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Monthly Archives: March 2012

It is clear substituting fossil fuels with Hydrogen is not only efficient but also sustainable in the long run. While efforts are on to produce Hydrogen at a cost in par with Gasoline or less using various methods, sustainability is equally important. We have necessary technology to convert piped natural gas to Hydrogen to generate electricity on site to power our homes and fuel our cars using Fuelcell.But this will not be a sustainable solution because we can no longer depend on piped natural gas because its availability is limited; and it is also a potent greenhouse gas. The biogas or land fill gas has the same composition as that of a natural gas except the Methane content is lower than piped natural gas. The natural gas is produced by Nature and comes out along with number of impurities such as Carbon dioxide, moisture and Hydrogen sulfide etc.The impure natural gas is cleaned and purified to increase the Methane content up to 90%, before it is compressed and supplied to the customers. The gas is further purified so that it can be liquefied into LNF (liquefied natural gas) to be transported to long distances or exported to overseas.

When the natural gas is liquefied, the volume of gas is reduced about 600 times to its original volume, so that the energy density is increased substantially, to cut the cost of transportation. The LNG can be readily vaporized and used at any remote location, where there is no natural gas pipelines are in existence or in operation. Similarly Hydrogen too can be liquefied into liquid Hydrogen. Our current focus is to cut the cost of Hydrogen to the level of Gasoline or even less. Biogas and bio-organic materials are potential sources of Hydrogen and also they are sustianable.Our current production of wastes from industries business and domestic have increased substantially creating sustainability isues.These wastes are also major sources of greenhouse gases and also sources of many airborne diseses.They also cause depletion of valuable resources without a credible recycling mechanisms. For example, number of valuable materials including Gold, silver, platinum, Lead, Cadmium, Mercury and Lithium are thrown into municipal solid waste (MSW) and sewage. Major domestic wastes include food, paper, plastics and wood materials. Industrial wastes include many toxic chemicals including Mercury, Arsenic, tanning chemicals, photographic chemicals, toxic solvents and gases. The domestic and industrial effluents contain valuable materials such as potassium, Phosphorous and Nitrates. We get these valuable resources from Nature, convert them into useful products and then throw them away as a waste. These valuable materials remain as elements without any change irrespective of type of usages.Recyling waste materials and treatment of waste water and effluent is a very big business. Waste to wealth is a hot topic.

The waste materials both organic and inorganic are too valuable to be wasted for two simple reasons. First of all it pollutes our land, water and air; secondly we need fresh resources and these resources are limited while our needs are expanding exponentially. It is not an option but an absolute necessity to recycle them to support sustainability. For example, most of the countries do not have Phosphorous, a vital ingredient for plant growth and food production. Bulk of the Phosphorus and Nitrates are not recovered from municipal waste water and sewage plants. We simply discharge them into sea at far away distance while the public is in dark and EPA shows a blind eye to such activities. Toxic Methane gases are leaking from many land fill sites and some of these sites were even sold to gullible customers as potential housing sites. Many new residents in these locations find later that their houses have been built on abandoned landfill sites. They knew only when the tap water becomes highly inflammable when lighting with a match stick. The levels of Methane were above the threshold limit and these houses were not fit for living. We have to treat wastes because we can recover valuable nutrients and also generate energy without using fresh fossil fuels. It is a win situation for everybody involved in the business of ‘waste to wealth’.

These wastes have a potential to guarantee cheap and sustainable Hydrogen for the future. Biogas is a known technology that is generated from various municipal solid wastes and effluents. But current methods of biogas generation are not efficient and further cleaning and purifications are necessary. The low-grade methane 40-55% is not suitable for many industrial applications except for domestic heating. The biogas generated by anaerobic digestion has to be scrubbed free of Carbon dioxide and Hydrogen sulfide to get more than 90% Methane gas so that it can be used for power generation and even for steam reforming to Hydrogen generation. Fuel cell used for on site power generation and Fuel cell cars need high purity Hydrogen. Such Hydrogen is not possible without cleaning and purifying ‘ biogas’ much. Hydrogen generation from Biogas or from Bioethanol is a potential source of Hydrogen in the future.

