back to article Titanium carbide nanotech approach hints at hydrogen storage breakthrough

New research from China is promising to double the efficiency of hydrogen storage at a time when low-carbon collection of the omnipresent gas is seen as a potential path to a greener energy economy. Published in Nature Nanotechnology this week, the research investigated a method using a titanium carbide alloy just a few atoms …

  1. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Hydrogen production / storage costs are a temporary problem. Mass production will lower them mechanically.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      There are quite a few chemical and physical problems associated with hydrogen that mass production will never be able to solve. But, by all means, keep the subsidies research grants coming.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        In the 1990s electricity could be used to electrolyse water and the resulting hydrogen could be used in a power cell and 82% of the energy could be recovered. You are saying 30 years later I couldn't buy the cheap electricity (or even the negative prices sometimes seen) convert it to Hydrogen, store it and use it in power cells and sell that back at a profit at peak times? I dont know what these problems are of yours but it could be Chemistry and Physics GCSE defecit.

        1. Degats

          Is that 82% the efficiency of H2 -> electricity in a fuel cell, or the full cycle? (Electricity -> H2 -> Electricity -> Battery -> Motor).

          Edit: I forgot transportation & storage losses, which are much higher for H2 than electricity transmission losses.

          1. Potemkine! Silver badge

            transportation & storage losses, which are much higher for H2 than electricity transmission losses.

            If you produce H2 where it will be used, that problem is solved.

            There are many ways to produce H2 locally, see for instance https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-wiltshire-29830687. There are way to get that transportation problem solved. As this article states, there are also breakthrough regarding storage.

            1. Alfie Noakes

              Over six years on and i haven't much more about Honda's "'self-sufficient' hydrogen refuelling station" - please, do tell us how it is going?

              1. Potemkine! Silver badge

                Don't you know how to use a search engine?

                I'll be nice this time, here's another link for you: Swindon cements reputation as a hydrogen hub with opening of second refuelling station: "While the bulk of the electricity used by electric cars is still produced by coal-burning power stations, hydrogen refuelling stations generate fuel on-site and are able to power themselves with a wind turbine. The unit at Johnson Matthey can generate 100kg of hydrogen a day – enough to refuel around 15 cars."

                1. Alfie Noakes

                  Oh, i did do a search, but there is not much recent activity - the referenced article is over two years old. Also, although it mentions that they "are able to power themselves with a wind turbine", there is no mention of such a facility for the Johnson Matthey station (at least via https://www.itm-power.com/h2-stations/swindon-hydrogen-station).

                  What is interesting however, is the fact that it can only generate enough fuel for around 15 cars a day - is this commercially viable (especially with a windmill that needs to generate at least 3.3MWh per day)?

                  1. MachDiamond Silver badge

                    "What is interesting however, is the fact that it can only generate enough fuel for around 15 cars a day - is this commercially viable (especially with a windmill that needs to generate at least 3.3MWh per day)?"

                    It would be financially more advantageous to use that turbine's power to generate Ammonia. A significant amount of electricity is used to make Ammonia worldwide. To generate H will take big government subsidies forever as private capital will look for much better returns.

              2. aqk
                Coat

                Been waiting 15 years ....

                I'm still waiting for my 2007 Hydrogen-powered BMW (or was it a Toyota?) that I saw advertised on the back cover of an old issue of Scientific American.

                Thank goodness I didn't put down a deposit on the car.

              3. aqk
                WTF?

                re- If you produce H2 where it will be used, that problem is solved....

                Why would I want to produce it? Don't I have better things to do with my energy?

            2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Sounds like going back to "town gas" but cleaner. Local production and relatively short term storage. Gasometers in every town.

            3. DJO Silver badge

              If you produce H2 where it will be used, that problem is solved.

              Err, no. You are just adding a superfluous step.

              If you want heat, no need for H2 if you have power.

              H2 for locomotion cannot be generated where it's needed.

            4. herman Silver badge

              If you want to use the H2 where it is produced, then you probably don't actually need to produce it in the first place, since it will be better to use whatever form of energy you have, directly, without the H2 bother.

        2. Charlie Clark Silver badge
          Boffin

          Fuel cells themselves are brilliant but remain problematic – just ask Toyota.

          The problems are related to the reactions involved: electrolysis of water is a huge step and thus requires a large amount of energy. Anything you can do catalytically (such as reducing CO2 to CO) will use less, much less. Hydrogen is really difficult to store, requiring very high pressures an even then it leaks and often damages the container. Not really surprising considering it's really just an electron and a proton. Storage is often a problem because chemistry tends to be messy.

          But as long as you predicate producing hydrogen on the costs of electricity you are inviting at best arbitrage, at worst outright abuse because it quickly becomes attractive to use subdised electricity to produce the stuff and subsidies are almost by definition not cheap.

          FWIW GCSEs weren't around when I was at school but I do have > their equivalent, even English which is maybe why I know how to spell deficit. Best not to make assumptions. ;-)

          1. martinusher Silver badge

            Hydrogen is notoriously 'leaky' so even if the technology becomes suitable for mass production there's no guarantee that it could be maintained over a period of years by a typical user.

