The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is working on making fuel for vehicles from water, wind, and sun. This idea isn’t as pie-in-the-sky as it first sounds.
The DOE’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) is leasing 12 hydrogen-powered internal combustion engine (H2ICE) shuttle buses, one of which is used to drive visitors around its campus in Golden, Colorado. The really unique feature is how the buses get the hydrogen.
"NREL's unique twist to this demonstration is that we are fueling our shuttle bus with hydrogen made from wind energy up at our National Wind Technology Center near Boulder," Robert Remick, NREL’s Hydrogen Technologies & Systems Director, said. "So, the hydrogen in our shuttle was literally wind energy blowing off the Rocky Mountains last week."
NREL’s bus was manufactured by Ford (NYSE: F), one of the first automakers to develop commercially available H2ICEs. It runs on the same technology as a conventional gasoline-powered engine but it uses hydrogen fuel generated by NREL's Wind to Hydrogen (Wind2H2) Project. This project connects wind turbines to electrolyzers, which pass wind-power generated electricity through water to separate it into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is stored and used to produce electricity in an internal combustion engine or a fuel cell.
Only a few tweaks were necessary to switch the buses’ gasoline-powered engines to hydrogen-powered, including using special spark plugs and alternate materials for parts that could grow brittle with hydrogen exposure. The hydrogen shuttle is up to 25 % more efficient than gasoline-fueled counterparts and can run 175-250 miles before needing to refuel.
There are 60 hydrogen fueling stations already operating in the U.S. and 20 more are planned. "Infrastructure for hydrogen fueling stations is starting to happen," says Keith Wipke, NREL’s Senior Engineer and Group Manager for Hydrogen Analysis. "The recession has caused a bit of a delay, but California recently awarded funding for 11 new fueling stations, and this is on top of seven new stations that are currently under construction."
NREL believes that hydrogen vehicles will become an increasing part of the personal car market. Many major automakers, including GM, Daimler (ETR: DAI), Honda (NYSE: HMC), Toyota (NYSE: TM), Nissan (Pink: NSANY), and Hyundai-Kia (Pink: HYMLF), are planning to launch hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in 2015.
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