Hydrogen fueling stations are becoming more and more popular. The fact that one just blew up in Norway, though, might make you think twice about using one (if you are a naysayer).
However, one positive to this story is
that nobody was hurt. Usually, these stories come with some kind of tragic
long-term injury or hurt for the people involved. Not this time. However, those
who would rather we used batteries over hydrogen are very quick to jump on this
as “proof” that hydrogen cannot be trusted. At the time of writing, there is
not much factual information about what has gone wrong, just hearsay and
opinion from those who were not connected to the incident.
The future of hydrogen electrical vehicles
has been one that has often been sold as a safer, greener future. The fact that
an H2 station has blown up will obviously alarm some people who might be
worried about the green future being a bit riskier than we are often told. However,
the problem is that nobody is quite sure what caused the problem so, it’s hard
to put a solution in place if there is no definitive proof as to why this has
Seemingly, the explosion was loud and forceful enough that people in Sandvika, around 10 miles west of the Oslo city center, were able to hear it going off. However, the fact that nobody was hurt is obviously a huge benefit. Uno-X, the owner of the location where the explosion took place, have closed down all of their H2 stations for now. They will shut down all three of their stations, with the other seven Norwegian hydrogen fueling stations likely to be closed temporarily, too.
The fact that just 170 privately owned
hydrogen fuel-cell cars exist in the whole of Norway at the moment shows that
this is still a growing and improving industry. However, it’s likely that, if
stories like this can be corrected without issue, then we could see more of
these vehicles on the road in the near future.
Stores like this, though, do nothing to
help put off anti-hydrogen groups, who would rather we continue along the same
path we have been in the past. That would be a shame, since this technology has
ample potential to be used in a meaningful and helpful way. To give up on it
due to once incident would be a massive shame. Did we give up on gasoline
stations every time there was an explosion? The answer is “No!”
Until a solution and clear answers are
found, though, this incident will likely cause consternation among both pro and
The University of Waterloo has done a fine
job of coming up with a robust idea for cheaper fuel cell for cars. This could mean
that we spend less on fuel cell cars, and get greater efficiency and makie the
world a safer, more environmentally-friendly place.
According to Xianguo Li (pictured below), the Director of the Fuel Cell & Green Energy Lab, Waterloo University, progress is looking good. Li said: “With our design approach, the cost could be comparable or even cheaper than gasoline engines. The future is very bright. This is clean energy that could boom.”
The research team has created an excellent
way to make sure that electricity levels in the fuel cells will be more
consistent. At the moment, a major problem in FC’s is with excessive
fluctuation of energy. Li and his colleagues have come up with a solution that may
help to counteract this costly issue.
solution for most vehicles?
According to Li, though, they have managed
to solve two of the biggest problems for fuel cells, including the cost of
production and the durability. Speaking further, Li said: “We have found a
way to lower costs and still satisfy durability and performance expectations. We’re
meeting economic targets while providing zero emissions for a transportation
“This is a good first
step, a transition to what could be the answer to the internal combustion
engine and the enormous environmental harm it does.”
By working with the lead researcher on the project, Hongtao Zhang and energy mastermind Jianyue Yan, Xinzhi Li has given us hope that we could see a breakthrough in what has been a major problem for fuel cells for years. And FC car owners will be one of the many beneficiaries of such research.
Underwater solar cells are being used to
help create cheap hydrogen fuel directly from water. By using the power of the
sun, the plan is simple: make sure that we can create hydrogen from
sustainable, repeatable, ethical sources. And for many people, that is going to
be this new plan that is being put together at the University of Bath’s Centre
for Sustainable Chemical Technologies.
The obvious need for humanity to cut down
on its carbon consumption has been a talking point for a while. As the years go
on, though, the warnings are becoming clearer: we need to act, and soon.