            I think compressed natural gas is a better medium. Apart from the extensive experience with, and infrstrastructure for storing and handling, this gas its an efficient way of managing hydrogen. It's also 'natural' -- its being produced all the time so we need to capture and use it because its not going away and it is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So I figure the future is probably to burn the CNG and recycle the carbon and water (the water's already in an efficient cycle but the carbon needs a bit of help).

          2. Stoneshop Silver badge
            Boffin

            it's really just an electron and a proton.

            Er, that's just half a H2 molecule, which is what we tend to deal with in all but the rarest of instances. Still very small though.

            1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

              Re: it's really just an electron and a proton.

              True, except that in many situations it doesn't really behave properly, hence the problems of adsorption an dispersion.

          3. hoola Silver badge

            You need to look at the entire chain, source to point of use.

            Batteries have all the issues of recharging times that are unlikely to be reduced that much as there is a trade off of charge speed/battery cycles.

            The really interesting point is the end to end cycle of hydrogen against petrol and diesel. Huge amounts of energy are used to crack crude oil to produce fuels, this is all carbon based emitting huge amounts of CO2.

            Now if you are producing hydrogen using wind or solar then to a certain extent it does not matter that it is inefficient. You are still having a significant net benefit on the production of CO2. This also gets around the intermittent nature of the electricity source. Hydrogen fuel cells have always been a better option but the people developing electric vehicles have concentrated on battery because the supply of the power is not their problem.

            It is just typical of the fragmented approach we have to everything. If the wonderboy Musk have gone down the hydrogen route nobody would be giving a seconds thought to the problems.

            As it is at the moment in the rush to decarbonise transport everyone it basically making short term decisions that are going to be regretted in a few years. Honda's fuel cell has been viable for years but no one was interested in developing the infrastructure. If there had been more strategic foresight and ambition then we would not be going down the expensive milk float route we are now.

            1. DJO Silver badge

              Batteries have all the issues of recharging times that are unlikely to be reduced...

              Not quite all, flowing electrolyte batteries would be ideal for transportation once (if) they get the energy density high enough.

              Just pump out the stale electrolyte and pump in the fresh juice, just a minor modification to the existing fuel infrastructure.

              The stale electrolyte can be recharged at the fuelling station which increases efficiency as it reduces the amount that needs to be ferried around in tankers.

              1. MachDiamond Silver badge

                "Not quite all, flowing electrolyte batteries would be ideal for transportation once (if) they get the energy density high enough."

                There will be a need for a huge breakthrough in flow batteries. The concept sounds great, but the chemistry isn't there. It also needs to be a very sealed system. Spilling charged electrolyte is a major hazard. The depleted fluid may not be environmentally friendly either.

                1. DJO Silver badge

                  Spilling charged electrolyte is a major hazard.

                  True, but spilling hydrogen is not exactly trivial either - I suspect containment of electrolyte at STP will be orders of magnitude easier than pressurised hydrogen containment.

                  But you're right about the breakthrough needing to be huge but a lot of R&D is taking place to find chemicals that work and are not either strongly acid or alkaline. As I'm sure you know flow batteries are used a lot in fixed installations, so even if the R&D fails to make flow batteries suitable for locomotion they should improve the fixed sites.

            2. MachDiamond Silver badge

              "Batteries have all the issues of recharging times that are unlikely to be reduced that much as there is a trade off of charge speed/battery cycles."

              Charging speed is not an issue. EVs aren't an exact drop in replacement for ICE vehicles. You have to adopt the mindset that you will be charging overnight at home or at work. You aren't going to be visiting a specialized dispenser when the battery is low and spending 10 minutes or so. Yes, refilling a petrol tank is very quick because the fuel is incredibly energy dense. We then go on to waste the energy potential in horribly inefficient vehicles while spewing pollution out the back end.

              You are correct that it takes a large amount of energy to process crude oil into transportation fuel. About 7.46kWh per US gallon according to a study done at the Argonne National Laboratories. The conversion is easily thought of as 25 miles of range in an EV just for the leccy.

              "Now if you are producing hydrogen using wind or solar then to a certain extent it does not matter that it is inefficient."

              It matters a great deal. Investors will want to put money in technology that has the best return. There are so many other things the electricity from a solar or wind source can be used for that will make investors far more money. As a consumer, you don't want to spend $85 to travel the distance in a FC car that an EV car will do with $12 of electricity.

              I get the argument that many people don't have off-street parking and it would be difficult for them to charge an EV regularly. Many people also live in densely packed flats that would make rehearsing a Sex Pistols/PIL tribute band problematic. The rise of the automobile also changed the way planners laid out cities. They could pack people in like a tin of kippers with no place to park because it was assumed that the people would use public transportation and forego having a car, never mind 2. Cities will have to rethink their zoning and planning as we go forward. The pandemic has finally forced companies to realize that they don't need to have their entire staff in a big city downtown high rise. It's no longer matters if HR is 3 floors away or several hundred miles north of the marketing department. Interactions were moving towards non-personal communications anyway. The art department can be in a small office building in Cornwall or Paris where the artists get to see nature by looking out of the office window rather than being confined to a gray cubicle in the middle of the seventh floor with only other skyscrapers viewable out of the window. Having viable charging options at home will be a major selling point of homes going forward. Employers are going to need to provide charging whether free or charged to the employee. There will still be plenty of situations where a person has neither, but EVs are being mandated and ICE's are being banned/restricted so people better be poised to get their bum on a chair for when the music stops.

