Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: February 2012

Water makes up seventy-one percent of the planet earth and ninety-eight percent of it makes up the ocean.  It is a single source of water for all forms of life on earth and it also plays an important role in climate changes in the atmosphere. Ocean is the biggest heat sink and absorbs sun’s heat and also a carbon sink absorbing excess carbon dioxide from atmosphere. The surface temperature of seawater is warmer than the temperature at the bottom of the ocean. Sun supplies solar energy to the ocean. In fact the water temperature in Deep Ocean is about 15-20C less than the surface temperature, and it is used as a working fluid to cool buildings by evaporative cooling without using any electricity like commercial air-conditioning.

OTEC (ocean thermal energy conversion) system is a potential method of generating power using the temperature gradient between ocean’s surface water and ocean’s deep water. A temperature difference, as small as 15 -20C is enough to generate power using Kalina cycle, like geothermal energy systems. Commercial plants using this technology are already in operation in few countries. The biggest advantage with open cycle ocean thermal energy conversion system is the fresh water (desalinated ocean water) as a by-product. This technology is unique because it can generate not only power but also drinking water from sea without polluting the air with greenhouse gas emissions. In fact this technology should be deployed commercially is many islands around the world, where there is always a demand for power and drinking water.

“Water, water, everywhere but not a drop to drink”. It is the situation in many islands and many parts of the world. Islands like Maldives and Mauritius should adopt this technology to generate power and supply drinking water without burning fossil fuels like diesel or setting up desalination plants. Of course, the economy of scale and finance is an issue in many islands.

PNG (Papua New Guinea) is one of the biggest islands in Pacific Ocean where there is s severe shortage of   power and water. The country is endowed with rich minerals, oil and gas but the basic necessity like power and water are in short supply. OTEC will be an ideal solution for such islands. Fresh water supply is going to be a major issue in parts of the world due to global warming and climate changes. In countries like India, drinking water is in short supply and a number of seawater desalination plants are coming up. Bottled waters are expensive and unaffordable to a common man. This will only increase the power requirements in the country when there is already a massive shortage of power. OTEC is an ideal solution for India with its long coastal line.

One of the major issues with current power generation technologies is the pollution. In any combustion process involving fossil fuel the combustion products like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and Oxides of Nitrogen (the greenhouse gases) will contribute global warming. What is the level of such emission and how fast the globe is warming is a futile argument. The pollution can be small in term of PPM (parts per million) but the cumulative effects over several decades is a major issue and that cannot be simply dismissed. There are many places where the Arsenic content in drinking water is above certain acceptable levels (only in ppms) but such small excess cause debilitating health conditions. This is the same argument with greenhouse emission and global warming. It can be gradual and insignificant but it will reach a tipping point and dramatic changes can happen all of a sudden. Nature has got its own mechanism to adjust any imbalances and keep up certain equilibrium. But humans cannot take them for granted and pollute the air and water indiscriminately. There will be a price to pay.

 

Ocean is the largest and inexhaustible source of Hydrogen. Currently Caustic soda plants use sodium chloride (salt) brine as the raw material for conversion into Caustic soda; the by-products are Hydrogen and Chlorine. Caustic soda plants are currently using Hydrogen as a fuel or use to manufacture Hydrochloric acid. They can generate on site power using Hydrogen to offset their energy cost. In both water electrolysis as well as brine electrolysis, Hydrogen is a product and Ocean water is the largest source of such Hydrogen. In fact countries should generate Hydrogen using desalinated water and OTEC power. The stored Hydrogen is a stored energy that can be used as and when required. That is why we believe ‘water and energy are two sides of the same coin’.

 

This article provides an overview on Hydrogen cars and how we can generate renewable hydrogen to fuel these cars. There are two well-known brands of Hydrogen based cars already in the market, BMW7 and Honda FCX Clarity models.

BMW7 works on Hydrogen Internal Combustion engine fuelled by Liquid Hydrogen. It is a 6 Liters V12 engine with 191Kw capacity and 390 N of torque. It offers 100km from 50 Liters of Liquid Hydrogen with a density of about 70-80gms/lit and offers 100kms from Gasoline of 16.7 liters. It has a capacity of 170 liters for liquid Hydrogen storage at the rear end of the car. It can run both on Hydrogen as well as on Gasoline. Liquid hydrogen has a better power density but liquefaction is a cryogenic technology and consumes power for liquefaction. The storage tank also is of special construction because Liquid Hydrogen is stored at -253C.