Many universities, research and development institutions and industries are studying various biological processes to produce Hydrogen using different sources of organic materials such as Starch, Glucose, Bioethanol and cellulosic materials. However many of these technologies are at an early “proof of concept’ stages.  Moreover these processes depend upon site and availability of specific raw materials in these locations. For example, Brazil has been very successful in the production of Bioethanol from sugar cane molasses and using it as the fuel for cars. Brazil has also successfully used Bioethanol as a substitute for Naphtha as a feedstock for the production of ethylene, a precursor for a several plastics such as PVC and Polyethylene and Glycols. Bioethanol is a classic example of biological process than can successfully substitute Gasoline .Many industrial raw materials are also derived from Sugar cane and Corn Starch. The main issue in substituting Gasoline with bio-chemicals is political, in many countries. India has produced industrial alcohol from sugarcane molasses for  number of years but they were not be able successfully substitute Gasoline with Alcohol. They have to fix the price of Alcohol in relation to the price of Gasoline or Naptha.This pricing mechanism is critical.

We have been using coal as the raw material for several decades not only to generate power but also to produce host of organic chemicals and fertilizers such as Urea, coal-tar chemicals such as dyes and pharmaceuticals. These industries later switched over to oil and Gas. Now the world is facing depletion of fossil fuels at a faster rate. Greenhouse emission and global warming threats are looming large. There is a clear sign that the energy prices will sharply increase in the near future. Renewable energy projects are at early stages and their first costs and cost of productions are much higher compared to fossil fuel based power generation. However biological processes and biofuels offer a glimpse of hope to get over the energy crisis and also to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

Production of   Biohydrogen using bio-organic organic materials such as starch, glucose and cellulosic materials are under development, but it may be a decade before they can be successfully commercialized. But production of Bioethanol and Biogas are well-known technologies. Generation of Biogas from agricultural waste, food waste and municipal solid waste and waste water are known technologies. However Methane the major constituents of biogas, is a potential greenhouse gas. The Biogas can be easily cleaned from other impurities such as Carbon dioxide and Hydrogen sulfide and can be readily converted in Hydrogen gas by steam reformation. This will substantially increase the energy efficiency of Biogas plants.

Many developing countries can adopt these technologies on a wider scale and promote Bioethenaol and Biogas generation to substitute petroleum oil and gas. They can convert Gasoline cars into 100% Bioethanol (anhydrous) or blended with gasoline fuels for cars. These technologies are commercially available. Some countries in Asia, Africa and South America produce various starches such as Tapioca starch for industrial applications. Vegetable oils such as Jatropha and Castor oils are excellent for bio-fuels and lubricants. Though it is theoretically possible to substitute most of the petrochemicals with bio- organic materials, it is important that food products such as corn should not be diverted for commercial applications such as fuel.

The coming decade will be a challenging one and Hydrogen generation from various biological organic materials can substitute fossil fuels at a much faster rate. A judicial mix of bio-energy and renewable energy such as solar and wind should help the world to overcome the challenges.