              1. Brian 3

                Downvote: why do artists deserve or need a posh paris/cornwall office rather than working from what is no doubt referred to as their "home studio" ? You are clearly from the Art Dept!

      2. DS999 Silver badge

        How does that compare to the efficiency of using electricity to make gasoline, methane, alcohol or some other liquid/gas that doesn't have hydrogen's inherent storage problems and utter lack of infrastructure to use it?

        Even if it was only half as efficient, it would make a lot more sense to use excess renewable electricity to make something the existing fleet of automobiles / natural gas power plants can use rather than building a whole new hydrogen infrastructure.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          It's much cheaper to produce hydrocarbons. But, because it is still above cost, to let anyone do so at scale would invite abuse in many situations. For example, if you provide and incentive for this by saying that fuel produced like this is exempt from fuel duty, it would immediately be attractive to burn hydrocarbons (power station sources is usually exempt) to produce electricity to produce hydrocarbons that are cheaper at the pump than if they were delivered there directly.

          1. DS999 Silver badge

            If you let someone "do it at scale" it would be pretty easy to tell the source of their electricity. A utility can't claim "oh we're using solar panels and wind turbines to generate the power" and sell enough fuel that it would have required 10 gigawatt hours of input when they have renewable sources that could have only generated 5 GWh during that time.

            It would be small producers that you couldn't police, but that's easy enough by only licensing large producers you can police to make the fuel without tax. And you make sure the penalty for being caught cheating is so massive that you are basically out of business if you do - then no one cheats. Most of the reason you see cheating of this type in the business world it is because the fines are so small it can be treated as a cost of doing business.

    2. Mips
      Childcatcher

      Inefficient

      The conversion of fuel to electricity, hydrogen, storage, hydrogen to electricity is very inefficient. It is not a problem that will go away.

  2. Roger Kynaston Silver badge
    Go

    I hope this isn't like fusion

    As in being on the edge of viability but never quite getting there. I have this vision of using solar and wind generation to electorlyse water into hydrogen that a fuel cell then turns into electricity for the auxiliary motor on my boat. There was a presentation of just this on the RI Lectures but I have this feeling that the engineering will be more challenging than thought.

    I hope it works though.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: I hope this isn't like fusion

      I think, like CCS, it's up there.

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: I hope this isn't like fusion

      Hydrogen generation and storage for non-vehicular use has been there for decades. Its just lacking the investment. Renewables development has had practically no government investment when you compare it with the subsidies the oil/coal industry has received..

    3. fishman

      Re: I hope this isn't like fusion

      Hydrogen as a fuel for recreational boats has been discussed in a number of threads on a number of boat related forums. The tankage has to be 5 to 10 times the volume as diesel fuel to get the same range and the tankage is heavy since hydrogen is kept at high pressure (5000 psi or more). There are 2 publicly accessible hydrogen fueling stations in the US outside of California as of August 2020 so it will be a long time before there will be sufficient fueling stations that are boat accessible. And you can't do with hydrogen what I do with diesel - I have a 5 gallon fuel can that I put in the trunk of my Miata, hit the gas station on the way to the boat and fill it with diesel, get to the boat and dump it into the boat's tank, and I've added 60+ miles of range.

  3. DrXym Silver badge

    It's not just the storage

    Producing hydrogen through renewables is hideously wasteful, something like 3-4x as wasteful compared to just charging the energy into a battery. That is because hydrogen must be produced from electricity, captured, stored, transported and then turned back to electricity and each step loses energy to heat etc.

    That may go a long way to explain why its going nowhere as a form of vehicle propulsion - it isn't cost competitive. And while it's quicker to fill a car, you're not going to be able to charge it over night or while you do your shopping or anything like that in the forseeable future. Unless hydrogen can be produced cheaply enough from renewables that it costs less than a battery over the lifetime of a vehicle then I don't see it going anywhere.

    1. Keith Oborn

      Re: It's not just the storage

      Yes, about 1/3 the efficiency overall ( 30% vs 90%). BUT: there are applications where batteries are not adequate - rail, shipping, and of course aviation. Horses for courses.

      Same applies to domestic heating. It is way more energy efficient to use renewable electricity to run heat pumps, but the cost and complexity of retrofitting all existing buildings with heat pumps is pretty daunting (we have one, but we were doing a barn conversion, so starting almost from scratch). In comparison, hydrogen production from offshore wind can re-use the entire offshore oil/gas industry: rig construction, gas pipelines, etc. Domestic boilers have been required to accept up to 20% hydrogen since 1992, and there are now 100% hydrogen models available. The biggest problem is finding all the iron pipes in the network as hydrogen degrades them. So while less efficient, it is a far easier job to deliver.