Honda FCX Clarity car is fuel cell car fuelled by compressed Hydrogen gas. It offers 100kms for 3.5 lits of Hydrogen (at 5000 psi pressure with density at 30gms/lit.). It has Hydrogen storage of 3.92kgs kgs with a total mileage of 240miles. Increasing Hydrogen storage gas pressure up to 10000psi, the Hydrogen power density is considerably increased making it comparable with liquid Hydrogen. Moreover fuel cell car is silent while driving because there is no combustion engine.
BMW is able to use their existing conventional internal combustion engine with slight changes suitable for Hydrogen so that they can use their existing infrastructure. But Honda FCX uses proton exchange membrane Fuel cell. It is an electrochemical device that converts Hydrogen into electricity which runs the motor for transmission of power. It is similar to an electric car in which power is stored in batteries and used to drive the motor for transmission. The only difference is the power is generated in Fuel cell car as and when hydrogen is supplied whereas in Electric cars, power is drawn from stored energy from the battery.

We can inject pure Hydrogen along with Gasoline, CNG or LPG to assist the combustion to save fuel consumption up to 30% and to reduce harmful emissions. The conventional gasoline cars can be fitted with water electrolyzer to generate Hydrogen using the car battery. The electrolyzer currently sold in the market is quite different. They generate ‘water gases’ and not pure Hydrogen. They electrolyze water using pulsating DC current which essentially breaks down water into Hydrogen and oxygen molecules. The complete mixture of Hydrogen, Oxygen and undissociated water molecules are injected into fuel manifold of the car. The hydrogen will assist in the process of combustion to certain extend and help save the fuel consumption of gasoline.

Renewable Hydrogen is a potential source for fuelling automobiles. One can use solar panels and simple tap water to generate hydrogen gas and store them under high pressure in cylinders. We will be releasing an eBook in the near future to design a suitable Renewable Hydrogen system and install them at homes and businesses for power generation as well as to fuel two-stroke engines such as scooters and bikes. Initially the book will offer DIY kits to design and install power generation for homes and businesses up to 10Kw capacity electricity generation. We will be conducting trials on two-stroke engines using renewable Hydrogen to get approvals from proper transport authorities for safety and usage on Indian roads.

Hydrogen can be safely handled as long as we take appropriate safety measures as we normally do while handling petroleum products like gasoline or butane gas. It may look like a daunting task to fuel a car with Hydrogen gas but in reality, all necessary equipment and systems are commercially available including High pressure Carbon fiber tanks fully tested and approved.

Water makes up 71% of the planet earth and it is the most potential energy source of the future. Water is a product of combustion between Hydrogen and Oxygen, two most abundantly available elements and   vital for life on earth. The bondage between Hydrogen and Oxygen is so strong that it requires a certain amount of energy to separate them. Separation of Hydrogen and Oxygen using the process of Electrolysis is a well-known technology. Separation of water by high temperature using Thermolysis has also been studied.  In both the processes the separation of Hydrogen and Oxygen after decomposition is a key step because of the strong affinity between the two elements. Hydrogen has to be separated in a pure form without any trace of Oxygen. Currently most of Hydrogen is generated commercially by steam reforming natural gas because of its easy availability as piped gas in many developed countries. Moreover steam reforming is a well established commercial technology that has been used for decades in chemical process industries. The hydrogen resulting from steam reforming is acceptable for combusting in Hydrogen internal combustion engines but not pure enough for a Fuel cell car. Any trace of impurity from natural gas such as Sulfur or Mercaptans can potentially poison the catalyst used in fuel cell which is very expensive. Hydrogen with purity less than 99.99% is not recommended for Fuel cell applications.

