Renewable hydrogen becoming more cost effective for energy storage (and conversions of diesel trucks)

  • Published on May 6th, 2020

Hydrogen has been used for local, off-grid energy storage, but now that renewable energy for cracking water is getting much cheaper, electrolysis co-located with renewable energy facilities is being proposed as a major component of grid storage.

The US Department of Energy is ramping up its commitment to renewable hydrogen (via US DOE).
The US Department of Energy is ramping up its commitment to renewable hydrogen (via US DOE).

By Mokurai

During periods of surplus generation from variable sources, the cost of electricity can go negative. The technical terms in the world of finance are hedging and arbitrage. Using them for speculation can be disastrous, but using them as tools to flatten supply and demand fluctuations gives us much greater certainty about costs, and thus makes the economy work much better.

The solar highway to Australia’s renewable hydrogen economy

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency [ARENA] says that on-site solar electrolysis is not just the most cost-effective way of developing a domestic and export hydrogen economy, but perhaps the only way.

The new Renewable Hydrogen Market Report, produced by ANT Energy Solutions and backed by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), features a number of key findings in the race to develop an Australian renewable hydrogen economy. The main conclusion is that on-site solar is the only way to go.

The report’s authors ran two models for renewable hydrogen produced by electrolysis, The first is a high OPEX, low CAPEX model (grid-connected, high capacity-factor), while the second is a high CAPEX, low OPEX model (behind-the-meter, low capacity-factor). The analysis indicated “that despite the much lower utilization rate, behind-the-meter solar renewable hydrogen generation can produce hydrogen at approximately half the cost per kilogram to a grid-connected system” with an electricity cost of AU$0.11 (US$0.07) per kilowatt-hour.

What this means is that the most cost-effective way of producing renewable hydrogen is by powering an electrolyzer with on-site solar. Indeed, the report suggests that hydrogen can be produced via on-site solar at a cost of $3.19 per kilogram of hydrogen versus $6.08 if produced from the grid.

Of course, considering that the costs of solar continue to decrease as efficiency rises, the cost of behind-the-meter solar hydrogen will only continue to drop, possibly below the AU$2 mark.

We also see technology enabling conversion of diesel trucks to hydrogen, at far less cost than making new electric trucks. Electric trucks will eventually take over, but I won’t fight anything that helps in the meantime.

pv magazine Australia continues:

Businesses have already noticed the obvious competitive advantage. Toyota is installing a solar-electrolyzer at its site in Melbourne. Indeed, the company recently celebrated Earth Day by unveiling the first completed stage of its green hydrogen hub, with the help of ARENA funding.

Scholarly articles for hydrogen energy storage efficiency

Operating experience with a photovoltaic-hydrogen energy system —  ‎Lehman —  Cited by 135

We report on the performance, safety, and maintenance issues of a photovoltaic (PV) power plant which uses hydrogen energy storage and fuel cell regenerative technology. The facility, located at the Humboldt State University (HSU) Telonicher Marine Laboratory, has operated intermittently since June 1991, and in August 1993 went into full-time, automatic operation. After more than 3900 hours, the system has an excellent safety and performance record with an overall electrolyzer efficiency of 76.7%, a PV efficiency of 8.1%, and a hydrogen production efficiency of 6.2%.

Comparison of the performance of compressed-air and hydrogen energy storage systems– ‎Karellas – Cited by 72

A steady state analysis (IPSEpro simulation software) of four configurations of micro-CAES systems is conducted from the energetic and exergetic point of view. The hydrogen energy storage system is dynamically simulated using the HOMER energy software. Load and wind profiles for the island of Karpathos are used as input data to the program. The two-stage micro-CAES system without air preheating is selected to be investigated dynamically as it is proven to have high efficiency and zero emissions. The last part of the paper compares the two systems in terms of energy storage efficiency, includes an approximation of the costs and highlights the technological advantages and disadvantages of these technologies.

Seasonal storage of hydrogen in stationary systems with liquid organic hydrides —  ‎Newson —  Cited by 119

A comparison of energy storage media for carbon free systems was made on a cost and weight basis for application with renewable energy sources such as hydropower. On a seasonal timescale (summer to winter), storage of hydrogen in liquid organic hydrides was equivalent to other carbon free alternatives and superior to zero emission systems like batteries.

Hydrogen Energy Storage – Energy Storage Association

Electricity can be converted into hydrogen by electrolysis. The hydrogen can be then stored and eventually re-electrified. The round trip efficiency today is lower than other storage technologies. Despite this low efficiency the interest in hydrogen energy storage is growing due to the much higher storage capacity compared to batteries (small scale) or pumped hydro and CAES (large scale).

Alkaline electrolysis is a mature technology for large systems, whereas PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) electrolyzers are more flexible and can be used for small decentralized solutions. The conversion efficiency for both technologies is about 65%~70% (lower heating value). High temperature electrolyzers are currently under development and could represent a very efficient alternative to PEM and alkaline systems, with efficiencies up to 90%.

Hydrogen can be re-electrified in fuel cells with efficiencies up to 50%, or alternatively burned in combined cycle gas power plants (efficiencies as high as 60%).

Several European and American companies offer integrated hydrogen solutions for the supply of electric power to small isolated sites or islands. Demonstration projects have been performed since 2000 in Europe and the USA and commercial products are available. Large scale hydrogen storage in salt cavern is standard technology.