      For these reasons both approaches have merit and should be pursued.

      1. AdamT

        Re: It's not just the storage

        Yes, this: "For these reasons both approaches have merit and should be pursued"

        Suspect the main issue will be keeping the debate and decision making practical and science/engineering based. Political and popular discourse is already descending to "Batteries Suck! No! Hydrogen Sucks!" and, even if you are more aware of the technicalities, some of this stuff is hard to compare.

        On the face of it, sitting in a car with a steel tank of 700 Bar flammable gas sounds like a bad idea. But we happily accept sitting next to an un-pressurised tank of flammable liquid. Is that better or worse?

        Similarly the first time I realised I was sitting on a battery that was being charged at >100KW I did have a brief moment of "gosh, that's like 35 kettles being on at the same time"...

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: It's not just the storage

          The 700 Bar should help you decide. That's a lot of pressure and means thick and heavy containers. If we can ever get hydrocarbon fuel cells working and, hence, the yield up above 40% then we have really solved the problem. But even just burning hydrocarbons to drive an electric motor would increase the efficiency of modern vehicles because storage can be used to decouple consumption from production.

        2. Degats

          Re: It's not just the storage

          "On the face of it, sitting in a car with a steel tank of 700 Bar flammable gas sounds like a bad idea. But we happily accept sitting next to an un-pressurised tank of flammable liquid. Is that better or worse?"

          The flammable part is pretty negligible compared to the high-pressure gas part. You do not want to be in (or close to) a car if the H2 tank fails, and it's not pretty when a fuelling station goes either.

          Petrol & battery fires are pretty tame in comparison.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            @Degrats Re: It's not just the storage

            You should take some time and learn some history.

            Google Hindenburg. Not the general but the blimp.

            There's actually footage where you can see people who waited until the flaming structure hit the ground and then ran away unhurt while those who jumped died.

            1. Rol Silver badge

              Re: @Degrats It's not just the storage

              In all fairness, the Hindenburg had no pressurised hydrogen on board, and the comment did allude to ridiculously high pressure vessels failing. Even Helium at 700 bar would level the landscape some if the container failed.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: @Degrats It's not just the storage

                Uhmm... I think you need to learn more about how tanks fail.

                Its not going to be the 'wall of the tank' but the valve.

                My dad told me a story about a very large O2 tank in the hospital falling and the valve got sheared off.

                The tank took off like a rocket/torpedo. Lucky no one was hurt.

                1. RLWatkins

                  Re: @Degrats It's not just the storage

                  Seen a SCUBA tank do that.

                  Do not try this at home.

            2. Irony Deficient Silver badge

              Re: Not the general but the blimp.

              The Hindenburg was a zeppelin, not a blimp.

              1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                Re: Not the general but the blimp.

                The airship was built by Zeppelin. AFAIK, if it's rigid, it's an airship. If it's not rigid, it's a blimp or balloon.

                1. midgepad

                  Re: Not the general but the blimp.

                  If it is big, which it was, it is a ship.

                2. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Not the general but the blimp.

                  It is an airship as clearly documented in this historic video.

                  https://vimeo.com/316436124

                  Monty P.

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Not the general but the blimp.

                Sure.

                My bad. But still you get the idea.

                The point still stands.

                If you have a chance, try an experiment.

                Take one balloon filled only w hydrogen.

                Take another... I think its 1 part O2 4 parts H2 (or reversed)

                Now place them over a flame.

                One has a flame going straight up.

                The other goes boom.

                Its been over 40 years since I've seen this experiment.

            3. Degats

              Re: @Degrats It's not just the storage

              I'll combine my replies to your two posts into one, because they're related:

              > "There's actually footage where you can see people who waited until the flaming structure hit the ground and then ran away unhurt while those who jumped died."

              Yes, which is why I said "The flammable part is pretty negligible compared to the high-pressure gas part."

              I saw a clip on imgur the other day (no, I'm not going to post it here) in a reply to something about H2, taken from CCTV of a CNG car tank failing at a filling station. It destroyed the rear half of the car, killing one person and seriously injuring at least one other (a bystander).

              Wikipedia tells me that the pressure would have been max 250bar. If there were any flames (I didn't particularly want to watch it again to study it), they were gone in a fraction of a second.

              In northern Europe a while back, an H2 filling station exploded, injuring the occupants of a passing car (a Tesla ironically).

              Pressure vessels may not necessarily fail themselves, but even if only the valve blows out (and the vessel itself doesn't fail as a result), that huge amount of pressure will go somewhere, incredibly quickly. Do you think a car's structure will safely contain a torpedo powered by 700 bar H2?

              H2 storage really is no joke and if it does get popular in passenger cars, you'd better hope that people maintain them waay better than they typically do ICE cars.

              1. MachDiamond Silver badge

                Re: @Degrats It's not just the storage

                Yes, it's more than the tank. Valves, fittings, pipes, regulators, etc. Cars vibrate a lot and get jostled. Having something work loose or wear out in a high pressure system is a big problem. If the Hydrogen can be trapped in spaces, it can be explosive. The Fukushima reactors exploded due to trapped Hydrogen and made a huge mess.