Currently there are few issues to be addressed before Hydrogen becoming a commercial fuel. The energy required to separate Hydrogen from water by commercial electrolysis is about 6Kws (kilowatts) to generate 1 m3 (cubic meter) of Hydrogen. Two key factors for electrolysis are purity of water and  direct current source. Water of certain purity is a critical part for Hydrogen generation. Deionized water with electrical conductivity less than 0.10 micro Siemens/cm is required. Normal drinking water conductivity is less than 100micro Siemens/cm. The potable water can be deionized with reverse osmosis system to get necessary quality. In fact both high purity water and direct current are not commercially available. A renewable energy sources such as solar or wind that generates direct current can be used for electrolysis. This will drop batteries and rectifier that we normally use in renewable energy systems. The generated Hydrogen can be stored in cylinders under high pressure. The stored hydrogen is the stored energy that can be used as and when required.  We can use the stored Hydrogen to generate electricity to meet our power requirement whether it is a home or business or industry. The major advantage with this system is that we can generate power when we need and we don’t have to depend on the grid power. We can also export surplus power to the grid. In fact all DC appliances can be connected with DC power from Fuel cell and operated to improve the efficiency. Such a system is ideal for remote locations without any grid supply such as remote villages or islands.

The same stored Hydrogen can also be used as fuel for a car whether it is a combustion engine or a Fuel cell car. Hydrogen can be compressed and stored under high pressure. Alternatively, Hydrogen can be stored using metal hydrides in smaller volumes. Honda introduced the first fuel cell car in the market in 1999. Since then they have made considerable improvements. Honda FCX Clarity, sedan offers a mileage of 270 miles for a single cylinder of Hydrogen at 5000 psi pressure. They are introducing a latest model with Hydrogen pressure at 10,000 psi which will considerably improve the mileage further. Unlike Hybrid cars, Fuel cell cars run silently and experts who have test-driven the car are very much impressed with the performance. Similarly Ford introduced Hydrogen combustion engine 6.8 liters V-10 engine to power E-450 Hydrogen shuttle bus. Ford modified their Gasoline engine to suit Hydrogen fuel.

Substituting Gasoline with Hydrogen is no longer a theory but a commercial reality. More and more research is being undertaken to improve the performance. Currently the cost of Hydrogen cars and Hydrogen fuel is expensive, due to lack of infrastructures to manufacture such cars or to distribute Hydrogen. However these cars will soon replace gasoline cars. Similarly homes and business can generate their own electricity for their daily use using stored Hydrogen. Water will become the fuel of the future and Hydrogen will clean up the air that has been heavily polluted by fossil fuels for decades.

Globe is warming at an unprecedented rate since industrial revolution due to the effect of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere; according to a panel of scientists in IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).Thousands of scientists from 30 countries formed IPCC under United Nation to study the problem of global warming and reported to the world. IPCC published a detailed report and it gave an apocalyptic scenario about global warming. They warned that the carbon dioxide level in the atmospheres has increased from 316ppm in 1959 (13% higher than preindustrial level) to current level of 380ppm in 2005, which is 35% above preindustrial level. This dramatic increase in the level of CO2 is due to the human activities. The major contributing gases are Carbon dioxide, Methane, Oxides of Nitrogen, CFC (Chlorofluorocarbons) and Ozone present in the atmosphere. Bulk of the emissions is from power plants and automobiles using fossil fuels. Other process industries like cement plants are also major contributors of greenhouse gases. The enhanced effect of global warming is due to the absorption of invisible infrared radiation coming from the warm surface of the earth. On an average, sun’s light reaches the earth at the rate of 343W/m2 and about 30% of this value is reflected and about 70% is absorbed. The amount of invisible infrared radiation absorbed depends on the concentration of greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere.

According to IPCC their findings on global warming are unequivocal, and if the world does not act now, then, we will be facing dire consequences in the near future. Doubling CO2 emission will increase the global temperature from 2-4.5C. But many skeptics say the IPCC report is apocryphal and they have their own theories to support their skepticism. Many climate models proposed by various international institutions projects an average temperature rise  of 3.4C above  year 2000 level if we do nothing and carry on the “business as usual”. The consequences of global warming are far-reaching. An increase of 3C rise in temperature will result in sea level rise up to 4 to 6 mts in the next few thousand years.

About 10% of the world population lives in less than 10 mts above sea level and majority of population lives within 10km of sea level. We have already witnessed few islands in pacific (example, Bougainvillea, Sulawesi) inundated with seawater. Maldives and Bangladesh are good examples.