Therefore, we need more ethical forms of energy production, and hydrogen could
be the key to doing just that. Given it produces zero carbon emissions, it
could be used to power everything such as cars to ship, trains, planes and
other vehicles. In short, this could allow us to create a system where
‘recyclable energy’ becomes not just a hope, but a reality.
new form of sustainable power?
The process is an expensive one at the
moment, with the cost of turning water into hydrogen and oxygen being very
energy-intensive. However, the University of Bath has some interesting solar
cells in development. These cells use light energy to split H2O.
The perovskite solar cells will be made
from a structure similar to calcium titanium oxide. They are often more
cost-effective than silicone alternatives and tend to be much smaller in
profile. As such, they could be created to work in larger areas, and could
avoid some of the logistical challenges of previous iterations of such a
By using a waterproof coating that is made
from graphite, this removes the problem where the solar cells made from
perovskite were not handling water contact well. As such, this allows for up to
30-hours of time underwater without any damage being done to the cells.
For reference, that is close to 10-hours
longer than the previous record.
For years, we’ve been looking to find a
few solutions as to how we can overcome the climate breakdown we are
witnessing. While by no means a definitive solution for all of the issues we
face, this is almost certainly a positive step in the right direction and could
be the key to getting a meaningful response from the energy industry. If this
project continues to improve as it does, we could see something truly
incredible come to fruition in regard to creating cheap and abundant hydrogen
Bill Thunberg and I, two of the
three founders of the Mooresville Hydrail
Initiative (Google it), are also members of the Mooresville NC, USA, Rotary
Club. Imagine our delight when we received this month’s The Rotarian Magazine with its cover page article, “CLIMATE
SOLUTIONS WITHIN OUR REACH.”
In the featured story, Barry Rassin,
President of Rotary International, points out that climate change does not
precisely fit within any one of Rotary International’s six prescribed Areas of Focus.
“It’s broader than that. We have to look at the world as a whole and how we can
make it a better place. If we’re losing countries due to sea level changes, if
stronger storms are disrupting water supplies or destroying people’s
livelihoods, that’s more people who are going to be disadvantaged.”
knows climate change up close and personal. His hilltop Bahamian home on New
Providence Island could become a beachfront property.
What Mr. Rassin
didn’t know, —but we hope someone
will soon tell him—is that the emerging hydrail transition of railroads to
hydrogen derived from wind, solar, industrial waste, biomass, nuclear energy and
other zero carbon sources may be the single largest climate change mitigation
initiative now active on the planet—and its originators and instigators are
We convened the
First International Hydrail Conference
in Charlotte, NC, in 2005. Only the USA, Denmark, Japan and Canada were
manufacturers are either building hydrail trains or have announced they soon
will. Twenty countries have hydrail trains running or have announced hydrail projects.
When I joined Rotary
International around 2012 it was at the invitation of our local club president,
Michael Gander. Mike saw then what Barry Rassin sees now.
But what no one
foresaw was that the sharp definition of the Six Areas of Focus would prevent the
Mooresville Club from engaging Rotary International in our successful
world-wide hydrail project.
It would have
been a perfect fit. We have colleagues in China, Korea, India and several
European countries who would, if asked, be delighted to be guest speakers on
the newest iteration of railway traction technology at Rotary Clubs near them.
marshaled its world-wide resources to eradicate polio and now that’s very
nearly accomplished. Leading climate change mitigation would be a most
appropriate Act Two. Perhaps Bill and Melinda Gates, who backed Rotary’s polio
commitment, could help focus American attention on expediting hydrail.
So, Mr. Rassin,
if someone calls this blog to your attention, please ask The Rotarian to consider doing a follow-up story on the climate
change mitigation benefits of the Mooresville Hydrail Initiative! We need all the help we can get to engage
caring people in the world hydrail transition.