        3. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: It's not just the storage

          "Suspect the main issue will be keeping the debate and decision making practical and science/engineering based. Political and popular discourse is already descending to "Batteries Suck! No! Hydrogen Sucks!" and, even if you are more aware of the technicalities, some of this stuff is hard to compare."

          It's not "Hydrogen Sucks", it's whether it's efficient or not for a road vehicle. The only big advantage is the time it takes to fill the tank in a car. For people that don't have off-street parking, that could be an advantage, but it comes at a huge cost. There is also the lack of infrastructure. With an EV, any outlet you are allowed to use is infrastructure. I think I read that in the US there are 36 Hydrogen fueling stations and 24 of them are in Los Angeles. With an EV, I could charge at home, where I shop, fast chargers not too far away and RV campsites. I work for myself but I could charge from time to time at customer locations if it was worthwhile. I would never move back to somewhere where I didn't have my own parking. I've been in that situation before and shudder to think of how much money in petrol I spent just hunting down a place to park. I guess it did force a lot more exercise on my getting to and from the car. I did my shopping in many small bites so I could get things to the house in one go.

          "On the face of it, sitting in a car with a steel tank of 700 Bar flammable gas sounds like a bad idea. But we happily accept sitting next to an un-pressurised tank of flammable liquid. Is that better or worse?"

          I'll take the liquid. It's will run out in a predictable way and not shoot out like a welding torch (and one that is mostly UV light at that).

          "Similarly the first time I realised I was sitting on a battery that was being charged at >100KW I did have a brief moment of "gosh, that's like 35 kettles being on at the same time".."

          Do the math on petroleum fuels. Lorries will need far more power than that to charge in a short period of time... more like 350 kettles with a truck stop (lorry nest?) being at least 3500 and probably more. If you charge at home each night, you won't have the same power draw. I always see time figures based on a flat battery, but if you've only gone 60 miles, it doesn't take much time using a standard 3-pin plug to top that back up. All EV's have a charging timer so if you can get a low tariff plan for the middle of the night, you can set the car to start charging or be finished charging during that period. The setting even lets you make that for home only so if you plug in elsewhere, it will begin charging at once by default.

        4. Brian 3

          Re: It's not just the storage

          Unpressurized flammable liquids do not become bombs when punctured or impacted. They are also not embrittlement time bombs waiting to go off - and a high pressure rupture would likely result in an explosion 9/10 times because hydrogen is so easy to light off. Modern steel and plastic tanks take a huge amount of abuse and don't require scheduled hydrotests that the tank would have to be completely removed from the vehicle to perform.

      2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: It's not just the storage

        It's just so much easier to use hydrocarbons for storage and almost certainly cheaper as well. AFAIK reduction of CO2 to CO and thence to CxHyOH or CxHz still looks the most likely route but is getting much less funding. Currently, it's cheaper to do this electrically which would lead to massive arbitrage / fraud, but probably no less than we already have with the Great Biofuel Swindle; and it does look like it might be able to do this below cost and thus turn all those renewable generators into storage depots.

        1. aqk
          Mushroom

          Re: It's not just the storage

          Not sure how far the H2 is compressed, but there is more hydrogen in a gallon of gasoline than in a gallon of hydrogen.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Boffin

        @Keith Re: It's not just the storage

        Rail would not be a good example for Hydrogen over batteries or alternatives.

        There are alternatives.

        For rail, you have to consider it covers both people movers within urban and surrounding areas, or crossing great expanses like the US Mid-West.

        You have a couple of options for people movers that can reduce the energy requirements within the rail car. (e.g. mag lev) You could also have overhead electricity supplied by a power plant. (Think nuclear)

        Hydrogen has its issues and when you consider a bio-diesel solution... the cost of converting to electrical power ... much cheaper. (Sorry you still have hydro carbons.) Batteries also pose a risk if there's a derailment.

        Hydrogen has a long way to go for it to be viable in this scenario.

      4. low_resolution_foxxes Silver badge

        Re: It's not just the storage

        Valid points, but the bigger picture is that the UK has possibly the world's best and cheapest offshore wind resources, but has an intermittency problem. It also produces too much wind power already for the occasional demand profile, batteries and hydrogen provide short and long term solutions.

        Think about it. You either switch the wind turbines off, or convert it to "free-ish hydrogen" and keep it as fuel reserves for a calm day. Hell you can even jack up the output from nuclear power plants and do the same during the evenings.

        It's got its own challenges, but in theory they are considering mixing it with natural gas piped into our homes (trials are ongoing).

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: It's not just the storage

          "Valid points, but the bigger picture is that the UK has possibly the world's best and cheapest offshore wind resources, but has an intermittency problem. It also produces too much wind power already for the occasional demand profile, batteries and hydrogen provide short and long term solutions."