They predict shortage of fresh water in many parts of the world and severe draught and flooding in other parts of the world. We have already witnessed these incidents in Northern Queensland in Australia and in Europe, and prolonged draught in Texas, bushfires in Australia and in Russia. Majority of Indian subcontinent is suffering from lack of drinking water. Unscrupulous exploitation of ground water for agriculture purpose has made the situation worse. Many plants, animals and species will face greater risk of extinction. An increasing acidity in seawater due to excess absorption of carbon dioxide will affect aquatic organisms such as shell, coral and shellfish. We are already witnessing bleaching of corals at Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Global warming will displace millions of people due to draught and flooding and consequently leave millions of children malnourished. Water borne diseases and infectious diseases will affect many people. Tropical diseases such as dengue and malaria will be widespread.

These consequences are real, if the world does not act on greenhouse emissions. One need not be a rocket scientist to understand that human behavior and activity has caused irreversible damage to the plant earth for several decades. We unearthed fossil fuels and converted them into plastics and dumped them in every water ways, parks and beaches. The exponential growth in population and industries has driven many animals, tropical forests into extinction. Each and every one of us who are 50 years and above would have witnessed the unfolding consequences of environmental degradation in our life time. What kind of plant earth we will be leaving behind for our future generations?

Every religion on earth has predicted the future of humanity and the last days and hours with deadly consequences for their actions. All native people whether they are Indians from Americas, Aborigines of Australia or Shamans of Indonesia or Natives of Alaska, have time and again raised their voice against indiscriminate destruction of land, water and air in the name of science and industrial growth. But no Government listened to their voice and we are here still struggling with unemployment and poverty.

Mayan civilization is a well-known civilization in ancient world and their seven prophesies are matters of great debate in the recent past. Their prophecy is ominously similar to what IPCC panel predicts except the “end of the world in Dec 2012”. I quote third, fourth and fifth prophesy out of seven Mayan prophecies here, which are relevant to global warming:

“The third prophecy states that there will be change in temperature, producing climatic, geological and social changes in magnitude without patterns and at astonishing speed. One of them will be generated by man in his lack of conscience to care for and protect natural resources of the planet and other generated by sun, which will increase its activity due to increasing vibrations.”

“The fourth prophecy says that anti-ecological conduct of man and greater activity by sun will cause melting of ice in the poles. It will allow the earth to clean itself and green itself again, producing changes in the physical composition of the continents of the planet. The Mayans left a register in the Desdre codices that for every 117 spins of Venus, the Sun suffers new alterations and huge spots or solar eruption appears”.

“The fifth prophecy says that all systems based on fear, on which the civilization based on, will suffer simultaneously with the planet and man will make a transformation to give way to new harmonic reality. The system will fail and man will face himself and in this need to recognize society and continue down the path of evolution that will bring him to understand creation. Only one common spiritual world for all humanity that will end all limits established among many ways to look at God will emerge”.

Perhaps, Jesus too expressed his displeasure with human behavior according to the Gospel of Thomas:

 Jesus said, “Perhaps people think that I have come to cast peace upon the world. They do not know that I have come to cast conflicts upon the earth: fire, sword, war.  For there will be five in a house: there’ll be three against two and two against three, father against son and son against father, and they will stand alone.”

I use the word ‘renewable Hydrogen’ for the Hydrogen derived from water using  renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, wave energy, ocean thermal energy conversion systems and biological processes. Hydrogen is clearly the energy source of the future because it has got the highest energy content, compared to any other fossil fuels such a diesel, gasoline, or Butane. The energy content is more than three times that of natural gas, which is considered as the cleanest commercial fuel available in the market. The heating value of Hydrogen is 61,100Btu/lb compared to 23,879 Btu/lb of natural gas. Moreover, only Hydrogen can guarantee a complete reduction of Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The problem with renewable Hydrogen is the cost, at current situation. The DOE (department of energy, USA) has targeted a cost for Hydrogen production at $10to $15 per mmBtu, which is comparable with current Natural gas cost. Currently bulk of the Hydrogen is commercially produced by steam reforming natural gas. However; this process will emit carbon dioxide at the rate of 11,888gms per Kg of Hydrogen produced. Though the cost of Hydrogen by this route is cheaper, mitigation of carbon dioxide is clearly an environmental issue. However it is an important route during the transition process from fossil fuel to a full fledged Hydrogen economy of the future.