Fifteen years ago
the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy introduced the public to
the hydrail future of the railway industry in an invited article, “The
Mooresville Hydrail Initiative” (February 2004: volume 29, issue 4, page
One main reason for
the IJHE article was to establish a short, Internet-searchable name for
hydrogen fuel cell railway traction technology so that developers, scholars and
everyone else who could help bring it alive could find each other and
We spread the
hydrail name far and wide in the public domain as fast as we could so that no
one would limit it by making the generic railway term a service mark. It was
meant for everybody.
But no matter how
hard we tried, many corporate communications types just didn’t get it. Some
capitalized hydrail, making others reluctant to use it. Instead they
inadvertently renamed it “hydrogen railway” or other generic descriptors—blinding
search engines to its existence, rather like God frustrating the general
contractor for the Tower of Babel project by taking away a shared language.
“thing” doesn’t have a name, for a lot of purposes it just doesn’t
exist. In our time (since the Internet recreated the world) if the name isn’t
searchable the reality it represents exists minimally, if at all.
It didn’t help that
the Oxford English Dictionary was coy about whether to admit hydrail as a bona
fide word. To this day my local library cannot tell me whether the OED has
relented after thirteen International Hydrail Conferences at very
prestigious universities (last year at the University of Rome II at Tor
Thus this plea to
PR, Corp Com types and journalists around the world. Hydrogen fuel cell railway
traction has a name: hydrail (contracted from hydrogen railway).
If you feel a need
to append a descriptor, thats fine; it actually helps: “Last year the
first hydrail (hydrogen fuel cell railway) train went into service in
Niedersachsen, Germany.” If you choke at that, it’s OK to say,
” “Last year the first hydrogen fuel cell railway (hydrail)
train went into service in Niedersachsen, Germany.”
But please don’t
capitalize hydrail or infer that it’s a nickname or some other alternative to
the “real” designation. It is the real
write that “Norfolk Southern’s coal-fired boiled water (steam) locomotive
pulled an excursion train from Salisbury to Asheville” or that
“GE and Caterpillar supplied the fossil-fueled compression-ignition
Hydrail (the word)
debuted in print fifteen years ago. Hydrail (the reality) debuted on steel
tracks for the ticket-buying public in China, as urban trams, in 2016 and as
intercity passenger trains last year in Germany. So far, about twenty countries
have deployed hydrail or announced that they intend to.
Hydrail’s a real
word—and has been one for fifteen years.
Scientists at Johns Hopkins University have developed new fuel cell materials
that are based on nanomaterials. Extremely flexible nanomaterials are able to lower
the cost than what it is available on the current market.
The scientists have established a manner in which the reactivity of ultrathin nanosheets is boosted. The study was published in Science.
According to Chao Wang, an assistant professor of chemical and
biomolecular engineering at Johns Hopkins University, “Every material
experiences surface strain due to the breakdown of the material’s crystal
symmetry at the atomic level. We discovered a way to make these crystals
ultrathin, thereby decreasing the distance between atoms and increasing the
So, by making those structures extremely thin, a million times
thinner than human hair, the material is exposed and prone to manipulation. In
order words, force is used to improve the properties of thin metal sheets that
are part of electrocatalysts, those that are part of the electrodes present in
Chao Wang, also underlines the fact that by manipulating the thinness of materials, they are able to change the properties of the mentioned materials. So, they have more freedom in boosting the reaction on the material`s surface.
In their study, researchers state that this new method can boost the
catalyst’s activity by 10 to 20 times, which signifies that precious metals,
such as platinum, will be used as little as possible. Ultrathin nanomaterials
will make fuel cells cheaper in the near future, leading to less expensive
As fuel cell
vehicles rollout in California, Germany, Japan, the UK and elsewhere, creating
an abundance of hydrogen is key to the success of the adoption of the vehicles.
As fuel cell vehicles are considered to be disruptive technology so are the
means of making hydrogen gas. One of the new ways of doing so is to use
microwaves to create hydrogen from fossil fuels. The left over high-purity carbon
can be sold in the marketplace for a whole host of applications such as carbon
nanotubes for fuel cells.
proven that microwaves can aid in creating nanostructured molybdenum disulphide
or MoS2 catalysts with an enhancement that allows the production of hydrogen.