Hydrogen or batteries for grid storage? A net energy analysis

Apr 8, 2015 — We examine the most widely installed RHFC configuration, containing an alkaline water electrolyzer and a PEM fuel cell. To compare RHFC’s to other storage technologies, we use two energy return ratios: the electrical energy stored on invested (ESOIe) ratio (the ratio of electrical energy returned by the device over its lifetime to the electrical-equivalent energy required to build the device) and the overall energy efficiency (the ratio of electrical energy returned by the device over its lifetime to total lifetime electrical-equivalent energy input into the system). In our reference scenario, the RHFC system has an ESOIe ratio of 59, more favorable than the best battery technology available today (Li-ion, ESOIe = 35).

by MA Pellow —  ‎Cited by 167 —  ‎Related articles

Hydrogen for Energy Storage Analysis Overview – NREL

Hydrogen is competitive with batteries and could be competitive with CAESand pumped hydro in locations that are not favorable for these technologies.

Storage reduces the amount of electricity that must be curtailed and reduces the LCOE

by D Steward – ‎2010

Energy Storage

Days of Service Sensitivity Analysis —  NREL

Mar 19, 2019 — Below ~13h with current technology, batteries have economic advantage.

Durations over ~13h favor hydrogen technologies.

Windows of cost use 6¢/kWh electricity for current timeframe and 3¢/kWh for future timeframe

Hydrogen economy —  Wikipedia

As of 2019 almost all the world’s 70 million tons of hydrogen consumed yearly in industrial processing[6] is produced by steam methane reforming (SMR).[7] Small amounts of hydrogen are produced by the dedicated production of hydrogen from water. As of 2019 there is not enough cheap clean electricity (renewable and nuclear) for this hydrogen to become a significant part of the low-carbon economy.

Yes, well that is the question, isn’t it? What happens when we get vast intermittent surpluses of renewable energy at effectively zero cost?

Hydrogen technologies — Wikipedia

Some hydrogen technologies are carbon neutral and could have a role in preventing climate change and a possible future hydrogen economy. Hydrogen is a chemical widely used in various applications including ammonia production, oil refining and energy.[1] Hydrogen is not a primary energy source, because it is not naturally occurring as a fuel.  It is, however, widely regarded as an ideal energy storage medium, due to the ease with which electric power can convert water into its hydrogen and oxygen components through electrolysis and can be converted back to electrical power using a fuel cell. There are a wide number of different types of fuel and electrolysis cells.[2]

HyTech Power may have solved hydrogen — Vox

Feb 16, 2018 —haring options It is an odd twist of chemistry that there is fuel embedded in the most common substance on earth: water.

Hydrogen — the H of H2O fame — turns out to be something of an all-purpose element, a Swiss Army knife for energy. It can be produced without greenhouse gases. It is highly flammable, so it can be used as a combustion fuel. It can be fed into a fuel cell to produce electricity directly, without combustion, through an electrochemical process.

It can be stored and distributed as a gas or a liquid. It can be combined with CO2 (and/or nitrogen and other gases) to create other useful fuels like methane or ammonia. It can be used as a chemical input in a range of industrial processes, helping to make fertilizers, plastics, or pharmaceuticals.

It is expensive, in both money and energy, to pry hydrogen loose from other elements, store it, and convert it back to useful energy. The value we get out of it has never quite justified what we invest in producing it. It is one of those technologies that seems perpetually on the verge of a breakthrough, but never quite there.

HyTech Power, based in Redmond, Washington, intends to introduce three products over the next year or two.

The first will use hydrogen to clean up existing diesel engines, increasing their fuel efficiency by a third and eliminating over half their air pollution.

Its second product, a retrofit that will transform any internal combustion vehicle into a zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) by enabling it to run on pure hydrogen.

And that will tee up the third product — the one Johnson’s had his eye on from the beginning, the one that could revolutionize and decentralize the energy system — a stationary energy-storage product meant to compete with, and eventually outcompete, big batteries like Tesla’s Powerwall.

They are getting funding and other support from industry executives used to designing and building new technology.

Global Hydrogen Generators Industry

$5600 Single user license

Prices are of course up since I was in the business producing such global high-tech market reports on contract.

Hydrogen Generators market worldwide is projected to grow by US$305 Million, driven by a compounded growth of 4%. On-Site, one of the segments analyzed and sized in this study, displays the potential to grow at over 3.

Competitors identified in this market include, among others,

  • Air Liquide S.A.
  • Air Products and Chemicals Inc.
  • Deokyang Co. Ltd.
  • EPOCH Energy Technology Corporation
  • Hydrogenics Corporation
  • Idroenergy
  • ITM Power Plc
  • McPhy Energy S.A.
  • Messer Group
  • Nuvera Fuel Cells LLC
  • Praxair Inc.
  • Proton OnSite
  • The Linde Group

As usual, some of these innovators will succeed, and some will be out-competed. More news to come whenever it actually happens.

(Crossposted with DailyKos.)

About the Author

Generalist BA, Math and Philosophy Peace Corps, South Korea Buddhist monastic training High-tech market analyst Tech Writer Serial NGO Founder Education for a billion children End poverty at a profit