Natural gas is increasingly in demand and the price of natural gas keeps increasing as the supply demand gap widens. Large natural gas liquefaction plants are already in operation in many parts of the world and number of new plants are under implementation or under planning stages. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan are three largest importers of LNG (liquefied natural gas) from Australia in Pacific region. There are many coal seam methane gas facilities already in operation in Australia and many are under planning. Due to the disaster at Fukushima nuclear plant, Japan has stepped up its import of LNG. India and China, which have been traditionally using coal as a major fuel, have started importing LNG for their power plants. This has pushed the prices of LNG in the international market significantly. Though LNG is relatively a cleaner fuel, it is very expensive to build import terminals. Moreover countries like India and China do not have a good distribution network by peipelines.The economy of scale also favor only large capacity LNG plants and terminals.  However it is not a sustainable solution in the long run considering the fact that supply of natural gas also keeps dwindling steadily. Despite all these obstacles, Governments around the world are looking only for short-term solutions like LNG, simply because it is an easy fix.

Biogas can be generated from organic waste and waste waters by anaerobic digestion. Many sewage treatment plants around the world have started generating biogas to generate power for captive use and to export the surplus power to the grid. Similarly municipalities are also implementing projects to convert ‘waste garbage’ to ‘energy’. However, the scale of operation favors only large capacity plants in larger cities. However these biogas plants will still emit carbon dioxide because biogas will be combusted using conventional engines, micro turbines and Fuelcells.This is once again a temporary solution only. We need to look beyond all these technologies to really cut the greenhouse emissions.

The only option is by Renewable Hydrogen and we need to take steps to make it a commercial reality. Biohydrogen is another potential technology. However the technology is still in a nascent stage but it is promising. Renewable Hydrogen using renewable energy sources are our best bet. Countries have already started investing in renewable energy infrastructures such as solar and wind. They can as well plan for renewable Hydrogen so that they can be certain about three things. One, they can generate and use uninterrupted power supply without importing oil or gas. Secondly they can be certain that greenhouse emissions can be reduced to pre-industrialization level. Thirdly they can be certain about the last cost of energy and its stability in the long run. These are three important factors every citizen of a country is looking for. It requires political will, determination and swift action on the part of each Government.

Carbon is the backbone of an organic life on earth. Every life from the smallest microorganism to human beings is made up of carbon. A cycle  called ‘carbon cycle’ that decomposes carbon into carbon dioxide which is used to synthesis Carbohydrates by the  process known as  ‘photosynthesis’ in presence of water and sunlight, as described in the following equation:

6CO2+ 6H2O   + sunlight →  C6H12O6 + 6O2

The oxygen generated during the above process and carbohydrates sustains life of animals and microorganism on earth. These lives consume oxygen and carbohydrates and releases Carbon dioxide by respiration into the atmosphere. The released carbon dioxide breaks down carbohydrates and other organic matters and regenerates carbon dioxide for reuse by animals and other lives. Not all organic matters are decomposed and part of it is stored as carbon biomass in the roots of plants and other organic matters and buried under earth. After millions of years these organic matters turns into fossil fuels under pressure and higher temperature. Carbon is distributed on earth, in water and in atmosphere. Due to increase in population and industrial growth over several decades the carbon dioxide increased gradually in soil, water and atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is also released by natural events like volcanic eruptions.

But the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased rapidly after industrialisation, when industries unearthed buried fossil fuels and burnt. In fact we are burning carbon at a faster rate than it is regenerated. It is purely man-made and it increases the presence of carbon dioxide both in atmosphere as well as in oceans. The rapid increase of green house emission started 240 years ago when industrial revolution started. The consequences of this unabated greenhouse gases due to combustion has caused ‘global warming’ with many consequences.

As I have mentioned in my previous articles, power generation and transportation are the two major industries that emit bulk of the greenhouse emission. Both industries use age-old technologies of combustion. The world has been complacent about fossil fuels and grossly indifferent to industrial pollution for decades. Global warming is looming as the biggest threat of the twenty-first century, yet we are not acting. Politicians deny global warming and they want to carry on the business as usual, at the peril of the future generations.

Powerful countries like US, China and India are reluctant to pass a unanimous resolution to set target for carbon emission, while smaller nations remain as powerless onlookers. These powerful nations can drag the rest of the world with them to face the wrath of the Mother Nature with disastrous consequences for their inaction.

