installation 2G's hydrogen fueled engine-based CHP systems Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt Airport energy station
The installation of 2G’s hydrogen fueled, engine-based CHP systems at the new Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt Airport energy station marks an important milestone

Hydrogen as a fuel for cogeneration has yet to develop the market acceptance enjoyed by natural gas and diesel-fueled applications, but new engine technologies for generating heat and electricity from hydrogen could accelerate the adoption of hydrogen-fueled CHP, writes Ed Ritchie.

Hydrogen as a cogeneration fuel has yet to develop the market acceptance enjoyed by natural gas and diesel-fueled applications. But that may be changing as new technologies allow renewable energy resources to convert their output into safe hydrogen that can be stored for use in CHP applications. Moreover, new engine technologies for generating heat and electricity from hydrogen could accelerate the adoption of hydrogen-fueled CHP.

In the past, hydrogen-fueled cogeneration has typically been associated with fuel cell technology, and the high cost of these systems has been a limiting factor for hydrogen’s viability as a fuel for stationary power applications. But the recent launch of a dedicated hydrogen-fueled CHP cogeneration system from 2G Cenergy could be a turning point for a more economical solution, according to Michael Turwitt, the company’s president and CEO, based in St. Augustine, Florida, US.

“The idea to utilise fuel cells for power generation sounds very attractive for clean and efficient energy production,” says Turwitt.

“However, there are still issues associated with the technology such as very high manufacturing costs, performance and durability issues, and high cost of fuel production, especially if a reformer is applied,” he says. “Also, fuel cells require very pure fuel, free of contaminants including sulphur and other carbon compounds. None of these contaminants inhibit combustion in an internal combustion engine, and reciprocating engines do have a much higher tolerance level for such fuel impurities.”

2G's IL6 and V12 hydrogen-fueled engines power its agenitor® 306 and 312 CHP systems
2G’s IL6 and V12 hydrogen-fueled engines power its agenitor® 306 and 312 CHP systems

According to the National Fuel Cell Research Center at the University of California, fuel cells could become competitive with traditional engine technologies in the stationary power market if they reach an installed cost of US$1500 or less per kW. (Currently, the cost is in the range of $4000+ per kW.)

Compared to prices of $800 to $1500 for reciprocating engine-based CHP systems, Turwitt expects to see a broad range of applications for 2G Cenergy’s products. For example, the first units found a home at an energy station within the Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt airport in Germany.

The CHP installation uses two hydrogen-fueled engines powering 2G’s Agenitor CHP systems, with an output currently set at 400 kW/unit (units are capable of 500 kW output). The CHP plant functions as part of a larger hydrogen vehicle fueling project, operated by a multi-national oil and gas consortium that includes Total (oil and gas distributor and commercial filling station operator), Enertrag (renewable energy and wind turbine project operator) and The Linde Group (industrial gas supplier and hydrogen plant operator).

Given the commercial partners and the German government’s strong support for hydrogen as a clean energy fuel, the timing could not have been better to introduce a hydrogen-fueled reciprocating engine at the Berlin airport, because the CHP system expands the existing hydrogen vehicle fueling station into a self-contained hydrogen complex. By incorporating an Enertrag wind farm plus solar panels from a Total subsidiary, the project could achieve 100% renewable electricity to power the system, supporting an electrolyzer that produces about 200 kg of hydrogen per day (equivalent to about 50 full tanks of fuel cell cars).

Linde is responsible for the development, installation and technical operation of the hydrogen station, which plays an important role in the conversion of wind to hydrogen as a method for gaining maximum efficiency from wind turbine generation when there is no demand for its output.

A portion of the hydrogen now fuels 2G Cenergy’s CHP system, generating green energy for heat and electricity at the airport where safe operations at the plant are critical to the project’s success, according to Turwitt. “Using hydrogen has always been a safety question,” he says

“A lot of people have said that hydrogen is highly explosive and needs to be handled safely, and that requires certain technologies. There are car manufacturers that have hydrogen engines in their vehicles but it’s never been done as a serious product for prime power generation and CHP.

“I think the biggest breakthrough is our fuel injection technology. Our engineering group has been working on this for quite some time and it helps tremendously for safe operations. The port injection enables us to prepare and mix the fuel before it’s injected into the combustion chamber. That makes it extremely safe and very economical.”

