Establishing a network to fuel the green revolution

Green Evolution

The search for sustainable sources of clean, renewable energy is ongoing, worldwide, not least when it comes to powering the millions of vehicles that crowd the planet’s roads. One of the principal sources of the carbon dioxide that’s released into the atmosphere – particularly in urban areas – is motor vehicle exhaust emissions. The resulting smog has been linked to lung disease, damage to the natural environment, climate change, and harm to animals.

Increasingly, fuel cell devices are considered as a replacement to the internal combustion engine. Fuel cells provide propulsion by converting chemical energy into electrical energy. Hydrogen fuel cell technology is becoming progressively popular, in part because refueling is quicker than for a battery-powered electric vehicle whose charging time counts in tens of minutes, and the range per tank/charge is greater. What they both have in common is that neither type of vehicle emit CO2. Fuel cell vehicles emit water vapor from their exhaust pipes, battery-powered electrical vehicle have no excaust pipe.

However, as people open to embracing these new green technologies, they often run into another problem – the lack of supporting infrastructure. This can be a particular issue for the transportation industry, where there’s a specific need to keep vehicles fueled and mobile.

In Germany, the hydrogen filling station network is growing. A recent addition is a state-of-the-art facility in the city of Halle an der Saale, which plugs a gap that existed in the “hydrogen highway” between Leipzig and Magdeburg. The refueling process is not unlike conventional refueling and takes no more than five minutes to complete. By 2020, there are expected to be around 100 stations for drivers to choose from.

It is likely to be some time before the same kind of network is available for hydrogen refueling as exists for gasoline and diesel, but it is encouraging to see positive action being taken. We can also expect an exponential growth of these stations, comparable to the exponential growth of battery-powered electrical vehicles charging stations between 2014 and 2018.

At Clean Energy Enterprises, we applaud all efforts to promote and enable the use of clean energy. Moreover, by our pioneering technologies that turn waste biomass into clean, renewable hydrogen fuel, two of the world’s most pressing problems are being addressed.


A clean hydrogen future is coming

clean hydrogen

There is an ever-stronger global consensus that clean hydrogen solutions will form a vital part of mankind’s transition to a future of sustainable energy. Clean hydrogen can help cut carbon emissions from both transportation and industrial sources. However, the widespread adoption of cleaner hydrogen production isn’t without challenges. In this article we’ll look at three types of hydrogen production – sometimes referred to respectively as “gray,” “blue” and “green” – and some of the factors that affect their adoption.

Today, most hydrogen generated is gray hydrogen, which is produced industrially from natural gas – this is currently the cheapest hydrogen production method. The downside of this process is that it produces significant carbon emissions. That is problematic in terms of environmental effects, but it also has a considerable impact in terms of cost. The current production price of gray hydrogen is around $1.70 per kilogram, primarily driven by the price of natural gas. However, natural gas prices vary around the world, and market-driven price raises in the near future may present challenges. Another important consideration is the costs imposed by carbon emissions trading systems. In the European Union, the price of CO2emissions is in the region $30 per ton, but this could increase to as much as $45 per ton within the decade, potentially increasing the price of gray hydrogen by over 30%.

A cleaner type of production is blue hydrogen, in which carbon emissions are captured and stored or reused. As with gray hydrogen, the price of blue hydrogen is highly dependent upon natural gas prices. However, the cost of carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) is another major factor, with costs in the range of $60 to $80 per ton of CO2. While that puts European blue hydrogen production at a higher cost than gray hydrogen, that could change in the coming years as the cost of carbon emissions increases while CCUS costs are likely to reduce due to innovation and scaling.

The cleanest form of production is green hydrogen, which is produced using renewable energy sources and without carbon emissions. Green hydrogen is produced by electrolysis of water, at an estimated current cost of between $4 and $6 per kilogram. Currently, worldwide electrolysis capacity is both costly and limited, resulting in green hydrogen’s high price compared to other production methods. However, as the technology becomes more widespread, industry analysts expect electrolysis costs to reduce by around 70% over the next decade. The cost of green electricity required for the electrolysis process is also an important factor in the price of green hydrogen, and future efficiencies in solar and wind energy production may also help to bring costs down. One should also note that solar energy is actually not as green as we may think, due to the significant CO2release caused by the production of the photovoltaic panels. 

