Posting in Design
Robert Dopp today announced a breakthrough electrolyzer that can produce hydrogen at less than the current cost of gasoline.
Robert Dopp (right), a Marietta, Georgia researcher profiled here at SmartPlanet last fall, today announced a breakthrough electrolyzer that can produce hydrogen at less than the current cost of gasoline.
Dopp's GridShift Inc is now backed by Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla's Khosla Ventures, He told SmartPlanet his unit can produce hydrogen for $2.51 per kilogram, using catalysts that cost just $58 per ounce. Most current units use platinum ,which costs $1,700 per ounce.
Dopp told SmartPlanet he was contacted by Khosla, who saw a white paper we linked to in our story, about a year before that article appeared in November. I was unable to interview Dopp at that time because he was in stealth mode, and instead linked to publicly-available information, including his Web site.
Unlike General Electric, which won a Popular Mechanics award for its 2006 electrolyzer design based on a technique called "sputtering," Dopp says he has patented an electrochemical process to completely coat his highly porous electrodes with catalyst on all internal surfaces.
This allows hydrogen to be produced throughout the depth of the electrode, increasing efficiency and dropping production costs dramatically. For technical details, a whitepaper has been published at the Grid Shift Web site.
"That was the first step in getting the efficiency," he told me. He's now working on an alkaline fuel cell using the new electrodes, which will be followed by a complete hydrogen flow cell.
"The hardest part was the electrolyzer because it included the electrode coating process that will be used for the other segments of the project."
Dopp has been working in this area all his life, having helped develop the zinc-air hearing aid battery during an 18 year career at Rayovac and acting as director of research for Electric Fuel Corp. before opening his own small lab in 2002. He has 37 issued patents and 18 more filed.
Khosla is a computer industry legend. He ran Sun until becoming a venture capitalist in 1983, and left Kleiner Perkins to open his own shop in 2006.
The implications of the work are enormous. Right now hydrogen is mainly produced with natural gas, meaning "green" fuel isn't very green at all. India must also import petroleum to make ammonia for fertilizer.
Dopp hopes that, with a strategic partner’s help, which they are now seeking, GridShift can build units that could produce the raw material for ammonia, in India, using wind power and water.
He also foresees American consumers owning their own hydrogen generators the size of an office refrigerator. "Hydrogen is difficult to pipe or truck. The practical solution is to produce it at home."
Dopp will discuss his patented technology with executives from other Khosla Ventures portfolio companies later this year at an annual conference the venture capitalist sponsors.
"Mr. Khosla has given us some guidance on the science, but mostly he has let us run with the ball," Dopp concluded. "He's an amazingly positive fellow."
May 17, 2010
WHY? Why did you have to go there?!? "It takes a lot more than mere hydrogen to make an H-bomb, although it is highly volatile. The Hindenburg was filled with hydrogen." I knew someone was going to do it, but I was not expecting it to be you. To be clear, the Hindenburg disaster has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with hydrogen. This is quite clear from the video. Hydrogen, being lighter than air, burns aggressively upward. This did not occur. You can also tell from the colour of the flame that there was negligible contribution from hydrogen to the fire. The idea that the hydrogen caught fire is a myth. Instead, most likely stray electrical potentials formed as the aluminum powder coating slipped through the air, eventually generating a substantial electric potential along it's skin that discharged violently, causing the oil-soaked canvas skin of the craft to ignite. At that point, the whole ship became engulfed in seconds. It is also important to note that the majority of passengers survived the fire, and most injuries were the result of jumping r falling to the round, not burns
Thanks Robert, I think I understand now. My interpretation is that each pulse is short enough to produce a bubble much smaller than the cavity it is in so that the bubbles do not get big enough to physically block. Nice solution. There must be substantial dP energy losses (re Karmen Kozeny calcs) and optimizing the energy balance sounds interesting.
Let me address some of the questions and comments above. Safety of Hydrogen In many ways hydrogen is safer than petroleum bases fuels because it does not pool, but simply drifts away. Although my work takes place in a hood, if I didn?t use the hood, the gas would rise up from buoyancy, not even knowing the building was above it, passing easily through the floors and walls to the outside. I don?t mean to trivialize the safety issues, but it isn?t nearly as dangerous as some believe. Ventilation would still be a good idea near the electrolyzer box. I assume the comment about a ?hydrogen bomb? was in jest, as the fuels for that device are the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium not to mention the fissionable materials needed to trigger it. Bubble Trapping Bubbles do get trapped within the porous electrode if the current is driven continuously. For that reason, I use pulses. I have identified the ideal frequency and duty cycle to allow the bubbles time to move away from the reaction sites. The efficiency gain from that is remarkable. QSI My work began with them (that is me in the video) where I was demonstrating an electrochemical fluidized bed reactor. It was a very effective way to screen nano catalysts for their activity, but proved to be impractical as an electrolysis device because nano powders tend to agglomerate within a few hours. There is also a logistic problem of needing both the anode and cathode to be horizontal with some ion bridge between them. The iR loss in that configuration proved to be a show-stopper. Also, mixtures of nano powders were unable to interact due to electrical isolation of the individual powders so synergistic nano recipes could not work. My new work with KV resolved these issues completely and resulted in a very different sort of device, using combinations of nano powders as catalysts. My new patent published in January.
