HyperSolar moves along lonely path to hydrogen

HyperSolar is working to make it easier to create hydrogen on site at commercial and industrial locations, or even filling stations such as this one. Pic: Toyota.

HyperSolar is working to make it easier to create hydrogen on site at commercial and industrial locations, or even filling stations such as this one. Pic: Toyota.

By Jason Deign

US-listed technology firm HyperSolar is looking to develop a commercial-scale solar-powered hydrogen generation system after unveiling a working prototype last month.

The Santa Barbara, California-based company is hoping to give the hydrogen fuel cell industry a boost by removing one of hydrogen’s biggest problems: having to transport the gas over long distances.

Hydrogen “is expensive enough in the manufacturing process,” said Tim Young, president and CEO. “When you add on trucking it 500 miles in a pressurised truck, it stops making economical sense.”

Being able to manufacture hydrogen on site, using water and sunlight, could eliminate these costs and open up a vast array of potential energy applications, Young told Energy Storage Report.

These include “thousands and thousands of backup power plants” that “would all love to be hydrogen powered” because the fuel can be stored indefinitely until needed, he said. 
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A material threat to energy storage?

The Bolivia lithium mining deal highlights the importance of rare earth batteries in energy storage. Most lithium in Bolivia is in the Uyuni salt lake.

The Bolivia lithium mining deal highlights the importance of rare earth batteries in energy storage. Most lithium in Bolivia is in the Uyuni salt lake. Photo credit: Luca Galuzzi

French moves to secure a deal on Bolivian lithium supplies last week again underscored the importance of raw materials in the commercialisation of energy storage.

An agreement on lithium production was one of four letters of intent signed between the Bolivian government and the French Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission (Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives, or CEA).

The four signings, which also include a cooperation agreement on nuclear power, were announced last Wednesday, just as news was emerging of troubles at the French state-owned reactor maker Areva.

The lithium agreement, signed off by Bolivia’s Minister of Mining and Metallurgy, César Navarro, and Florence Lambert of the CEA, is the latest development in years of French efforts to gain rights over Bolivian lithium reserves, the largest in the world.
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Graphene producer joins the dots

A criticism often leveled at the energy storage sector is that its solutions aren’t modular, aren’t scalable and are not vertically integrated with the rest of the value chain. Our industry is not deaf to these clarion calls. And neither, it appears, are its potential suppliers. Take Durham Graphite Science (DGS).
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Graphene advance for Li-ion batteries

Graphene has been cited as the saviour of lithium-ion rechargeable batteries for a while now. As an incredibly thin substance, it can massively increase the surface area of an electrode and thus increase the energy density of a battery. The big snag, however, is what researchers call pulverisation: the damage that these very flimsy nanostructured electrodes incur during recharging cycles.

Now, though, a team at the University of Science and Technology in China has managed to prevent the issue of pulverisation by using atom-thick cobalt oxide.

Time to take hydrogen seriously?

Long touted as the magic bullet for a renewable-powered economy, hydrogen may finally be coming into its own as an energy storage currency. Recently, Canadian researchers have said they have developed catalysts that could vastly increase the viability of hydrogen production by electrolysis.

And now comes news from a Virginia Tech research team suggesting a new enzyme combination will allow hydrogen to be produced from plant matter in a way that “releases almost no greenhouse gases and does not require costly or heavy metals.”

YH Percival Zhang and his team have succeeded in using xylose, the most abundant simple plant sugar, to produce a large quantity of hydrogen that previously was attainable only in theory. Zhang’s method can be performed using any source of biomass.

Jonathan Mielenz, group leader of the bioscience and technology biosciences division at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, said this discovery has the potential to have a major impact on alternative energy production. “The key to this exciting development is that Zhang is using the second most prevalent sugar in plants to produce this hydrogen,” he said.

“This amounts to a significant additional benefit to hydrogen production and it reduces the overall cost of producing hydrogen from biomass.”

This hydrogen could of course be used at the point of production or stored for later use, either through burning directly or in fuel cells.

Platinum to power Africa

Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) is to invest USD$4 million in Canadian company Ballard in order to support projects to commercialise platinum-based fuel cell products.

Specifically, this will include the development of a prototype ‘home generator’ with the potential to provide cheap electric power to remote rural African households, stored using Ballard’s methanol-based fuel cell technology.

Godfrey Oliphant, South Africa’s deputy mineral resources minister, said his department was pleased by Amplats’ commitment to platinum beneficiation, adding that fuel cell-based product developments could boost global platinum demand.

“South Africa is the leading producer of platinum, and innovations such as the home generator project move our country in a positive direction towards participating actively in the application of platinum-group metals in new technologies which will create important jobs for our economy,” Oliphant said.

Liquid storage key to hydrogen fuel

A catalyst that extracts hydrogen from methanol could help solve the storage and transportation issues associated with hydrogen energy-based systems, reports Nature this week.

A team led by Matthias Beller of the University of Rostock in Germany has uncovered a soluble ruthenium-based catalyst that can turn methanol into hydrogen at ambient pressures and temperatures below 95ºC.

Previously, methanol had to be heated to more than twice that temperature and subjected to between 25 and 50 atmospheres of pressure in order to release hydrogen.

Methanol is a front-runner for storing and transporting hydrogen because it can trap a relatively large amount of the gas; up to 12.5% by weight. And it is a liquid, which makes it easier than hydrogen to keep and to carry around.