It is quite obvious that world have no choice but switch to cleaner energy sources and leave the fossil fuels buried deep under the earth. A new paradigm shift in the way we generate energy and use them is the key for the survival of mankind. We need to develop Hydrogen as an alternative fuel source and Government should encourage innovations in such technologies, while they simultaneously price carbon. In the absence of a concrete legislation and mechanism to penalize polluters, industries will continue to use fossil fuels. A simple cost benefit analysis will show that taxing on polluters and simultaneously introducing renewable technologies will benefit the world in the long run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our modern civilization has been shaped by oil or Hydrocarbons for several decades to such an extent that there is no immediate substitute for petrol, the world can count on. In fact the world has been complacent about the availability of Hydrocarbon, its applications and its future. Political leaders have competed with each other to make sure that their supply of oil and gas is guaranteed as a  matter of national security. Some countries even waged wars to secure oil fields. This situation is getting worse, as the supply of oil and gas are becoming uncertain and supplies dwindling. Each and every human being in the world is affected by oil and gas in one way or other, irrespective of the size, geography and rate of industrialization. The main reason for this situation is, the contribution of hydrocarbons made in the field of power generation and transportation.

Currently more than 80% of power generation comes from fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal. The entire transportation industry all over the world depends on oil and gas. The petrochemical industry’s contribution to our modern civilization is tremendous. It encompasses a whole range of industries whether it is fertilizers or plastics and resins or chemical industries or drugs and pharmaceuticals or cosmetic and toiletries and so on. These major industries determine the progress, civilization and industrialization of a nation. Countries who have vast resources of oil and gas are one of the richest countries in the world, even though these countries have no other resources. Countries with vast population and resources have to depend on oil and gas imports for their industries and transports. Countries with vast mineral resources cannot run their mines without power or transportation.

It is time we look at why oil and gas has become such a critical components in the progress of a nation and how this situation can be overcome. The two major technologies, which depend upon hydrocarbons, are power generation and transportation. Both these technologies use heat as a primary energy. In power generation, heat energy is converted into mechanical energy and then to electrical energy. In transport industry, the heat energy of the fuel is converted into mechanical energy. In petrochemical industry; oil and gas are converted into various chemical products by various chemical reactions and processes.

If we closely look at the Hydrocarbon molecule, one thing is obvious. In a Hydrocarbon molecule, Hydrogen atoms are attached to carbon atoms. A simple example is, Natural gas or Methane gas, represented by chemical formula CH4. Four Hydrogen atoms are attached to a carbon atom, which actually imparts the heat energy (heat content) to the molecule. Without Hydrogen atoms, it is nothing but carbon. If we look at the heat value of Natural gas and Hydrogen, one will understand that Hydrogen has got a higher heating value. What is more interesting is there will be no greenhouse emission (carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide) by combusting Hydrogen. It is only water that is the byproduct of combustion of Hydrogen. If we can generate power or drive a car by combusting a Hydrocarbon, then why not combust Hydrogen to generate power or drive a car using the same combustion process? Even if one considers Hydrogen as too dangerous to handle, a mixture of a minor part of biogas or natural with Hydrogen should solve the issue. It is certainly possible and only Hydrogen can replace oil and gas. We can use a combustion technology we knew for decades or use Fuel cell technology that we start using recently with Hydrogen. It is a clean technology and it does not emit smoke or make noise. Whichever way we looks at it, only hydrogen can replace Petrol. Sooner it does, better for the world.

 

Power generation using fossil fuels is a well established technology dating back to 1839, when Michael Faraday invented the principle of Electro-magnetism. There was not much of a change in this technology all these years. But recently greenhouse emission and global warming has become an issue; and the world started looking for an alternative source of energy and method of power generation. However it is not an easy task to develop completely a different technology as well as a fuel in a short span of time, while an unabated man-made greenhouse gas emission continues. Scientists  are now warning  catastrophic consequences if we do not curtail greenhouse gas emissions with great urgency.Untill now the world was able to avert some of the potentially  catastrophic events happening, like ozone layer depletion, pandemic bird flu etc.But global warming is a new thereat  that demands an entirely a new solution and a swift action. But most countries in the world are not is a place to curtain greenhouse emission gas, simply because there is no alternative fuel known, except fossil fuels. Renewable energy is relatively a new concept. Though we knew about solar and wind energy sources, we did not persuade  them seriously because they could not compete with conventional fossil fuels. But the time has come for new emerging technologies that can not only compete with fossil fuels but also eliminate greenhouse emissions. The world has invested massively on fossil fuel infrastructures and still investing heavily on oil and gas explorations. Obviously there is no end in sight as far as fossil fuels are concerned and the world is carrying on business as usual.