Storage at the local level and storage at the grid-interconnected national or regional level are very different. I am not a particular fan of the concept of generating electricity in Iowa or Texas to fill demand in New England or Florida. Line loss and the environmental and economic costs of massively increasing the high voltage transmission system must be considered. Having said that, wind power on a regional or even national scale will approach the reliability and availability of intermediate power generation and even base load stations. Just as the sun is always shining somewhere, the wind will always be blowing somewhere in the system. There might be some seasonal or diurnal patterns. They will be come better understood and usable by generation dispatchers at the grid operating companies like ISONewEngland. Bottom line, conversion to hydrogen for storage and regeneration of electricity for the grid or non-mobile facilites will likely be a minor matter used where grid interconnection is inadequate or unavailable. Hydrogen's importance will be as a fuel source in devices which are mobile or must be unplugged. These may be transportation or other mechanical uses or mobile electronics. The hydrogen may be pure for unreformed feedstock in fuel cells. It might be stored in more complex and stable compounds such as sodium borohydride or ammonia for reforming as fuel cell feedstock or use in some other "battery."
When I first wrote about Dopp last year, he was working with QSI. Around the time that article appeared, Khosla saw his white paper and he later signed with Khosla Ventures.
It takes a lot more than mere hydrogen to make an H-bomb, although it is highly volatile. The Hindenburg was filled with hydrogen. Still, it can be made less volatile. One easy way mentioned in the story is to turn it into ammonia, which you get by combining it with hydrogen. There are methods for extracting hydrogen from ammonia for use in fuel cells, at a controlled rate, and ammonia is less volatile than hydrogen as well. We even have pipelines for it.
The proper acronym for the $2.51/gal figure is gge, which means it's per gallon equivalent of hydrogen. It's apples-to-apples. My apologies if it was unclear.
Hydrogen generation & storage would be a great bonus to Regenerable Storage to even out the variability in wind generation. Currently the largest regenerable storage is hydro pump storage reservoirs. For safer low pressure storage, it would be only one further step to synthesize methanol using a H2 boosted syngas feedstock. I can allow for non adherence of micro bubbles via van der waals or covalent forces BUT I still cannot get my head around trying to physically shift countless microbubbles from microscopic pores. They will physically sit in micron sized cavities, wrapped in a high surface tension water coating. If pressure is required to pump the water&products through the catalyst, I doubt that we can plug-flow the lot out because the water will follow the easiest routes. There are comparable issues with water injection in oil wells. This issue can only get worse when scaling up.
A further thought about storage. A system which uses electricty to produce hydrogen by electrolysis to be used in turn to create electricity must compete with batteries, flywheels, pump storage or other means of storing electric energy. Once again, improving the efficiency or cost-efficiency of any part of the system can lead to changes in the overall cost competitiveness of one system versus another. It is not about the "fuel" or "storage medium", it is about the total system.
It is certainly true that we are more interested in the cost per equivalent energy content of fuels than in their cost per volume or weight. However, because we "burn" fuels to convert their potential energy into motion of a mass, we are actually interested in the amount of useful work which the entire system can produce from a given amount of potential energy input. See exergy. All thermal engines whether internal or external combustion, not only waste energy as discharged heat, they destroy energy in the process of breaking the chemical bonds which which change the fuel mixture from one set of molecules to another set. Fuel cells coupled with highly efficient electric can theoretically produce more units of useful work, moving stuff, even without considering opportunities for energy recapture through regenerative braking or other techniques. Comparing the cost of producing units of "input power" without regard to the systems in which that power will be transformed into useful work simply feeds the public's confusion. If we are also interested in the lifecycle net output of greenhouse gasses per unit of work done, we are looking at a wholly separate measurement altogether. We can perhaps create market based mechanisms to translate that non-energy output into an additional cost. If a method of creating "low-cost" hydrogen can be proven, then systems will be invented to make maximum use of the energy potential of hydrogen. We can then compare the hydrocarbon combustion engine systems with the hydrogen using systems in terms of the cost of getting things done.
I see Quantum (www.qsinano.com) developed and patented this or a similar technology in 2007 shown here on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sp0jRu2nO4M
Just like steel is nearly useless until you 'contaminate' it with a bit of Cr, Mo, or W, H is far less useful until 'polluted' with a bit of perfectly natural, and photosynthesis-conducive C. A bit of C makes H much smaller, easier to store, easier to dispense, and a LOT hotter to burn.
@i8thecat: Um, as opposed to the completely inflammable natural gas currently piped to hundreds of millions of homes in the US. or the 240V electricity, which is of course, totally harmless. But yes hydrogen fusion is now possible in the living room because of piped in hydrogen gas. Get real
Lets give everyone the ability to make a H bomb? Right in the comfort of their own home? Hydrogen is an extremely dangerous gas... If the morons of the world can manage to burn their houses down with turkey deep fryers, then I don't think it would be a good idea to let them distill hydrogen... Then again, natural selection would take care of over population... Hmmm... I've changed my mind... Bring on the hydrogen!!! :)
Like so many other inventions I won't believe it until I see it. It will get buried, you can count on it.
