The Hydrogen Stream: New fuel cell design to solve longstanding problem of overheating

Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers developed a new polymer fuel cell that is claimed to solve the long-known issue of overheating. Furthermore, Mexican cement producer Cemex invested in HiiROC, a UK-based hydrogen production startup, which developed a scalable technology that uses thermal plasma electrolysis to convert biomethane, flare gas, or natural gas into hydrogen at a reportedly lower cost than competing solutions.

Scientists at the US Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory developed a new polymer fuel cell that is claimed to solve the long-known issue of overheating. The device is based on a polymer electrolyte composed of a phosphonated polymer and a perfluorosulfonic acid that is claimed to be able to operate at higher temperatures. The fuel cell’s proton conductivity was found to enhance when a proton from the perfluorosulfonic acid transfered to the phosphonated polymer. By applying the composite polymer electrolyte, the researchers were able to achieve nearly 800 milliwatts per square centimeter of rated power density for the fuel cell at 160 degrees Celsius, which is a 60 percent improvement of the phosphoric acid-based fuel cells, the New Mexico researchers wrote in an article published by nature energy last week. By solving the overheating issue, the fuel cell overcomes a technical barrier to using medium and heavy-duty fuel cells in trucks and buses, they added.

Mexican cement producer Cemex invested in HiiROC, a UK-based hydrogen production startup that has developed a scalable technology using thermal plasma electrolysis to convert biomethane, flare gas, or natural gas into hydrogen at a reportedly lower cost than competing solutions. “HiiROC … has developed a novel process that efficiently produces high purity hydrogen and clean carbon black at superior temperatures and pressure,” the company announced Tuesday. “As part of this investment, Cemex and HiiROC aim to increase Cemex’s hydrogen injection capacity in its cement kilns, allowing for a higher alternative fuel substitution rate of fossil fuels.” Cemex has not disclosed details of the investment.

Danish energy fund Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners (CIP) is partnering with Spanish companies Enagás, Naturgy, Fertiberia and Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas on the development of the first phase of Project Catalina, a green hydrogen and green ammonia gigawatt-scale project that aims to bring the renewable resources of Aragon to the industrial consumption points on Spain’s eastern coast. The companies intend to develop 5 GW of combined wind and solar and deploy a 2 GW electrolyzer. “Once fully implemented, Catalina will produce enough green hydrogen to supply 30% of Spain’s current hydrogen demand,” CIP wrote on Tuesday. The companies expect the first phase of the project to be fully developed and approved in less than two years, while construction is planned to start at the end of 2023. The first phase of the project will consist of 1.7 GW of wind and solar energy facilities as well as a 500 MW electrolyzer.

CIP is also supporting a project in Norway. Hydrogen company Hy2gen plans to produce green ammonia as a fuel for the maritime sector in the municipality of Sauda on Norway’s southwestern coast, CIP said Wednesday. The green ammonia production facility, Iverson eFuels AS, will be owned by Hy2gen, commodity trading company Trafigura and CIP. The pre-study was completed in 2021 and the project owners have now started the front-end engineering design (FEED) phase, which will result in a full plan for the construction of the facility by 2023. “Following a final investment decision, the commencement of construction is scheduled in the first quarter of 2024, and the facility will be fully operational at the beginning of 2027,” CIP stated in a separate press release.

Polish state oil refiner and petrol retailer PKN Orlen committed PLN 7.4 billion (€ 1.63 billion) by 2030 to low- and zero-carbon hydrogen development projects based on renewable energy sources and municipal waste conversion technology. “As a result, ten hydrogen hubs will be developed by the end of the decade, with motorists in Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia provided with access to a network of over 100 hydrogen refuelling stations,” the Polish company wrote on Wednesday, explaining that the move is a key part of the group’s transformation into a carbon-neutral multi-utility. By the end of the decade, the Orlen group aims to install 0.5 GW of new hydrogen production capacity using renewable energy sources and municipal waste conversion. “The Group deployed its first hydrogen hub in Trzebinia in 2021, which makes grey hydrogen for transport and is to ultimately produce low-carbon hydrogen from renewable energy sources. Another hub is being developed in Włocławek, which is due to start producing green hydrogen in the second half of 2023. Two years later, a hub in Płock will be launched to make green hydrogen for industrial and transport applications.”

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Ten Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell electric cars and a Toyota fuel cell forklift truck were handed over to the Tees Valley Hydrogen Transport Hub in England. The deliveries took place at the opening of the new Element 2 hydrogen fuelling station at Teesside International Airport in Darlington. “As part of the Tees Valley Hydrogen Hub demonstration programme, the airport has two Mirai, and alongside other regional organisations it will be testing zero emission, hydrogen-fuelled commercial and support vehicles as part of a Department of Transport led £2.5 million region-wide trial,” Toyota wrote on Thursday, referring to the UK’s first Hydrogen Transport Hub announced by the British government in September 2020. The multi-modal hydrogen transport hub study also focuses on the quantity of green hydrogen required alongside related production, storage, and distribution facilities.

UK energy company bp won approval to become a joint venture partner of Aberdeen City Council (ACC) for the construction of a solar power facility connected to a green hydrogen production and refueling facility. “We plan to create a blueprint which can be replicated around the world by the cities and regions looking to reach net zero,” said Councillor Ryan Houghton, Aberdeen City Council growth and resources convener.

The energy transition process should focus on battery electric vehicles in passenger transport, and possibly also in freight transport, according to Patrick Plötz, head of the Energy Economy business unit at Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research. While there are only two passenger fuel cell car models globally, there are more than 350 models of battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, Plötz noted in a commentary published in nature electronics. “With economies of scale in full effect for batteries, and with further cost reductions and performance improvement of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure coming, fuel cell cars are highly unlikely to be able to compete.” With regard to zero-emission trucks, Plötz said they are in a much earlier market phase and mostly available in China. He remained dubious about the potential of hydrogen trucks, despite some recent positive developments. “If truck manufacturers do not start the mass production of fuel cell trucks soon to reduce costs, such vehicles will never succeed in low-carbon road transport. Policymakers and industry need to decide quickly whether the fuel cell electric truck niche is large enough to sustain further hydrogen technology development, or whether it is time to cut their losses and to focus efforts elsewhere.

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