At Clean Energy Enterprises, we believe that the clean hydrogen revolution has already begun, and our own BT Advanced Gasification technologies – which produce green hydrogen directly from biomass – are playing their role in it. While renewable energy costs have come down in recent years, there is still a high cost on the input side of electrolysis. Hydrogen from biomass or waste is of course green if the feedstock is biomass only; it would be considered blue hydrogen if it includes fossil-origin plastic waste. And in both cases, it brings a much lower cost into the production equation. In addition, it is always possible to capture and store the short cycle CO2produced during our transformation process. In that case, we would even be carbon-negative, actually removing CO2from the atmosphere, not merely preventing additional discharge.

Our hydrogen production solution also addresses another major environmental issue: the treatment and remediation of accumulating waste, including plastics that typically do not degrade over time.

Exactly how much oil is in electric vehicles?

Oil in electric vehicles

When it comes to the use of oil in the automotive industry, our thoughts – quite naturally – tend to turn to gasoline, especially with the continuing push toward renewable energy in our day-to-day transport needs. Averaged out, Americans use 1.2 gallons (4.5 liters) of gasoline per day, per person. But oil and its by-products in fact have many uses in automotive production beyond gasoline – including the manufacture of electric vehicles, which we tend to think of as a clean energy solution – in the form of petrochemicals.

Many of the materials that our industries rely on for manufacturing products – from plastics to synthetic rubber and lubricants – are derived from petrochemicals, the most common of which are ethylene, propylene, benzene, toluene, butylene and xylenes. The use of polymers and plastics derived from oil production may be of concern to those dedicated to green energy causes, but they actually have a number of advantages in terms of materials engineering. They are lightweight, strong, inexpensive, durable, easy to form and flame retardant. Today, oil-derived plastics make up around 50% of an average vehicle’s volume – but only 10% of its weight. 

We may think of plastics in manufacturing as a relatively modern phenomenon, but in fact Rolls Royce first incorporated phenol formaldehyde resin into its car interiors as early as 1916, while Henry Ford was experimenting with integrating plastics on top of a steel framework – cutting the weight of a car in half – in 1941. Now, the average car utilizes over 1,000 plastic parts in its construction.

Today, light plastic materials are an important part of electric vehicle construction. Lighter vehicles directly correlate to improved fuel efficiency – for every 10% weight reduction, a vehicle’s fuel economy increases by up to 7%. There is an increased priority for this in electric vehicles in comparison to traditional gas or diesel vehicles, due to the relatively high weight of electric batteries – most of which weigh over 1,000 lbs. Electric vehicle manufacturers – as well as the producers of traditionally fueled vehicles – can reduce the weight of cars by increased reliance on materials such as plastics, engineered polymers and fiber-reinforced composites.

Even with the relatively recent advent of fuel cell and electric vehicles, we are not done with plastics and the by-products of oil production. The good news is that there are plenty of plastic recycling mandates for automotive manufacturers, who really don’t have many solutions to what might be argued to be an ecological and moral dilemma. Also, there is already a logistics network in place in the automotive industry, so capitalizing on that network should not be too much of a difficult task. Think of it as the “Recycling Smart Grid”

However, if petrochemical components ultimately feed into more eco-friendly solutions by facilitating greater fuel efficiency, it could be time to ask what might help electric vehicles achieve greater victories in terms of renewable energy. Here at Clean Energy Enterprises, we are dedicated to clean energy technologies that are economically viable and that actively protect the environment. The question arises: would vehicle manufacturers be willing to establish collection points equipped with our Advanced Waste-to-Hydrogen solution that would safely, ecologically and responsibly break down plastics to create a clean, useful hydrogen and further contribute toward ecologically friendly automotive transport?

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