          If the grid could talk to EV's, cars could be set to charge when there is a lot of supply and not charge during high demand periods. That would absorb the power when there is lots of wind. You might be able to set the car to only charge when the rates are 5p or less per kWh. If you don't travel much, you might get by with that only happening infrequently. I expect that there would be a price graph based on capacity and you could find a good setting that lets you charge for your needs at the lowest price possible with a little space left over when the price really drops. Something like charging to 80% when the price is 6p-10p and top the battery all the way up if it's 5p or lower.

          This sort of approach means that the network isn't storing power, it's being put into the nation's fleet of EV's. It also means that most charging will be done off-peak and durning times of over supply. The national grid has been built out to cope with peak demand and has tremendous capacity in the wee hours. The more of that "bathtub" that can be filled up, the more efficient the grid becomes.

      5. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: It's not just the storage

        "Yes, about 1/3 the efficiency overall ( 30% vs 90%). BUT: there are applications where batteries are not adequate - rail, shipping, and of course aviation. Horses for courses."

        Rail is easy... overhead lines, a battery "tender" and a diesel backup (for now). In the US there are long lines with nothing around the tracks that could make adding solar farms adjacent to the corridors easy as cake. The train line is a huge advantage in building out renewables along the way since there is already an easy and cheap way to transport the components and machinery. A battery tender car can bridge the gap at shunting yards where overhead lines would be complicated and the diesel hybrid already in use can be employed for places where nothing else is currently feasible or the most expensive. Starting with the low hanging fruit is the best approach. While locos are hybrids already, they are direct hybrid rather than parallel so the engines aren't always run at the most fuel efficient setting. Adding a big battery pack means much more efficiency. The railroad industry is one of those monolithic things run by boards with absolutely no imagination (plus unions) so it will take an external kick in the fork to get them to change. GE would have to do some original design work. That would be something.

        Shipping is pretty efficient. They use bottom of the barrel fuel and the engines are very efficient for burners of hydrocarbons. The pollution is an issue. I've never seen if anybody has done a study to find out if taking them to a hybrid power plant makes enough of a difference. it would have to be massive to make retrofitting ships worthwhile.

        Forget aviation for now. The power density in batteries is far too low. If 75% of an A320 has to be battery (by weight) with top of the line 400Wh/Kg Li batteries, there is no way people could afford the ticket and cargo would have to be only the most valuable lightweight articles. There are a few small experimental general aviation aircraft with electric motors, but they don't have great range or much payload capacity. A long taxi at an airport might mean only 20 minutes of flight time. Batteries may never be good and safe enough for commercial passenger service. If the vast majority of personal cars and light trucks were able to be transitioned to electric, that would be huge. We could then stand on that spot and see where to go from there.

    2. Big_Boomer Silver badge

      Re: It's not just the storage

      All true, but hydrogen overcomes the range and recharge time issues that are holding back battery electric cars. No reason why the 2 different systems can't co-exist much like Diesel/Petrol/LPG. The markets will soon establish which they prefer if not both.

      Hydrogen production can be VERY cheap when produced by renewable sources during off-peak times as otherwise the lack of demand would require shutdown of those sources. Windfarm operators, especially offshore ones, do not like to have to reduce output and in the UK right now wind is 55% of renewables and rising.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: It's not just the storage

        Hydrogen production can be VERY cheap when produced by renewable sources during off-peak times

        Making it indistinguishable from hydrogen made from very cheap electricity from nuclear or gas power stations… And I'll be happy to sell it to you by the tanker.

        Hydocarbons that can be produced by reduction will always be cheaper than hydrogen produced via electrolysis.

      2. Tom 38 Silver badge

        Re: It's not just the storage

        I'm much more excited by Liquid Air Energy Storage (LAES), which promises much more efficient storage and using much simpler technology, it will make it much easier to build storage systems than billions of lithium cells.

        1. low_resolution_foxxes Silver badge

          Re: It's not just the storage

          I saw this, I think they've just built the prototype yes? Wasn't it compressing the air to crazy cold temperatures, letting it heat expand and turn rotors? Interesting concept, not sure about scale and practicality.

    3. Dabooka Silver badge

      Re: It's not just the storage

      You're right of course but the difference in approach is because there's different needs and wants. This medium is about energy storage really, it even refers to the ongoing challenges of production in the article.

      There's a need for being better at both for sure but that means addressing individual technical and engineering problems, which this is part way in achieving.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: It's not just the storage

        Storage has never really been a problem technically. We used to have gas manometers in every town and now we have the technology to compress the gas and recover most of the energy used in compressing it it should be less of a problem these days.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: It's not just the storage

          Storage of hydrogen has always been and remains a problem: it requires really high pressures and still leaks and it also tends to degrade its containers.

        2. Dabooka Silver badge

          Re: It's not just the storage

          I was talking about storage of hydrogen, not the same thing.

    4. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: It's not just the storage

      Over 80% efficiency was achieved in the 1990s.

  4. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Alert

    700 bars ! Yikes !

    No wonder they're saying that 60 bars is a "low-pressure" storage vessel.

    I wouldn't want to drive around with a tank pressurized to 700 bars. I'd feel nervous about having a bomb lurking just a meter away from me.

    60 bars doesn't make me feel all that much safer though.

    I think I'd prefer electric.

    1. Big_Boomer Silver badge

      Re: 700 bars ! Yikes !