There is so much discussion about Hydrogen as a source of clean energy because, it is the choice of Nature. Nature has provided us with fossil fuels which are Hydrocarbons, chemically represented by CxHy, Carbon and Hydrogen atoms. In the absence of Hydrogen in a Hydrocarbon, it is nothing but Carbon, which is an inert material. The Hydrocarbon gets its heating value only from the presence Hydrogen atom. The natural gas, now considered as the cleanest form of Hydrocarbon is represented by the chemical formula CH4, containing 25% Hydrogen by weight basis. It represents the largest Carbon to Hydrogen ratio at 1:4.This is the highest in any organic chemicals. In aromatic organic compounds such as Benzene, represented by C6H6, the Hydrogen content is only 7.69%.Even in Sugar which is an organic compound from Nature, represented chemically as C12H22O11 has only 8.27% Hydrogen. But Bioethanol, derived from sugar represented by C2H5OH has almost 13% Hydrogen.  Ethyl Alcohol known as ‘Bioethanol’ derived from sugar is blended with Gasoline (Hydrocarbon), for using as a fuel in cars in countries like Brazil. Brazil is the only country that does not depend on imported Gasoline for their cars. The same Bioethanol can also be derived from Corn starch. But the starch should first be converted into sugar before alcohol is derived; that is why it is more expensive to produce Bioethanol from starch than from cane sugar molasses. The climatic conditions of Brazil are more favorable for growing Cane sugar than corn.  Brazil is in a more advantageous position than North America, when it comes to Bioethanol. US is one of the largest consumer of Gasoline.US has imported 11.5 million barrels/day of oil in 2010.It has used 138.5 billion gallons of Gasoline (3.30billion barrels) in 2010) according to EIA. (US Energy Information Administration) It is estimated that Brazil’s sugar based Alcohol is 30% cheaper than US’s corn-based Alcohol. Brazil has successfully substituted Gasoline with locally produced alcohol .They also introduced ‘flexible fuel vehicles’ that can use various blends of Alcohol-Gasoline. Most of the Gasoline used in US has 10% Ethanol blend called E10 and E15, representing the percentage of Alcohol content in Gasoline. Brazil is the largest producers of Bioethanol in the world. Both Brazil and US account for 87.8% of Bioethanol production in the world in 2010 and 87.1% in 2011.Brazil is using Bioethanol blends of various proportions such as E20/E25/E100 (anhydrous alcohol) (Ref: Wikipedia). Almost all cars in Brazil use Bioethanol blended Gasoline and even 100% anhydrous Bioethanol are used for cars. Brazil has set an example as a ‘sustainable economy introducing alternative fuel’ to the rest of the world. The ‘bagasse’ from cane sugar is also used as a fuel as well in the production of ‘Biogas’, which helps Brazil to meet sustainability on renewable energy and greenhouse gas mitigation. The above example is a clear demonstration of sustainability because natural organic material such as sugar is the basic building block by which we can build our Sustainable clean energy of the future. The same Bioethnanol can easily be reformed for the production of Hydrogen gas to generate power and run Fuel cell cars. Many companies are trying to use chemicals such as metal Hydrides as a source of Hydrogen. For example, one company successfully demonstrated using Sodium Borohydride for Hydrogen production. Many companies are trying to find alternative sources of Hydrogen generation from water, including Photo-electrolysis using direct solar light and special photo catalyst materials. We know Nature produces sugar by using sun’s light, water and carbon dioxide from air by photosynthetic process. Can man duplicate this natural process and generate Hydrogen at the fraction of the cost by simply using water and sun’s light? The race is already on and only time can tell whether our pursuit for cheap and clean Hydrogen can become a commercial reality or just stay as an elusive dream.

There is so much discussion about Hydrogen as a source of clean energy because, it is the choice of Nature. Nature has provided us with fossil fuels which are Hydrocarbons, chemically represented by CxHy, Carbon and Hydrogen atoms. In the absence of Hydrogen in a Hydrocarbon, it is nothing but Carbon, which is an inert material. The Hydrocarbon gets its heating value only from the presence Hydrogen atom. The natural gas, now considered as the cleanest form of Hydrocarbon is represented by the chemical formula CH4, containing 25% Hydrogen by weight basis. It represents the largest Carbon to Hydrogen ratio at 1:4.This is the highest in any organic chemicals. In aromatic organic compounds such as Benzene, represented by C6H6, the Hydrogen content is only 7.69%.Even in Sugar which is an organic compound from Nature, represented chemically as C12H22O11 has only 8.27% Hydrogen. But Bioethanol, derived from sugar represented by C2H4OH has almost 11.11% Hydrogen. That is why Ethyl Alcohol known as ‘Bioethanol’ derived from sugar is blended with Gasoline (Hydrocarbon), for using as a fuel in cars in countries like Brazil.

Brazil is the only country that does not depend on imported Gasoline for their cars. The same Bioethanol can also be derived from Corn starch. But the starch should first be converted into sugar before alcohol is derived; that is why it is more expensive to produce Bioethanol from starch than from cane sugar molasses. The climatic conditions of Brazil are more favorable for growing Cane sugar than corn. That is why Brazil is in a more advantageous position than North America, when it comes to Bioethanol. US is one of the largest consumer of Gasoline.US has imported 11.5 million barrels/day of oil in 2010.It has used 138.5 billion gallons of Gasoline (3.30billion barrels) in 2010) according to EIA. (US Energy Information Administration)

It is estimated that Brazil’s sugar based Alcohol is 30% cheaper than US’s corn-based Alcohol. Brazil has successfully substituted Gasoline with locally produced alcohol .They also introduced ‘flexible fuel vehicles’ that can use various blends of Alcohol-Gasoline. Most of the Gasoline used in US has 10% Ethanol blend called E10 and E15, representing the percentage of Alcohol content in Gasoline. Brazil is the largest producers of Bioethanol in the world. Both Brazil and US account for 87.8% of Bioethanol production in the world in 2010 and 87.1% in 2011.Brazil is using Bioethanol blends of various proportions such as E20/E25/E100 (anhydrous alcohol) (Ref: Wikipedia). Almost all cars in Brazil uses Bioethanol blended Gasoline and even 100% anhydrous Bioethanol are used for cars. Brazil has set an example as a ‘sustainable economy introducing alternative fuel’ to the rest of the world. The ‘bagasse’ from cane sugar is also used as a fuel as well in the production of ‘Biogas’, which helps Brazil to meet sustainability on renewable energy and greenhouse gas mitigation.

The above example is a clear demonstration of sustainability because natural organic material such as sugar is the basic building block by which we can build our Sustainable clean energy of the future. The same Bioethnanol can easily be reformed for the production of Hydrogen gas to generate power and run Fuel cell cars. Many companies are trying to use chemicals such as metal Hydrides as a source of Hydrogen. For example, one company successfully demonstrated using Sodium Borohydride for Hydrogen production. Many companies are trying to find alternative sources of Hydrogen generation from water, including Photo-electrolysis using direct solar light and special photo catalyst materials. We know Nature produces sugar by using sun’s light, water and carbon dioxide from air by photosynthetic process. Can man duplicate this natural process and generate Hydrogen at the fraction of the cost by simply using water and sun’s light? The race is already on and only time can tell whether our pursuit for cheap and clean Hydrogen can become a commercial reality or just stay as an elusive dream.

 

 

 

Seawater is the largest source of Fresh water as well as the source of Hydrogen energy.However; Seawater cannot be used directly for these applications and it requires further treatment. Seawater has a number of dissolved salts and the TDS, total dissolved solids, of seawater is about 35,000ppm (parts per million).The commonly used industrial desalination process is by RO (reverse osmosis) as well as by multi flash distillation (MFD). Both these processes are energy intensive.RO process requires electrical energy and MFD requires thermal energy. Most of the countries in Pesian  Gulf use desalination process to convert seawater into drinking water as well as industrial water. These oil rich countries depend on the desalinated seawater as their main source of drinking water supply. In the desalination process by RO, the TDS level of seawater is reduced from 35,000ppm to 500ppm, meeting the WHO (World Health Organization) specifications for drinking purpose. The advantage with reverse osmosis process is it can remove even the smallest bacteria and virus, during the desalination. The water can further be disinfected by the injection of Chlorine before distributing for drinking purpose.

Majority of Desalination plants use RO process because it is economical. There is a worldwide shortage for safe Drinking water and more and more SWRO plants are coming up in various parts of the world. The technology of RO has advanced so much that the cost of desalinated seawater can compete with surface water in many parts of the world, especially in Gulf region where the energy cost is low. The rapid increase in population and industrial growth has created a greater demand for fresh water.

In conventional SWRO process, only 35-40% of fresh water is recovered and the balance 60-65% is discharged back into the sea as a highly saline brine, with TDS levels exceeding 65,000pm, almost double the salinity of seawater. Similarly most of the power plants located on sea coasts are using seawater for cooling purpose. In once through cooling system, the seawater is circulated into the power plant to condense steam in turbines and returned back to the sea. The temperature and salinity of the returning water into the sea is always higher than the intake water. Some oceanographers feel that such slow increase in salinity of seawater affects the temperature of the sea and the climate.