Meanwhile a new technology based on fuel cell is emerging as an alternative for power generation. Fuel cell is a known concept and it has been successfully deployed in ‘Apollo space programme in space shuttle. This old version of alkaline fuel cells was replaced with PEM (proton exchange membrane) fuel cell or (PEMF) Polymer electrode membrane fuel cell. This new version was used in Gemini’s space programme in sixties. Fuel cell is an electro chemical device that uses Hydrogen gas as a fuel and it operates at ambient temperature. It is like a battery cell. The difference between fuel cell and batteries is the Fuel cell will keep generating power as long as fuel is supplied unlike a battery, where energy is stored in the form of chemical energy and converted into electrical energy when used by connecting through a conductor. Battery needs recharging but Fuel cell requires refueling. The fuel used in Fuel cell is invariably Hydrogen. Conventional power generation involves combustion of fossil fuel (heat energy) which drives a turbine (mechanical energy) to run an alternator to generate power (electrical energy).In fuel cell; Hydrogen gas reacts with oxygen from the atmosphere (electrochemically) to generate power. It produces water as by-product. The efficiency of Fuel cell is about 50-60% compared to 35-40% by steam or gas turbine. In regenerative fuel cell, we can split water into Hydrogen and oxygen using same proton exchange membrane elecrolyzer.We can use the resulting Hydrogen as a Fuel to the PEM Fuel cell to generate power, thus recovering  water. It is a closed circuit system. There are no mechanical moving parts, no combustion, no smoke or no noise. It is a quiet and clean operation. It is a very promising technology that can revolutionize the way we produce fuel and generate power. The Hydrogen and fuel cell combination is used in cars. Honda FCX (fuel cell model) cars work on the same principle and they are already on roads!

One problem with Hydrogen generation is it requires more power to split water, into Hydrogen and oxygen, than the power generated by resulting hydrogen, using Fuel cell. However, this technology will change the future of power generation by eliminating greenhouse emission completely. But how long it will take to become a commercial reality is something we have to wait and see! If political leaders and Governments around the world recognize the potential of this technology and take bold decisions together with swift actions, probably our future generation can breathe a clean air.

Renewable energy is one of the fastest growing energy sources of our times. But still there are many obstacles to overcome, before it can substitute current methods of electricity generation using fossil fuels, or substitute petrol in cars. The main obstacle is, the intermittent and unpredictable nature of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar. Wind blows only certain seasons of the year and then wind velocity fluctuates widely in a day. Similarly sun shines only certain hours in a day and the intensity of radiation varies widely in a day. The wind velocity and sun’s radiation intensity are critical components in designing a reliable energy system. It is an anomalous situation, when we need power, there is no sun or wind; when sun shines or wind blows, we may not need any power. How to overcome this anomaly? That is the key, in successfully deploying renewable energy technologies.

Currently we are using batteries to store the energy. When there is a wind with reasonable velocity or sunshine with reasonable radiation intensity, we can generate power and store them in batteries. The wind velocity should be above certain threshold limit, say such as, a least wind velocity of 3mts/sec for amount of hours, while designing a wind based energy system. The same principle applies to solar energy and we need certain minimum solar   intensity and several hours. But in reality, we don’t get these minimum operating parameters, which make the design of a renewable system more complicated.

Batteries can accumulate these small energy generations by intermittent sources of wind and sun, and store them. But these batteries have certain life between 3-5 years and requires regular maintenance, replacements.They also have certain charging and discharging cycles and limitations. At the end of its life, it has to be disposed carefully because these batteries are made of lead and acid, which are toxic materials. Many companies are trying to introduce better technologies such as ‘flow batteries’. But experience shows that such batteries are confined to only smaller capacities. Large scale storage is expensive and sometimes it is not economically feasible. Lithium-ion batteries are more efficient than Lead-acid batteries, but they are more expensive so the renewable energy projects become expensive and cannot compete with conventional fossil fuels, in spite of higher tariffs offered by Government as incentives. Moreover the demand for Lithium-ion batteries will increase substantially in the future, as more and more Electric cars are produced. But lithium sources are limited and it is not sustainable.