      Yet you are currently quite happy to drive around with a 50+ litre fuel-air bomb in your petrol car? Have you seen the intensity of a Lithium-ion battery fire? Have you seen what happens when you try to put it out with water? Have you seen supposedly extinguished Li-ion battery fires spontaneously reignite? Ask your local firefighter about them. Those firefighters that have experienced them HATE Li-ion batteries, especially in crashes as the car could end up with exposed high-voltage DC. None of these high-energy systems are safe by their very nature. We make them safe by designing them properly and with safety in mind.

      1. Potemkine! Silver badge

        Re: 700 bars ! Yikes !

        Have you seen supposedly extinguished Li-ion battery fires spontaneously reignite?

        Do you remember Richard's Hammond crash of the Rimac Concept One electric supercar? It burnt for several days, keeping on reigniting.

        1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

          Re: 700 bars ! Yikes !

          Batteries that don't burn are being developed. H2 is explosive and there is really nothing you can do about it. Being the lowest number on the periodic table has some advantages but also many negatives.

          Methane is a much longer molecule chain and is far easier to contain without leakage than H2.

          H2 for cars is a dead end. There might be some uses for it in other transportation but for small vehicles? forget it.

          1. midgepad

            Methane is the shortest possible

            Hydrocarbon chain.

            It eludes me how long HCH is compared to HH and it is more like the height of a right tetrahedron but CH4 is small.

          2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

            Re: 700 bars ! Yikes !

            Methane isn't much longer but it is heavier and much easier to work with and transport not least because of some limited attraction between molecules: H2 doesn't particularly like to stick with H2 when there are things like metal surfaces to sink into.

          3. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: 700 bars ! Yikes !

            "H2 for cars is a dead end. There might be some uses for it in other transportation but for small vehicles? forget it."

            I guess I'll mention that fuel cells built small and light enough for a passenger car are very expensive. For a stationary application, heavier materials can be used and size is much less of a factor. Another example of a technology that doesn't scale very well.

            Even more than catalytic converters, nicking a FC might be a thing if FCVs are more than a research curiosity. Lots of precious metals on board.

      2. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: 700 bars ! Yikes !

        In a car Li battery fire, chances are that the circuit is interrupted and there is no longer high voltage present. All cars have a way of splitting the traction battery pack to make it safe. Firefighters will have to spend more time learning where they are located rather than sitting around watching football when they are on shift.

        With liquid petroleum fuel, you don't have a 50l fuel air bomb. You have a tank that is primarily fuel with very little Oxygen in relation. A nearly empty tank being the most dangerous, but no where near that 50L. Only 18%ish of air is Oxygen and fuel vapors will be dominant in the tank. Certainly you can get a boom, but not to the extent you are implying. This is why we can drive around with a can full of highly flammable fuel on board. It's not flammable until there is Oxygen present.

        Batteries, OTOH, don't need an outside oxidizer. They can burn under water. The hotter you get them, the more likely the next cell is to burst into flames, so cooling the pack down is important to limit the chances of self re-ignition from damaged cells slowly going critical. It might take a new way of handling wrecks to safe the batteries rather than just dumping them in an impound yard and walking away.

        I remember a night on the beach where we got a chuck of old VW engine case ignited in the fire pit. The fire brigade had no idea what it was. Bright AF and we knew better than to look at it. The fireman didn't. I don't assume much knowledge about fire/chemical reactions on their part since.

    2. Vulture@C64

      Re: 700 bars ! Yikes !

      700 bar is nothing. Modern diesel injector systems are running at 2000-2500 bar right now. It all works very well and doesn't leak because there's sufficient development in the product, as it has a very large market and hence strong profitability.

      The same will be true of Hydrogen vehicles. Once the politicians realise we can't make enough large batteries for cars, vans, lorries, trains etc we will need to make smaller ones and use hydrogen, then much more developed, to fill the gap. Imagine in 10-20 years, an electric car with a 1000 mile range that emits, locally, nothing more than water and can be refuelled in 10 mins. That is the future.

      1. druck Silver badge

        Re: 700 bars ! Yikes !

        There is hell of a difference between a few millilitres of diesel squirted in to a cylinder at 2500bar, and large heavy tank at 700bar. One might take off the end of your finger, the other could level a block.

    3. Jan 0 Silver badge

      Re: 700 bars ! Yikes !

      I see you've never tried scuba diving. Mind you that's _only_ 300 bar:)

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: 700 bars ! Yikes !

        I take extreme care with my tanks and have them inspected annually and "hydro'd" every 5 years per regulations. The connections are also inspected and very straight forward/simple. Much of that is taught when you get certified. How much and at what odds to you want to bet that people purchasing or leasing a FCV won't get any training at all?

  5. Totally not a Cylon
    Boffin

    Why not just use...

    Why not just use the clean renewable energy to make a hydrocarbon type liquid fuel using carbon dioxide from the atmosphere?

    No cost of converting infrastructure or vehicles, just conversion of the production facilities.

    Even if it's only 50% efficient to begin with, still has to be 'greener' than 'fossil- fuel'....