However, discharge of highly saline brine into the sea has become routine and EPA (Environmental and Pollution Authority) of various countries routinely approve such discharge, claiming it does not affect the marine life much. The environmental impact study conducted in one country is routinely followed by many countries and invariably conclude that such discharge has a very little or no impact to the environment. Human beings are concerned only with their environment and not with the Ocean environment where variety of marine species live. Our oceans have been heavily polluted from the time of industrial revolution by oil spills, toxic industrial effluent discharges, desalination and power plant discharges. The TDS levels of seawater in Gulf region has considerably increased in the past few decades. The TDS levels are about 50,000 ppm against conventional levels of 35,000PPM.The oceans are acidified by absorption of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere due to greenhouse gas emissions.

The power required to desalinate seawater is directly proportional to the osmotic pressure of seawater. The osmotic pressure increase as the TDS level increases, which in turn increases the energy consumption by desalination plants. A recent report from US government says that fresh water will become a serious issue after a decade and even wars may be waged between countries for the sake of fresh water. The human activities not only cause global warming but also changing the chemistry of our oceans. Steadily dwindling fish population is a clear sign of changing chemistry and biology of our oceans. In the absence of a proven scientific evidence to show that  human beings cause these changes in the ocean, we will carry on our business as usual until we reach a point of no return.

If you add salt to the water, it will not boil at 100C at 1 atmospheric pressure but slightly at a higher temperature. It is high school physics. When the salinity of the ocean increases from 35,000ppm to 50,000ppm, does it not affect the evaporation of the sea, which condenses into a cloud and come back as a rain? Does it mean there will be less precipitation in the future? Even if the ocean is under constant circulation, the overall salinity level keeps increasing.

Photovoltaic  solar industry has started expanding in recent years in US and Europe and the rest of the world also started following. Still solar energy is considered expensive in many parts of the world for various reasons. In most of these countries, energy is predominantly managed by Governments with age-old technologies and transmission systems. Coal is still the major fuel used for power generation and distribution and their infrastructures are old and inefficient. Transmission losses, power pilfering, subsidized power tariffs and even free power for farmers, are some of the issues that compounds the problems. Energy and water are considered more of social issues rather than business issues. For example in India, frequent power failures are common  and sometimes people do not have power even up to 8 to 12 hours  a day, especially  in country sides. Standby diesel generators are integral part of an industry or business. The heavily subsidized power supply by Government from coal-fired power plants is  underrated. The average power tariff in India is still less than $0.07/kwhr.But the reality is they will be using diesel generated power for equal several hours in a day  and the cost of diesel power varies from  $0.24 up to $0.36/kwhrs, almost in par with solar power. The average power cost will amount to $0.18 to $0.20 /kwhrs.

Any slight increase  in oil price will have a dramatic effect in energy cost in India and their balance of payment situation.Governments are in a precarious situation and they have to make a balancing act between subsidizing the energy cost and winning the elections. They often subsidize the power resulting in heavy revenue losses for Government run electricity boards. Most of the electricity boards in India are in red. People are used to low power tariffs for several decades and any increase in the tariff will make the Government unpopular. Greenhouse effect and global warming are secondary issues. With an average economic growth rate at 7% year after year, their energy requirements have gone up substantially. They may need several hundred thousands of MW power in the next 5 to 10 years. They have opened up energy sector to private only in recent years.

Renewable energy industry is relatively new and there are very few large commercial-scale solar and wind power plants in India. Majority of residents and businesses cannot afford high cost of PV solar installation. Even if they install, there is no ‘power- in tariff’ mechanism by Government where consumers can export surplus energy at a higher tariff to the grid. With current power failures lasting 8-12 hours/day, such mechanisms will have no value. The situation is the same in many Asian countries.

The solar panel costs are high due to lack of local production of silicon wafers, batteries and inverters and most of them are still imported. State electricity boards do not have funds to buy power at higher tariffs. Import duties and taxes on imported components are still high making renewable industries uncompetitive against cheap coal-fired,  subsidized power cost of $0.07/kwhrs .India requires massive investment on renewable energy industries. But most of the power projects which are under planning stage or under implementation are based on either coal or oil or LNG.There is no sign that India will soon become a major player in renewable energy.