The best option to develop renewable energy systems is to generate Hydrogen using renewable energy and store them, instead of storing them in batteries. We can use stored Hydrogen to generate power, or use as fuel for the car, as and when we need. There are no maintenance or disposal problems with Hydrogen storage, when comparing with batteries. Hydrogen generators (electrolyzers) can generate Hydrogen when the intermittent power flows from wind or sun. They can run from a range of capacities from 5 to 100% of rated capacity and they are more suitable for renewable energy sources. But there will be a loss of energy, because the amount of power required to generate Hydrogen, is more than the power generated from the resulting Hydrogen by a Fuelcell.The initial cost will be higher, but it will give operational flexibility with least maintenance, and even adoptable to remote sites. Technology is improving to cut the cost of fuel cells and electrolyzers so that Hydrogen based renewable energy will become a sustainable source of energy in the future. Hydrogen is the only solution that can solve both power generation and transportation problems the world is currently facing.

There is a myth that electric cars will eliminate Greenhouse gas emission and reduce the global warming. Electric car will not reduce the greenhouse emission because; you still need electricity to charge your batteries. Companies promoting electric cars are now planning to set up their own battery charging stations because, customers have to charge batteries of these electric cars every now and then. Otherwise, they will not be able to drive their electric cars continuously.  There is no battery currently in the market that can last more than 28 hours between the charges, though many companies are trying to develop superior batteries. One company claims a Battery(electricity) of 300whr/kg, for their LLithium-ion polymer battery, much superior than other batteries, which can run 600kms, with 6 minutes charging. Though, new batteries such as semi solid Lithium-ion battery, based on the principle of ‘flow batteries’, are promising, it is still, a long way to commercialization. President Obama  has set a set a target of 1 million electric cars in US roads, by 2012.It is estimated that US has to produce about 40 billion dollars worth of domestically produced batteries. A lithium-ion battery which weighs less and stores more energy is the promising technology. But Lithium resources are limited. Battery is the heart of an electric car. These electric cars do not emit smoke, or make noise like petrol cars. But, these two factors alone are not sufficient to substitute traditional fossil fuel powered international combustion engines.

It is also true, that electric cars can cut green house emission to an extent, where fossil fuel consumed cars are replaced with electric cars. To that extend, the fossil fuel consumption by these cars are reduced. But the power to charge the batteries will still have to come from the common grid. Unless the power generation technology using fossil fuels is changed, there will be no dramatic greenhouse gas emission reduction by introducing electric cars. Alternatively, if cars are built on Hydrogen based fuel either using a conventional Internal combustion engine, or by using Fuel cell, then a substantial amount of greenhouse emission can be eliminated. However Hydrogen generation should be based on Renewable energy source only. Whichever way one looks at it, renewable energy is the key. Those Governments and companies who do not invest in renewable energy technologies and systems, now, will have to pay a heavy price, in the future. But even those companies investing on renewable energy technologies, should look beyond current technologies and systems. The best starting point for these industries will be to substitute ‘storage batteries’ with ‘stored Hydrogen’.

It is much simpler to install PV solar panels or wind turbines, and to generate Hydrogen on site, from water. One can store Hydrogen in fuelling stations, and fuel the cars. Honda was the first entrant into this market, who was focusing on fuel cell technology, using compressed hydrogen gas. Alternatively such Hydrogen can be generated from ‘Biogas’ generated from biological wastes and waste treatment plants. All necessary technologies are currently available to make it happen. Governments can try to promote small townships with Hydrogen fuel stations, and show case such models to the rest of the country or other nations to follow. This will help nations to reduce their greenhouse emission and at the same time, they can become self-sufficient in their energy requirements. They no longer have to depend on polluting oil and gas, from few Middle East countries. Countries like India with impressive economic growth heavily depend on oil imports and any slight fluctuation in oil prices can easily upset such growth. It is time Governments around the world take a serious look at Hydrogen, as their alternative energy source. It is just not good enough to promote renewable energy technologies, but they have to develop generation, storage and distribution technologies for Hydrogen. What is needed at this hour is, ‘will, determination and leadership’ on the part of the Governments, like US, China and India, that can set an example for the rest of the world by investing in Hydrogen economy.

%d bloggers like this: