DOE recently funded the leases for 12 hydrogen-powered shuttle buses to demonstrate market-ready advanced technology vehicles. NREL was the first facility to receive one of the leased buses which it uses on its Golden, Colo. campus for site tours. The shuttle buses are being placed at federal facilities across the country to demonstrate market-ready advanced technology vehicles.
“NREL’s twist to this demonstration is that we are fueling our shuttle bus with hydrogen made from wind energy at our National Wind Technology Center near Boulder,” says Hydrogen Technologies & Systems Director Robert Remick. “So the hydrogen in our shuttle was provided by wind blowing off the Rocky Mountains last week.”
The hydrogen internal-combustion engine (H2ICE) bus in use at NREL was manufactured by Ford, one of the first automakers to develop commercially available H2ICEs. The shuttle uses a conventional gasoline-powered engine but runs on the hydrogen generated at NREL’s Wind to Hydrogen (Wind2H2) Project. It links wind turbines to electrolyzers, which pass the wind-generated electricity through water to split it into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is stored and used later to generate electricity from an internal combustion engine or a fuel cell.
The bus has a 6.8-liter supercharged Triton V-10 engine. A few design adjustments were needed to switch the basic gasoline-powered engine to one powered by hydrogen. Modifications included specially designed spark plugs, alternate materials for valve seats, and other parts that may become brittle when exposed to hydrogen.
NREL says its shuttle is up to 25% more efficient than similar gasoline-fueled vans and can run 175 to 250 miles before refueling. The lab has outfitted its hydrogen dispensing station with cascading storage tanks, which decreases the time required for refueling. This is particularly beneficial for vehicles with large onboard storage systems like the H2ICE bus, which can take up to 66 lb of hydrogen in a single fueling. Because NREL’s fueling station has a 286-lb storage capacity at 6,000 psi, filling the bus takes 20 to 30 min. Refueling would take less time at other commercial hydrogen stations.
“We are also storing more than 440 lb of hydrogen at the Wind2H2 site,” says Keith Wipke, NREL Senior Engineer and Group Manager for Hydrogen Analysis. “It lets us capture intermittent renewable energy, fuel the vehicle, and put energy back on the grid at times when there is high electricity demand.”
Fuel cells, however, are the most efficient way to use hydrogen in vehicles. Although the bus uses an internal combustion engine, it is a good step to get the technology into the market and provide an alternative to fleets while the infrastructure for hydrogen fueling stations develops.”
Such stations are springing up across the U.S., with about 60 already in operation and 20 more slated for construction. “The recession has caused a bit of a delay, but California recently awarded funding for 11 new fueling stations, and this is on top of seven new stations under construction,” says Wipke.
He expects hydrogen vehicles to claim a piece of the personal car market. DOE set a target goal for hydrogen fuel-cell passenger vehicles to hit the market in 2015 and many of the major players — GM, Daimler, Honda, Toyota, Nissan, and Hyundai-Kia —are targeting a 2015 launch for larger hydrogen fuel-cell entries. The DOE recently announced that 70 Mercedes Benz B-Class fuel cell vehicles will be deployed in California by 2012.
“Look at the auto industry after this recession. The fact that hydrogen is still strong is a huge vote of confidence for the technology,” says Wipke.
The benefits to hydrogen powered vehicles include low tailpipe emissions, increased economic competitiveness, and jobs in the U.S.
Wipke believes that although fuel cell cars may start out as a small part of the passenger vehicle market, they won’t be relegated to niche-market status. Consumers will be able to purchase fuel cell vehicles that can go up to 300 miles on a single fill-up and refuel in three to five minutes. Drivers seeking larger multi-purpose vehicles, such as trucks and SUVs, will also be able to tow trailers and recreational equipment using fuel-cell vehicles.
Fun hydrogen facts to know and tell
- Hydrogen can be made from a wide variety of domestic, renewable resources such as solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal energy.
- Enough hydrogen is produced in the U.S. every year to fuel 34 million fuel cell vehicles. Hydrogen is used primarily for commercial purposes such as cleaning up gasoline and processing certain foods.
- Hydrogen is neither more nor less hazardous than more common fuels like natural gas, propane, or gasoline.
- Compared to conventional gasoline engines, hydrogen powered engines have low criteria emissions when the hydrogen is produced from renewable resources.
- Only modest design modifications to standard combustion engines are needed, so the engine technology is familiar to mechanics and fleet personnel.
- With few cost and technical issues limiting commercialization and deployment, H2ICE vehicles can help create demand needed to support the build out of a hydrogen infrastructure.
NREL analysts noted in a 2007 report, “Potential for Hydrogen Production from Key Renewable Resources in the United States,” that about 1 billion metric tons of hydrogen could be produced annually from wind, solar, and biomass resources in the U.S. with potential to displace gasoline consumption in most U.S. states.
NREL’s research in hydrogen and fuel cells will get a boost in the coming years as a new laboratory — the Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF) comes online in 2012 and provides new lab space for hydrogen and fuel-cell-related research.
“We are also looking to do more research on fuel cell vehicles as manufacturers get ready to launch their next line of demonstration cars. We will be able to demonstrate the path of source renewable energy all the way through to the vehicle.”
National Renewable Energy Lab
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