In PV solar projects, the cost of storage batteries are higher than the solar panel during the life cycle of 25 years. If the life of a battery is 8 years then you will need 3 batteries during the life cycle. For example, if you use 100 watts solar panel with a life span of 20 years, the initial cost of solar panel may be $300 which will generate an average power of 140 watt.hrs /day. If you plan to store 5 days energy using a battery, you will enquire 5x 140= 700 watt.hrs battery, costing about $175.If you have to replace batteries 3 times during the life span of 20 years then the cost of battery is 3×175= $525.You have to add operation and maintenance cost, in addition to it. Therefore, your investment on batteries is 1.75 times more than solar panels. This cost will substantially add up to your energy cost.

In most of the Asian countries where they cannot export surplus power to the grid, they have to rely only on batteries. This high cost of stored energy is not remunerative because they cannot export this surplus to the grid at a higher tariff. This situation is not likely to change at least in the short-term.

Renewable energy industry has slowly but steadily started expanding in many parts of the world in spite of  high cost of investment and high  cost of energy. Countries like US, Germany and China are now investing on large-scale solar and wind technologies, opening new avenues for investments and employment opportunities. Many of these technologies will undergo several changes over a time before it can completely substitute fossil fuels. How long this process will take will depend upon number of factors; but the single biggest driving force will be ‘the issue global warming and its consequences” and also on uncertainties over oil reserves in the world. Nothing dramatic will happen in the near future except that the concept of alternative source of energy will expand rapidly. It is also an opportunity to discover new forms of fuels, power generation and distribution methods.

The concept of solar energy is now well-recognized as an alternative source of energy because, it is abundantly available, it is clean, generates no pollution and it is silent. The major raw materials such as Silica  and Gallium Arsenide  are  also available but some of the rare earth materials used in PV industries and batteries  are available only in certain parts of the world.  China is endowed with many such rare earth resources. For example, Lithium has limited resources and now bulk of it is produced from natural brines similar to the one at Atacama deserts in South America. It is also available in the form of minerals and ores which many countries are now trying to exploit commercially.

The storage of energy from  solar and wind is  done using deep cycle batteries, most of which are Lead-acid batteries. Bulk of the used Lead acid batteries are recycled but the demand for such batteries keeps increasing. As I mentioned in my previous articles, the sheer weight of these batteries, space required to install them, capacity use, capacity constraints, regular need for  maintenance and life cycle are some of the issues that are critical for renewable industries. In deep cycle batteries, discharging stored energy below certain levels dramatically reduces the life span. Hot climate conditions have certain impacts on maintaining such batteries.Life of a battery is critical because when you calculate the cost of energy over the life cycle of 25 years,the several replacements of battaries and their cost will have a dramatic effect on the cost of energy.

Batteries are indispensable tools in energy industries but their usage can be minimized  to a great extent by using Hydrogen as a storage medium. Let us analyze a simple example of a PV solar system for power generation. We made a computer simulation on three  different  scenario for a PV solar system for a small residence with power consumption at 15,500kwhrs/day. First simulation was based on PV solar, direct grid connect, without  storage batteries but connected directly to the grid, assuming the grid power tariff  is at $0.10/kwhrs and sale to grid tariff at $ 0.30/kwhrs.The second simulation was based on grid independent system  using battery  storage for 8 hrs autonomy. The third simulation is also grid independent, but solar power is connected to an Electrolyzer to generate Hydrogen and store it in a tank. We used a small capacity battery, less than twenty percent  of the capacity used in the earlier case and a Hydrogen storage with Fuel cell along with an inverter. The stored Hydrogen was used to generate power to meet the requirement of the residence, instead of supplying power directly from the battery. The cost of energy using direct grid connect was the lowest $$0.33/kwhrs, while Grid independent with battery storage ,the cost of power was $1,20/kwhrs.In third  scenario with Hydrogen and Fuel cell the cost of power was $ 1.90/kwhrs, but there was surplus Hydrogen in the storage tank. With Hydrogen as a storage medium, the cost of power is high due to initial investment but it is maintenance free and ideal for remote locations.

The Hydrogen and Fuel cell solution though expensive, has a several advantages. The power generated by PV solar is stored in the form of Hydrogen instead of storing in batteries. A single battery is used to keep up a steady current to Electrolyzer but bulk of the energy is stored in the form of Hydrogen. Another advantage with this system is that stored Hydrogen can also be used as a fuel for residential heating as well as to fuel your car.

