Hydrogen fuel cells are on the rise

CaliforniaGeo 1-31-17

This week, it was announced that General Motors and Honda Motor Company have formed a joint venture to build fuel cell battery packs and market cars carrying them under both companies’ brands.  Fuel cells run on gaseous hydrogen, and this is widely thought of as a major shift away from fossil fuels in the transportation sector.  The Joint Venture commits $85 million to build a facility south of Detroit and comes from a cooperative agreement that began in July, 2013. 

The fuel cell packages are headed for autos and trucks, but the U.S. Military, aerospace technology, and residential technology use are also showing interest.

Gaseous hydrogen is fed into a fuel cell where its molecules combine with atmospheric  oxygen, creating electrical current and producing a bit of heat and water vapor.  There are no greenhouse gases involved here, and hydrogen is completely renewable, as is the energy sources to isolate it.

Renewable electricity such as solar, wind, tidal, or biomass can generate the power to electrolyze water into its two gaseous parts, hydrogen and oxygen.  Hydrogen is captured and compressed for storage, and oxygen can be released or be compressed for other uses, too.  In this creative cycle, the intermittency of solar radiation (day/night cycle) and wind (strong/weak or calmed) can produce a useful feedstock with round-the-clock energy capability.

High Efficiency-

The creation of electricity by fuel cell is helped by the nature of how it functions.  It produces electricity only when the demand is there.  This makes it almost 60% efficient in the transportation sector, where current diesel efficiencies are no higher than 35% and with gasoline engines in the high 20s.

What possible connection can this story have with geothermal heat pumps, you ask?  It is just one more answer to a carbonless energy system, where renewable electricity can be used to tap or store renewable (electrical or thermal) energy that is carbonless in either case.  Hydrogen can run fuel cells for electricity or even burn in engines for emission-free travel with today’s technologies.  Geo heat pumps connect to the earth as a thermal battery, pushing unwanted summer heat underground, and gathering it from there for winter heating—all without carbon or other harmful emissions.

No Greenhouse Gases-

Hydrogen is our bridge to a carbonless economy, and more of it is as close as our water supply.  We can accelerate progress against climate change by using it where ever possible and phasing out the use of fossil fuels which add more CO2 every day.

—Bill Martin