Kathryn Tomiello is the Staff Editor, Design World
Traditionally, hydrogen energy has had many limitations, mostly because of issues related to its storage and transport. According to Scott Redmond, Vice President of Product Architecture, Limnia, Inc., “One of the biggest perceived challenges for any new energy is the infrastructure. At one point, it was predicted that the widespread implementation of hydrogen would be a $20 trillion build-out.” However, new methods of storing and transporting hydrogen are now available, which use existing infrastructure, are much safer and more modular than previous technologies, and have operation times that compare to, and in some cases, exceed petroleum-based systems.
The most widely talked about method of storing hydrogen is in pressurized tanks, where the gas is typically under pressure from 10,000 to 30,000 psi. Hydrogen pressurized in cylinders has limited storage capacity because of its low density. For electric vehicles, most tank-based systems average 100 to150 miles on one tank. Tank-based storage systems have other disadvantages too. “They’re problematic up and down. The tanks are so big, they take up a lot of space, and the re-fueling process can be dangerous because of the high pressure coming out of the pump,” said Redmond. What’s more, the limited storage capacity of the vehicles makes frequent re-fueling necessary, which means a lot of stations need to be built to keep this type of car running over a long distance.
“To overcome the challenges associated with tank-based systems researchers and scientists have been trying to develop a way to make hydrogen solid-state. That is, how do you hold it in a benign, chemical form and activate the pressure when you decide?” said Redmond.
Limnia looked to the video industry. “People seem to like things that work around cassettes, and we know companies in a number of different industries pre-configure components that you slide into slots. The world mindset is trained to use it and can easily adapt to it,” said Redmond.
“With our solid-state cassettes, you can drive 2,500 miles across America without ever turning off your engine. You can just hot-swap cassette modules,” said Redmond. Three cassettes in an electric car can take you 300 miles. “Fifteen companies have designed electric cars that can take you 600 miles on the same three cassettes,” said Redmond.
The company’s cassettes, which also power homes, buildings, communities, data centers, and more, integrate board, box, safety, mounting, signal path, power path, shielding, I/O, sequencing, and support rail into a complete chassis system.
Unlike conventional systems, Limnia uses a small pack of batteries as a supplement – the Battery Multiplex Array (BMA) massive Commodity-class battery pack. “The batteries are not direct to the motor. They are in between. The fuel cell is constantly recharging them, so we can get away with fewer batteries,” said Redmond.
Limnia’s system uses existing infrastructure to replace the cassettes, with drop-off and pick-up locations at UPS, FedEx, and Kinko’s. You can also have new fuel cassettes shipped to you through one of these carriers or US Mail, or simply re-fuel the cassettes in your home.
A home pack, which comes with the system, re-charges the cassettes using two methods. The first is hydrolysis, which cracks the hydrogen. “If you electrocute water in a certain way with a certain type of salt, hydrogen bubbles out of the water. Limnia’s home pack uses the GE Noryl electrolyzer, which makes hydrogen cheaper than any other method out there – even gasoline,” said Redmond. The other way to produce hydrogen is via a microbial reactor. This consists of specially engineered bugs that eat waste to release hydrogen gas. Both sources of hydrogen are readily available. The home pack uses kitchen waste, as well as water to produce the hydrogen. Storage racks in the base of the unit hold charged cassettes for future use.
What’s more, hydrogen powered appliances are now available in both the consumer and industrial markets, driven by improvements in the automotive industry. In cold weather environments, fuel cells can replace heating systems. According to Redmond, “There is a type of fuel cell for homes that runs hotter than it needs to run. Heat is piped off the fuel cell with water tubes that extend underneath the floor. With this type of system, there is no reason you need to be hooked up to a grid.” Initial cost of investment is high; however, Redmond said that over time, it pays for itself.
“We’ve had a lot of data centers call us for battery-backup because the hydrogen fuel cells have a longer run time, no EMF, and no vibration,” said Redmond. Big buildings are also installing fuel cell systems. “In Silicone Valley a lot of the big Internet companies are having to move out because they cannot pull enough electricity to the building, but they can pull water and natural gas to the building, which you can crack to run the fuel cell,” he added.
Many fuel cell systems are available for large factories and large industrial systems. They suit certain industries because they produce no vibration, no toxic fumes, and no outgassing. They also have a cleaner electrical signal, less failures, and almost no maintenance.
Filed Under: Automotive, Electronics • electrical, Energy management + harvesting, Power supplies