The microwave-assisted approach functions by expanding the space and,
therefore, diminishing the interaction between particular layers of MoS2
nanosheets. As a consequence, a larger portion of reactive sites end up being
exposed, while on their edges hydrogen can be produced.
both United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia established a technique that allows the
production of high purity hydrogen from fossil fuels, without the natural
release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The process called
microwave-initiated dehydrogenation functions based on inexpensive iron
particle catalysts, while transforming unrefined petroleum into diesel, petrol
or methane. Even though some view this as an innovative technique that should
be put into practice in order to lessen the burden from our planet, a couple of
specialists in the field criticise the approach and remain skeptical about its
experiments conducted at the University of Oxford by Pete Edwards and his team
revealed more details in regards to microwaves creating hydrogen from fossil
fuels. When it comes to the employment of hydrogen as a clean energy conductor,
there are a few limitations that arise due to its lack of infrastructure,
safety concerns and even the serviceable sources. Hence, researchers from
Oxford aimed to cultivate a competent route that can dispose hydrogen at a
higher rate from naturally prevailed fossil fuels, while taking advantage of
the available infrastructure, due to the fact that those sources will still be
used in the nearby future.
that was drawn by Pete Edwards and his team was that the concept they
discovered and used in their experiments reveals the fact that two scientific
domains can work together harmoniously. Moreover, combining fundamental physics
and chemical catalysis allowed them to observe how efficient can be to make use
of induced metal-to-insulator transitions that take place when metal particles
diminish to the point where quantum effects take place.
In other words,
the microwave absorption rises to a fairly high level only when the electronic
conductivity available in a particle diminishes drastically. By testing this
theory on inexpensive iron particles, Edward`s team was able to successfully
create microwave-absorbing catalytic particles that led to the creation of
fuels like oil or methane.
Researchers at the
University of Oxford state that their goal and vision remains to make use of
hydrocarbon fuels through available distribution systems that permit a smooth
supply of clean hydrogen, without the disposal of carbon dioxide emissions. The
by-product of this process, the solid carbon, is a great source of catalysts
that can be preserved underground or sold at a premium in the marketplace as I
had previously mentioned.
As earth’s climate
deteriorates rapidly, the means for producing hydrogen cleanly needs to
increase just as rapidly. Microwaves may just be one answer to the equation.
A team led by Jay Schmuecker has created a hydrogen-ammonia
tractor upon an Iowa farm plus a whole solar system to provide the fuel.
This incredible new system could be a game-changer for
everyone. It’s the definition of modern thinking put into a slick renewable
system. You can check out a System
Schematic drawing of the system itself, and learn about each and every one
of its unique and impressive sub-systems.
Solar Hydrogen Ammonia System
For example, the whole system is going to run on the use of
three two-degree-of-freedom solar trackers, each using 12 solar panels, able to
produce a whopping 8.1kW of energy. The daily power available from the panels
is roughly enough, but any power that is left over will be fed into the grid.
From the Solar Hydrogen System website: “Dennis was
interested in having a tractor that he would use under full power in the field
rather than just to drive in parades. Because of the limited hydrogen
generated, our hydrogen tractor is capable of being used for 10% of the farm
“I started out assuming that I could obtain a diesel tractor
and have it modified to run on hydrogen. Companies are working on having
diesels run on hydrogen, but are years away from having a product. New Holland
has developed an award-winning fuel cell powered tractor, but the costs of
obtaining a tractor powered by fuel cells is prohibitive. We contacted the Hydrogen Engine Center (HEC)
in Algona, Iowa, who has been making Internal Combustion Engines that are
modified to run on hydrogen gas. They agreed to provide a Ford 460 cu. in. V-8
engine design that could be installed in a tractor and used in the field. We
selected and purchased a John Deere 7810 tractor. The four hydrogen tanks are
sized to contain enough fuel to operate the tractor at full power for four
hours before refueling.”