Heh - even if it was comparable kilogram vs kilogram, someone still needs to check their math. Gasoline is, at the pump, currently $0.97 per kilogram, at the station across the street from my office. (Current pump price, $2.67/gallon. Gasoline is roughly 2.75 kilograms per gallon). Love to see it turn out that it's all they're hoping though.
if "vehicle fuel" were something you put on a scale and looked at, then this hydrogen would be "cheaper." but, sadly enough, vehicle fuel is combusted to generate heat energy. so, what's the cost per therm?
Also, please realize that Vinod Kohsla would not be involved in a venture, if it were not worthwhile; definitely not something like the recently-'busted' "phantom electricity from India" venture, where these guys from India allegedly developed some friction-based power that supposedly could power the world for the next 250 years - and it turned out to be a complete scam. They had a picture of one of the guys from India holding a couple strands of hair and a light bulb, and very little information on how it was supposed to work - and they quickly were 'busted!'
Mind boggling possibilities. You need water and electricity. That mean we could use wind to generate the power in North Dakota; pull water from the Missouri or Red rivers, not too much; pipe the hydrogen to where it is used with minimal losses and then convert back to electricity as needed. Short term storage would take care of the wind variability. I like where this is going.
But what you (John Tuohy) don't realize is that the catalyst coating material they have developed actually 'prevents' the adherence of the micro bubbles. Please read the related white paper(s) and look through the patents (and review the pending patents once they are approved and posted). Thanks.
I am leery of this 'new' internal porous reaction surface. Surely the produced hydrogen will mask further practical infill of water for electrolysis. Especially at the microscopic level, these micro bubbles will adhere very strongly to the pores similar to rinsing soapy water from a sponge. Shades of the famous French X-Ray Vision con job comes to mind :)
the supply, amount, and the cost of hydrogen have never been the sticking points. it has always been storage, supplying, and safety that have been the problems, when it has been considered for use by the general public.
Great if this technology proves to be reliable and cheap we will not need to mine asteroids for platinum in order to provide the world with fuel cells.
I guess a collaborative efforts from political parties in center would only help achieve many evolving (future) requirements. I would highly recommend Republicans to see future other than 'JUST' Abortion / Religious / Govt / Tax issues and look forward to work on technology and proper EDUCATION
The following letter sent to the President regarding his May 18, 2010, visit to Youngstown, Ohio, may have some relevance to this article: Our Valley is honored you are coming to see us. You could not have come at a better time. Yes, our unemployment is high and we have been doing rather badly economically ? but this started long before your administration. Yet, we have remained hopeful and our hardship has brought us closer as a people and a community. Presently, we are optimistic. Some even dare to envision a future as bright as the days of our blast furnaces. No, we do not make much steel here anymore, but God has blessed us with something almost as good: natural gas, and some 168 trillion to 516 trillion cubic feet of it in Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. It is 1500 feet below our feet in a gas reserve known as the Marcellus Shale. A drilling technique developed two years ago has double the production of gas wells. Indeed, it has even resurrected dead wells and brought them back to life at twice their original capacity. To accomplish this we must pump a million gallons of water in each well. The problem is that when the water is pumped out, it is salty. Since we cannot dump the brine on the ground, we have been hauling it away for treatment. Some of it is treated here in Warren, Ohio, at the city?s water treatment plant. Just two weeks ago, however, a ray of hope appeared. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, discovered an inexpensive metal catalyst for generating hydrogen from brine. This catalyst is 70 times cheaper than the finicky platinum one which is used now. For more information, see http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2010/04/catalyst-brings-cheap-hydrogen-f.html It appears that this new catalyst can make it possible for us to turn the brine from our gas wells into hydrogen. The hydrogen in turn can be injected into ground-up woodchips, grass, or such other bio-matter to make diesel fuel. The hydrogen can also be mixed with other fuels to enhance their thermo efficiency. In the near future the hydrogen can even power our cars, trucks and trains. And let us not forget that presently the cheapest way to make hydrogen is from natural gas, of which we should soon have plenty. There are legitimate concerns, however. Farmers near the gas wells fear that the new drilling technique will contaminate their water supply. We respect their worries and want no part of any contamination. We are thus seeking guidance from your Department of Energy to help us minimize the risk of this happening. After all, clean water is our most vital natural resource. On the other hand we will be foolish not to utilize all available technology to tap into our enormous gas reserves. Doing so will provide jobs and fund our cities. Hopefully, it will also bring back our young people who have left for opportunities elsewhere. Our sons and daughters do not live here anymore. Neither do their friends. Yet, it was our schools and cities that invested in their education and upbringing. To be sure, tapping our gas resources is important to all of us, young and old. It is also important to your Administration?s goal of energy independence. The Marcellus Shale holds enough natural gas to supply the entire United States for 20 years. With the same dedication that we had made all kinds of steel the past hundred years, we are now ready to shift gears to make all kinds of energy -- from our very own soil, using our own wits and efforts. Please join us.