It is amazing that highly combustible Hydrogen is a constituent of cool water. As long as it remains a part of a water molecule we are able to handle it easily. Water is always in a state of ionization with H+ and OH- ions in a dynamic equilibrium. The electrical conductivity of pure water which is completely free from any other ions is almost zero. In a solid polymer electrolyzer, which is the reverse of Fuel cell, water is decomposed into Hydrogen and Oxygen while passing a Direct current. Electrolyzer is an electrolytic cell similar to battery, containing an Anode, Cathode and Electrolyte. In a solid polymer Electrolyzer, the electrolyte is a polymer membrane. Water is decomposed as shown in the following reaction:

At Anode of electrolyzer:               H2O——– 0.5 O2 + 2e + 2H†

At Cathode of electrolyzer:             2H† + 2e —— H2

The purity of water is critical in the above process of electrolysis. In conventional electrolysis, water with addition of potash lye (KOH) acts as an electrolyte. But in the above process there is no need for any addition of lye. Moreover, Hydrogen can be generated at high pressure so that further compression becomes easier. In cases of power generation using Fuel cell, the Hydrogen pressure from Electrolyzer is sufficiently high, obviating the usage of an additional compressor.

The electrical conductivity of water increases as the concentration of dissolved salts increases. That is why the electrical conductivity of seawater is much higher than your tapwater.But this salt can be removed by the process of desalination using ‘reverse osmosis’ systems.

When you separate pure water and salt water using a semi permeable membrane there is natural tendency for pure water to pass across the membrane to pure water side. This process is called ‘Osmosis’. The process continues till the concentration of water on both side of the membrane becomes equal. Nature does not like disparities between strong and weak and always tend to make both equal. By reversing this principle of osmosis, we can separate salt water into pure water and highly concentrated salt water known as brine. This process is called ‘Reverse osmosis’. We will discuss about this process later.

If your tap water is not very hard, say such as, total dissolved solids TDS is around  500ppm (Part per million), then the osmotic pressure is not high, which means you do not need to use a high pressure pump. Higher the TDS level, higher the osmotic pressure and higher the power consumption will be. You can install a reverse osmosis system based on your water analysis. You have to use a pure water with low conductivity 10-15 micro Siemens/cm.The reverse osmosis system can be connected to your tap and  store pure water while draining the salt water into the drain. You can use this pure water to an Electrolyzer to generate Hydrogen. The Hydrogen can be stored in a tank made up of Carbon composite materials that can withstand high pressure and approved by regulatory authorities.

This article is only to understand how Hydrogen can be generated using your tap water. The actual implementation of the system requires knowledge and experience in installing such a system. But we will release an eBook, a step by step guide to set up your power generation system as well fuelling your Fuel cell car, using Hydrogen. An independent power generation and fuelling system using only solar power and water will soon become a commercial reality because, it is a clean and sustainable solution for all our energy problems. The PV solar industries are already expanding at a faster rate and solar Hydrogen will soon become a final solution.

There is a general opinion that Hydrogen is dangerous or explosive; people are often reminded of Hindenburg accident or Hydrogen bombs. Hydrogen is as safe as Gasoline or Butane gas. It should be handled with care like any combustible material. We have used Hydrogen in industries for so many decades and transported by pipelines across thousands of kilometers; the methods and procedures of handling Hydrogen is well established. It is a very light, colorless and odorless gas and it can easily escape into the atmosphere. Hydrogenation of vegetable oils for production of certain Margarines is one the classical industrial examples for Hydrogen usage. When 100m3 Hydrogen is compressed to 10,000psi pressure, it is reduced to just 0.163 m3 by vlume.That is how the Hydrogen storage space is reduced in passenger cars. This volume of gas can give a mileage of 652 miles, using Fuel cell power. The only emission is just pure water vapor! No noise, no smoke and it is entirely a new experience driving a Hydrogen Fuel cell car.

Powering your home with Hydrogen or fuelling your Fuel cell car is not very difficult. It is expensive compared to grid power for two simple reasons. Grid power is generated by power generation companies somewhere else using coal, oil or gas and transmitted across to millions of people.Therefore,  the  investment on power generation is shared by millions of people through their monthly energy bills. When you use the grid power, you do not pay any large sum except, a small deposit of few hundred dollars towards connection fee, and you pay your bills based on your monthly electricity usage.