    1. AdamT

      Re: Why not just use...

      I _think_ the only currently feasible chemical option would be https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabatier_reaction which makes methane.

      But this still needs hydrogen as an input although presumably doesn't require energy for compression/cooling at least.

    2. hoola Silver badge

      Re: Why not just use...

      Because the obsession is electric because it is perceived to be "green".

      Any ICE fuel that can be created using renewable electricity and does not have a bio-fuel crop component is going to be better than any of the options we have now.

      Again, it is unlikely to go anywhere because the entire focus is on removing CO2 everywhere, not reusing it.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Why not just use...

        "Any ICE fuel that can be created using renewable electricity and does not have a bio-fuel crop component is going to be better than any of the options we have now."

        I've read some good arguments for using wind turbines to make Ammonia and use that as a base to further synthesize replacements for diesel. The numbers work out better for the investment in the turbine. In an agricultural area, there is the need for the Ammonia for use in fertilizer and diesel vehicles dominate the landscape (so to speak). It doesn't seem viable to make an electric combine harvester. When crops are ready to harvest, they need to run continuously for long periods of time and can't stop to recharge.

        Removing CO2 from the atmosphere deserves being researched, but if it's easier right now to come up with viable technologies to keep from pumping more in, that's the way to go. I'd hate to see the government mandate super expensive C02 capture tech that throws a wet blanket on the economy. It would have to be worldwide. This is analogous to why President Trump didn't want to sign the Paris Accord. The mandates were not applied equally and in some countries, not at all leaving the US at a distinct disadvantage. Making US made products artificially more expensive than imports would put many companies out of business and people out of work. Not many people would agree that it's worth sacrificing the country to "save the planet", maybe. The current crop of politicians would all be out on their ear.

  6. FILE_ID.DIZ Bronze badge
    Trollface

    Man... too bad Nikola didn't come up with this tech first. Of course, the guy put in charge of their hydrogen infrastructure was/is Travis Milton, who is Trevor Milton's brother. Travis' LinkedIn page made it look like he's better at pouring concrete than solving complex engineering issues.

  7. tiggity Silver badge

    Could we edit this line

    "collection of the omnipresent gas "

    Hydrogen is not omnipresent in its gaseous form - too reactive to be in our atmosphere long before it reacts with something else. Though omnipresent bound to other atoms (the classic H2O of water, amino acids, sugars, fats etc, in our body)

    It is very easy to obtain gaseous hydrogen however - which is what I assume the author was implying.

  8. Panicnow

    Other use cases

    Transport is only one use case for any energy. And its the only one that has issues of energy density and safety. Adding H2 to piped gas is trivial

    I own a farm and we are looking at powering our tractors etc with H2 made on the farm using our solar and wind generation.

    On the farm, it is just about feasible to simply float a balloon filled with H2 above the machine. Balloons are not ideal for medium term storage, so this tech would fit for our use. They key is the capital cost rather than other parameters

    1. Jan 0 Silver badge

      Re: Other use cases

      > Adding H2 to piped gas is trivial

      Indeed, that's more or less what they used to do when adjusting the calorific value of coal gas. By quenching white hot coke with steam they generated hydrogen (and carbon monoxide), this "water gas" was then mixed with the basic coal gas (mainly methane) to produce a gas with a constant calorific value.

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Other use cases

      You may want to look at DiMethylEster rather than H2. One little leak and all of the energy you've wasted on making the Hydrogen will waft way in the breeze. Speaking of a breeze, that ballon is going to whip around in the wind so only useful on a calm day. Liquid fuel is far easier to contain.

      Capital cost is a concern, I'll agree with you there, but you also need to look at that investment over time. Maybe you can form a co-op with other farms in your area and attract a firm that would install a renewable energy plant that produced synthesized liquid fuels in exchange for a purchase guarantee and data on how well it works. You might also be able to purchase self-contained systems and own the plant yourself. A Haber-Bosch Ammonia plant can be had built into a 20' 40' shipping container. I expect that you can also have installed further processing cells, but you'd also have to run and maintain them which might be beyond what you want to get involved with. I suggested getting a few neighbors in on it so you can make better use of the output and have enough scale to make it worthwhile. It's like cooking for one. If you've gone that far, cooking for two is trivially more expensive.

      The return on the solar and wind equipment being used to generate H2 is going to be rather low.

  9. Jan 0 Silver badge

    Chemistry question

    Ok, so I see titanium and carbon in this formula: Ti2CTx, but what is the second T? tThere is no element with the symbol T. I had a glance at the original paper, bu didn't see an explanation.

  10. herman Silver badge
    Flame

    Liquid Hydrogen

    If you combine Hydrogen with Carbon and form long chain molecules, then it becomes a liquid at normal pressure. In this state, it is much easier and safer to transport and it can even be consumed inside a regular car and ICE without any modification.

  11. TedF

    Greener Natural Gas

    Interesting that our Government (not known for forward planning) have passed Legislation to allow up to 15% Hydrogen to be added to existing Natural Gas supplies...

  12. ShanghaiFuente

    Titanium tube manufacturer

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