It is worth noting that the CHP plant’s hydrogen gas storage system also represents a major breakthrough for the industry. Typically, hydrogen fuel produced by electrolysis can fluctuate, but this problem is solved by a technology for storing hydrogen in solid form (metal hydrides) at low pressure. This storage enables a permanent supply of hydrogen fuel for the 2G CHP system.

It is manufactured by McPhy Energy, based in Grenoble, France, and uses a magnesium hydride solid storage technology. The airport unit holds up to 100 kg of hydrogen produced from electrolysis. Safe storage is a key benefit, and the technology can store, at atmospheric pressure, as much hydrogen as a 500 bar storage within the same volume.

Utility-scale energy storage is a high priority in Germany’s clean energy strategy. The city of Berlin has offered €200 million ($271 million) between 2011 and 2014 for energy storage-related research.

For the airport project, the financial commitment is equally impressive. The funding for the capital and operating costs (maintenance and repair) to mid-2016 alone amounts to about €10 million. Among the commercial partners, Linde and Total each invested over €3 million. For Enertrag, it is €2 million and for the CHP system, 2G has committed €1 million.

On the federal side, the National Innovation Programme for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NIP) is providing 50% funding to the participants to support the federal government’s fuel strategy. According to Enertrag, the investment is justified. The company’s research shows that Germany’s storage facilities amount to roughly 0.07 TWh, but the country’s requirements for 2050 will exceed 40 TWh.

Siemens is planning to fill some of that storage gap. The German engineering giant is designing a large-scale electrolysis system to convert wind energy into storable hydrogen, with a pilot project to begin in 2015.

Germany has another important wind-to-hydrogen project, though in this case, rather than storing the hydrogen on site, it is fed directly to the natural gas grid. The new power-to-gas system was built by Canada-based Hydrogenics for German utility E.ON, and its key advantage is its high storage capacity within natural gas pipelines.

Globally, energy storage is on the rise. According to Navigant Research, in the first six months of 2013, 38 new advanced energy storage projects were announced, deployed or started, which brings the worldwide total to 633 projects operating or under development. Most significant hydrogen storage projects that are making progress have some form of government funding.

For example, in France, the Areva Group is supplying an industrial energy storage system, developed with the backing of OSEO, the French public body for the funding and support of technological innovation, as part of the Horizon Hydrogen Energy (H2E) programme. Areva’s Greenergy Box combines an electrolyzer to make hydrogen and a fuel cell to generate electricity.

In Japan, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has a project in Kitakyushu City that uses a 100 kW solar panel array and 60 kW wind turbine to make and store hydrogen for a 400 kW fuel cell.

Through Scottish Enterprise, Scotland’s government has contributed £2.8 million ($4.5 million) towards the cost of the Hydrogen Office building. The project includes a 30 kW hydrogen production system, a 750 kW wind turbine, hydrogen storage, and a 10 kW hydrogen fuel cell.

In the US, progress on wind-to-hydrogen has been limited to just a few projects. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a division of the Department of Energy (DOE), partnered with Xcel Energy on a demonstration project at the National Wind Technology Center in Boulder, Colorado.

From December 2008 through September 2009, NREL operated a Mercedes Benz F-Cell fuel cell vehicle with hydrogen from wind and solar PV, but the pilot has run its course. More recently, a $4.6 million DOE grant secured by the town of Hempstead. Long Island, funded a single wind turbine to power a water-to-hydrogen process, with the ultimate goal of fueling the city’s hydrogen vehicles and a bus.

Overall, the opportunity for hydrogen storage projects in the US is growing. Renewable energy accounted for nearly 50% of all new US electric generation in 2012, according to Ernst & Young, while 13.1 GW of wind was added to its grid last year, and total wind installations reached 60 GW of installed capacity.

There is at least one US utility-scale wind-to-energy project on the horizon. Norfolk Wind Energy, National Renewable Solutions and Millennium Reign Energy recently announced plans for a 10 MW wind-to-hydrogen facility in Renville County, Minnesota. The project will produce 500,000 kg of hydrogen annually, and the partners are exploring the option of using a hydrogen-fueled 1 MW fuel cell to sell electricity to a local grid operator during peak demand hours.