But when you try to generate your own power using a solar panel or Fuel cell then you have to make an investment fully upfront. Of course, your bank can help you with the finance for the system. However, when you calculate the energy cost over the life period of 25 years then you can clearly see the value of such investment. The grid power cost will only increase and never decrease while your generation cost will decrease as the time passes. The future energy cost is likely to increase substantially due to various factors. You can export surplus power to the grid and your payback time will be reduced as the energy cost increases.

The first step in powering your home is to calculate your power requirements accurately in terms of watt.hrs.How many appliances you will be using  and how many hours you will using each of these appliances per day. Suppose you estimate 15,000 watt.hrs/day or 15kwhrs/day of power, and then a small Fuel cell consuming 1 Kg/day of Hydrogen or 30 kgs/month of Hydrogen will be sufficient to meet your power demand. Similarly you can calculate the amount of Hydrogen you will be using as a fuel for your Fuel cell car. For example, if you will be  driving your Fuel cell car for 1000 miles per month, then  your Hydrogen requirement will be about 14 kgs/month. Your Hydrogen requirement per month for both power and car together will be 44 kgs only.

Your total  power need to generate the above Hydrogen will be 2464 kwhrs/month costing less than $250 per month for both power and fuel. Of course you need to calculate other fixed costs on the investment. You can export your solar power at a higher tariff to the Government and import your power requirement from the grid during off-peak season at a lower tariff and generate Hydrogen and store it. You can generate your power as and when you need, and you are in complete control of your situation, even if there is a blackout due to grid failure!

The sun is bright and warm and your roof top solar panels and solar heaters are working hard to generate power and hot water. But the rate of power generated is too small to use immediately. The hot water is not hot enough for your shower. Your 200 watt rooftop solar panel generates only 0.12 kwhrs after 5 hours of hard work. It does not meet your expectations. You expect 200 watts solar panel to generate about 1000 watt.hrs (1kwhr) in 5 hours. It is not happening. You don’t think renewable energy can meet your electricity demand.

There is a strong wind in the island and the wind turbines are rotating faster than usual but there are hardly any people living there. Wind turbine generates good power when the wind velocity is above certain level. But the electricity generated by the wind has no immediate takers.

There is a good rain this year and the dams are overflowing and the Hydro is generating surplus power but not many people are living near the catchment area. The power has to be transmitted hundred of kilometers to the nearby town through a sub-station. When the dams are dry there is hardly any power generation and power supply is rationed to the town.

When there is a demand for power Mother Nature does not offer the resources for power generation. When Mother Nature offers the resource we do not need power. This anomalous situation is the single largest obstacle that is undermining the potential of renewable energy. Of course, the high initial cost and half-hearted approach by Governments to offer subsidies or grants for renewable energy are other factors that add to the anomaly.

The only option to get over this situation is to store the energy 24×7 when it is generated and use them when we need them. It requires good storage technology, automation and information technology that can communicate with Natures energy resources and harness them, store them and deploy them judiciously and intelligently to meet our demands.

Current battery technology cannot be a long-term sustainable solution; it is expensive, requires constant maintenance and replacement, which adds to the expensive initial investment on renewable systems. The best option is to generate Hydrogen on-site when sunshine’s or wind blows and store them under pressure that can be used as and when we need electricity using Fuel cell. It is easier to handle gas than stored electricity in batteries. Batteries are very heavy, has a limited life cycle and poses health hazard and not suitable for large-scale power storage and not sustainable in the long run.

An Electrolyzer can generate Hydrogen from water on site when a sun or wind energy available and they can work from 10% to 100% capacity depending upon the availability of renewable resources. The surplus power from Hydro can be converted into Hydrogen and stored. With so much advancement in information and communication technology, harnessing nature’s energy, storing them and deploying them in a timely manner is not major issue. Hydrogen can bridge the gap between Nature resource availability and human demand. This is what science is all about. We developed science by learning from Nature or duplicating Nature and Renewable energy is nothing different.

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