whole system is capable of producing renewable gas, for
example, by using water from a nearby well that flows through a deionizer. This
then puts it through a hydrogen generator, and a nitrogen generator, meaning
that pure nitrogen can be produced which is flowed directly into the nitrogen
The oxygen is then vented out and the hydrogen will flow
into the storage tanks, while the nitrogen will flow into the ammonia shed,
where it goes through a compression period and is kept in the nitrogen storage
It’s also got a very impressive hydrogen pump assembly,
allowing for a continuous state of production to continue on. With tanks as
large as 1000-gallon in size, they can certainly control and maintain a huge
amount of the resources currently being produced by the farm.
Of course, no system like this could ever be built without
guarantees that it would be safe to spend time around. With the respectful use
of their equipment, especially the ammonia, there is an easy way to help maintain
and control the whole state of the system. This is one of the many reasons why,
for many, this project looks to be one of the most interesting of its kind.
Not only is the whole system so widely and intelligently
connected, but it’s made to help deliver the right levels of safety, security
and consistency. In a world where we need to see more work done to combat the
damage we’ve produced to the environment, green-minded solutions like this very
much make sense.
According to Jay Schmuecker, “My late father was an advocate
of using hydrogen to replace fossil fuels.
Ten years ago I started a project on the Iowa farm where he was born to
make demonstration amounts of hydrogen,
nitrogen, and ammonia from solar power, water and air. There are no carbon emissions in either the
generation or consumption of these elements and fuels. The hydrogen and ammonia are used to fuel my
tractor, and the ammonia can be applied as a fertilizer.
“Five years ago I took delivery of my John Deere 7810 tractor in which was installed a Ford 460 V-8 block modified to 9.6 liter
with a 13.5 to 1 compression ratio. The
hydrogen is injected into the spark ignited cylinders, and the engine will
also run on a combination of about 10 %
hydrogen and 90% ammonia.
“Ammonia is an excellent hydrogen carrier. As a liquid it can be stored in 200 psi tanks where hydrogen uses 3000 psi or more tanks to
store the gas. As with gasoline there
are safety concerns with ammonia, Iowa
farmers are used to working with ammonia as they apply it to their corn fields
as a fertilizer.”
There you have it. I’ve talked about hydrogen
fueled tractors before. But this farm tractor and system bring the game to
a whole new level.
When Dr. Holger Busche conceived wind turbine powered commuter trains for Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, back in 1998, he probably had a business model in mind, though he is a committed environmentalist. But by the time I presented the passenger hydrail concept to the US DOT in 2003, the environmental angle had become paramount.
The metro-Charlotte NC area where I live was facing the freezing of about $6 billion in Federal funding due to local air quality non-attainment. A sanction that big focuses the mind wonderfully and a Mooresville—Charlotte train (almost exactly like the Alstom Coradia iLint now running between Buxtehude and Cuxhaven Germany) was our Town’s contribution to staving it off.
The US EPA was very supportive.
Without the environmental angle, it’s unlikely that the handful of hydrail pioneers who began meeting every year in 2005 would have formed-up and grown into the Mooresville Hydrail Initiative.
But, at Mooresville’s and Appalachian State University’s 2013 Toronto International Hydrail Conference, Hydrogenics of Mississauga, Ontario, and Alstom Transport of Paris shook hands. Soon the iLint hydrail version of Alstom’s Coradia train began its long run from a CAD-CAM image to the tracks of Lower Saxony.
Also at Toronto in 2013 was Dr. CHEN Weirong of China’s Southwest Jiaotong University. Not long after Toronto, his hydrail demonstration locomotive, “Blue Sky,” morphed into the trams now built in Qingdao and Tangshan. China Railway Rolling-stock Corporation’s Tangshan tram was the first to use super-capacitors in lieu of batteries for regenerative braking and fuel cell load-leveling.
