS, laptop, lighting, etc. If I time things right, I might even be able to use excess heat generated from the reaction to warm up some water and make tea.”

source: Buffalo

A Honda FCX Clarity was the firstretail fuel-cell electric vehicle customer to refuel at the new Shell hydrogen station in Torrance, Calif., on May 10, 2011. (c) Honda

Hydrogen fuel station opens in Torrace, CA

A Honda FCX Clarity was the firstretail fuel-cell electric vehicle customer to refuel at the new Shell hydrogen station in Torrance, Calif., on May 10, 2011. (c) Honda

A Honda FCX Clarity was the firstretail fuel-cell electric vehicle customer to refuel at the new Shell hydrogen station in Torrance, Calif., on May 10, 2011. (c) Honda

Toyota is the leading electric car manufacturer in the world, and now the Japanese automobile manufacturer is prepping to dominate another emerging green auto market – the hydrogen fueled car market.

The first step hydrogen fueled cars need to take to actually make it, and maybe sometime in the not so distant future to actually go mainstream, is to have an infrastructure. This first step was made just recently when the first hydrogen refuelling station in the US which is fed directly from an active industrial hydrogen pipeline went operational.

The hydrogen fuel station is located in Torrace, a suburb of Los Angeles, and was oppened in cooperation between Toyota, who owns the land on which the station was built, and Shell, which works directly with Air Products and provides on-site equipment and station maintenance. Air Products’ also provides storage and dispensing technology and hydrogen compression; and currently has the requested fuel capacity of 50kg per 12hour day. Quite a joint venture.

“Building an extensive hydrogen refueling infrastructure is a critical step in the successful market launch of fuel-cell vehicles,” said Chris Hostetter, a Toyota group vice president. “We plan to bring a fuel-cell vehicle to market in 2015, or sooner, and the infrastructure must be in place to support our customers’ needs.”

Los Angeles is home to probably more hydrogen vehicles than anywhere else in the U.S., which doesn’t necessarily say a lot since there are only a handful, but the new station is only the seventh in the region, so  if hydrogen vehicles ever take off, then SoCal is likely to be the place.

The station will also feature a learning centre that provides hydrogen and station information to local students and the general public. The arrival of the site will also make the part of the California Hydrogen Highway Initiative.

Fuel cell cars are still a long way though, and don’t expect to see too many hydrogen fueled cars in the near future. The current procedure is so intricate and exclusive that only a handful of people are currently driving such vehicles, most of which are actually test drives. But it’s starting to take off, bit by bit.

About three years ago, Honda started leasing the Clarity, a fuel cell car, to qualified people. Now Mercedes-Benz joined the bandwagon as well, and started leasing it’s own fuel cell car. It isn’t cheap at $850 a month, but that includes insurance and the fuel once stations start charging for it. Besides the high price, you need to also live near a hydrogen station to be considered for the waiting list.

“Currently, that’s our biggest challenge,” said Mercedes spokesman Larkin Hill. “The technology is ready, but the fueling is an integral part, and we need to have people live next to or close to a fueling station.”

 

Nothing goes to waste: urine as a new source of renewable energy

Urine –> Fuel Cells –> Electricity and Water. Don’t you just love science?

And no, I’m not taking the piss.

Urine, a very versatile waste among other things, has been found useful in all sorts of fields, from curing jellyfish stings, to saving ones life in the desert by soiling a turban to cool the head, or more commonly used as a fertilizer. Most of us, however, just dump it in a toilet bowl and flush. What a waste to waste, apparently, since a group of scientists from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, UK have developed a prototype which can turn urine into energy called the Carbamide Power System. The prototype has been developed by Dr Shanwen Tao and his research partner Dr Rong Lan, who’ve received a £130,000 EPSRC grant to develop it

I’m a nutshell this works thanks to very cheap fuel cells which convert chemical energy into electricity through an electrochemical process that does not require combustion, with heat as the by-product. Traditional fuel cells usually involve hydrogen or methanol at one side and oxygen or air at the other, separated by a specialized ionic-conducting membrane. Cost/efficiency is a real issue however since the membrane fuel cells catalysts needed for storing hidrogen or methanol is extremely expensive to manufacture and very dangerous to transport or store.

The Carbamide Power System utilities a far cheaper full cell system, though, one that runs on urea, or carbamide, a mass manufactured fertilizer, which can also be found in human or animal urine. Urine contains roughly 2 per cent urea, and each urea molecule contains four hydrogen atoms, which, crucially, are less tightly bound to the molecule than the hydrogen in water.

The Carbamide Power System scheme. (c) New Scientist

Now, you can imagine that the actual electrical power capabilities of this new technology are very limited, seeing how a liter of urine can barely power a light bulb, but what about an office building with 200-300 people or a whole apartment complex? Mainstream applications can be difficult to implement, but why not use it in the farming industry? Farms deal with hundreds of tons of waste every month, so here’s a chance to transform the animal urine into energy that might eventually power the whole farm. Isolated regions, like for say a military sub, would probably have the most to benefit from this.

Urea solutions are already in use in Europe for heavy goods trucks under UE law to lower the toxic nitrogen oxides produced when diesel combusts. More than 6000 petrol stations and other outlets across Europe sell 32.5 per cent urea solutions under the trade name AdBlue. Actually according to Dr. Tao, a regular adult human produces enough urine each year to drive a car 2700 kilometers on energy from the urea it contains.

“The infrastructure is already there, and the cost is only around 40 pence a litre,” says Dr. Tao. If you had a car powered by a urea fuel cell, “you could just go to a normal petrol station, pump in urea and drive away”, he says.

“Growing up in rural eastern China I was aware of the use of urea as an agricultural fertiliser. When I became a chemist and was looking at fuel cell development I thought of using it in the process.

“We are only at prototype stage at present, but if this renewable material can be used as a commercially viable and environmentally friendly energy source then we will be absolutely delighted, and many people around the world will benefit.”

via New Scientist