Projects worldwide reflect a positive environment for hydrogen as a fuel and energy storage resource, says Henning Tomforde, head of Market Development, Hydrogen Solutions and Marketing, Clean Energy at Munich-based The Linde Group.

“A lot of demonstration projects are planned or ongoing for both cogeneration and hydrogen-powered fleet operations such as cars, buses and forklifts. Slowly but surely we are seeing various markets around the globe evolving.”

As with Berlin’s airport project, much of the focus is on hydrogen production from renewables, storage and transport, but Tomforde notes that the growth of the hydrogen for vehicles market can have a positive effect on storage and stationary power generation.

“In general, cogeneration and hydrogen fuel infrastructure for cars are not necessarily linked, but I’m quite sure that it will have a positive effect due to the fact that the infrastructure in general is getting more widely available,” he says. “Also the acceptance and awareness of hydrogen is getting better.”

In April 2013 The Linde Group promoted hydrogen at the Hannover Messe trade show, showcasing its latest developments in stationary fueling technologies. In the past two years alone, Linde developed and built more than 10 hydrogen stations, three of which generate hydrogen on site from renewables.

One of the recent projects opened in March 2013, for the utility EnBW Energie Baden-Wurttemberg AG, as part of the Clean Energy Partnership (CEP) in Stuttgart, Germany.

Another source of awareness for hydrogen comes from its steady growth and distribution in conventional industrial markets.

“Even if they focus on industrial applications, the more hydrogen clusters the better it is for any alternative, new hydrogen applications such as use as a fuel for transportation or cogeneration,” says Tomforde.

“The overall infrastructure for hydrogen is getting denser, and usually when something becomes denser and more widely available it is more economically viable.”

Ultimately, economic viability is the bottom line for hydrogen-fueled CHP, and the Berlin airport project looks to be an ideal test site for evaluating two key issues – the use of renewable energy resources for hydrogen production and the viability of hydrogen-fueled CHP applications.

Until now, hydrogen and CHP have been dominated by fuel cell applications that are rarely undertaken without some form of government funding. But reciprocating hydrogen-fueled engines that can offer an economic proposition comparable to natural gas and diesel could establish hydrogen-fueled CHP as a viable alternative.

Ed Ritchie is a freelance writer, based in the US, who specializes in matters affecting the energy sector.

Hydrogen production research: from soybeans to silicon

As the market for hydrogen continues to grow, research projects focused on reducing production costs are on the rise. Much of the focus is on finding alternatives to the use of palladium and platinum to catalyze the chemical reaction in processing hydrogen. Such heavy metals are expensive, non-renewable and toxic.

The technologies being studied have a surprisingly diverse range of approaches. For example, at the US Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, researchers have identified soybean derivatives and molybdenum metal as low-cost replacement candidates.

Nanotechnology is another approach to reducing catalyst costs. Researchers at Japan’s Institute of Physical and Chemical Research and Institute for Molecular Science have partnered with McGill University in Canada to study iron nanoparticles as an alternative catalyst material. Iron is also the material of choice for researchers at the US Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

At the University of Buffalo, researchers are testing nanotechnology for creating spherical silicon particles that react with water to create hydrogen.

Meanwhile in France, scientists at the Collège de France, CNRS and Université Joseph Fourier in Grenoble are studying hydrogenase, which is found in microorganisms that use hydrogen as a source of energy.

The results offer a wide variety of hydrogenase enzymes found in nature, and the possibility of enzymes that may potentially serve as catalysts for fuel cells or the production of hydrogen from sources of renewable energy.

Scientists at the UK’s University of Cambridge have developed a process using water with a low-cost catalyst (cobalt), surrounded by atmospheric oxygen, for processing hydrogen at room temperature.

Moving from room temperature to blistering heat, a University of Colorado team has designed a concentrated solar mirror and tower system to create hydrogen. The mirrors focus sunlight on a 61-metre tower and heat it to 1350°C. The heat is used in a reactor that houses steam and metal oxides to create hydrogen.

Finally, in Germany, The Linde Group is extracting hydrogen from raw glycerol, a byproduct of biodiesel manufacturing.