From Toronto on, hydrail meant business.
Today, Alstom’s and Siemens’ rail manufacturing arms have merged and Swiss Stadler is building hydrail trains for Austria. East Japan Railways isn’t saying much but, along with Japan’s Railway Transportation Research Institute, they were the first to demonstrate a hydrail vehicle in about 2000. Given Japan’s full throttle commitment to the hydrogen economy, it would be surprising if something remarkable doesn’t appear there before the Tokyo Olympics.
With all this North American action, it’s not surprising that Michigan State University’s Eli Broad College of Business is offering a motive power (traction) course for railway managers who need to catch up with the paradigm shift. It’s in Long Beach, California from January 30 through February 1 next year and entitled Railway Motive Power and Alternative Propulsion. In addition to hydrail, batteries and other non-traditional traction technologies will be discussed.
The Broad College’s Dr. Andreas Hoffrichter will cover hydrail at the Long Beach course. He was the first scholar to receive a doctorate in hydrail, although India’s Dr. Tarun Huria’s Ph.D. from the University of Pisa also emphasized the imminent emergence of fuel cell rail.
Recently the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Railway Research and Education partnered with the UK’s Porterbrook railway equipment leasing firm to build the HydroFlex—Britain’s first home-grown hydrail product. Franco-German Alstom is also helping to power the UK’s decarbonization effort with a new hydrail factory in Cheshire.
In hydrail’s story, business has been the answer but the world’s impetus toward climate change avoidance has been the over-arching question.
The American market potential for hydrail is enormous. Of the 330,000 miles of US track, less than one percent is electrified—or ever will be, externally, at $6 million to $12 million per mile to build and about $150,000 per mile per year to maintain.
While hydrail rolling-stock will be pricey until scale economies cut-in, the fixed-asset savings dwarf the rolling-stock cost increment. A two million dollar hydrogen filling station, serving a whole commuter line, costs about the same as electrifying one thousand feet of track.
Railroads and their suppliers form a super-conservative business culture because of the decades-long amortization life of rail infrastructure. But at least four of the biggest manufacturers now have hydrail trains in production—or about to be. When skill sets are about to become obsolescent, corporate culture becomes an unaffordable luxury.
For the first time in their history, Mercedes-Benz has handed over their first ever GLC F-CELL vehicles to members of the German auto market. This new vehicle makes use of fuel cells and plug-in battery drives. With this latest release using plug-in technology to charge the vehicle, too, this is a very interesting step into a new and exciting industry for Mercedes.
Indeed, this latest release will come alongside some other green innovations. This will also see numerous ministries, including the National Organization Hydrogen and H2 Mobility to become the first users of this new technology. Another user of the new technology will be Deutsche Bahn, the German railway group.
Over time, the likes of Shell, Linde AG and Air Liquide will also get in on this opportunity along with the cities of Hamburg and Stuttgart.
Come Spring 2019, more businesses and private users will have the chance to get involved with the new commercial fuel cell technology. This will be available via the Mercedes-Benz Rent system, allowing you to rent one of the cars from the seven new MBR locations set to open up across the country.
This will provide options for both short-term and long-term rentals. The system will help to deliver high quality driving dynamics as well as improve the output of the car significantly. If you have been looking for an easy way to see how Mercedes-Benz intends to come into the growing green industry, the GLC F-CELL is currently their flagship offering.
With four operating modes, too – Hybrid, F-Cell, Battery, and Charge – you will be able to manage and conserve energy properly. Indeed, it is designed so that it can build up energy during both braking and coasting, ensuring that your battery can be remain full during commutes.
With the ability to draw from one or both power sources, it’s great for those who wish to manage everything from shorter journeys with plenty of stops to longer, non-stop journeys affordably. For Mercedes, this represents a very important step forward in their development of viable green fuel cell technology.