An alternative energy company based right here in my hometown of Bend, Oregon called “Element One,” recently announced plans to use new technology to power hydrogen fuel cells. It will soon be mass-marketing a device that can create hydrogen from a mixture of water and methanol (also known as wood alcohol).
The cool part? The methanol can literally be created from organic scraps and other household waste – think banana peels, dog poop, yard waste, etc. Its literally as simple as pouring water and methanol into one end of a fuel reformer, while hydrogen comes out at the opposite end.
What is fuel cell technology anyway?
Fuel cells are an electrochemical system that directly converts chemical energy to electrical power. In this sense, fuel cells are similar to batteries: unlike batteries however, fuel cells never need to be charged and produce electrical power as long as fuel (hydrogen) and air (oxygen) are provided. The core technology was developed more than a hundred years ago, but has been commercially developed in the last 50 years. Fuel cells are poised to become the leading energy source of the 21st century in a range of applications such as transportation, stationary power, and consumer electronics.
Element One’s device is called a “methanol fuel reformer,” which promises to transform hydrogen fuel cell technology. Instead of huge cylinders of hydrogen having to be transported to sites for use in fuel cells, hydrogen can be produced right at the site using materials that already exist in remote areas. Developed over 20 years of research, Element One’s new hydrogen generator – called the E1 Pegasus – will finally be produced for the market, under a partnership arrangement with Chung-Hsin Electric and Machinery Manufacturing in Taipei, Tawain.
According to Element One’s website:
“Supplying cylinders of compressed hydrogen to remote areas is logistically impractical, cost prohibitive, and can limit the implementation of PEMFC solutions. Hydrogen generators deliver hydrogen on-demand effectively lowering the cost of running and maintaining fuel cells used in critical back-up power applications.
E1 products utilize proprietary technology and novel designs that significantly reduces the complexity of the fuel reformer system achieving a new milestone in providing reliable and affordable reformer solutions to the fuel-cell system integrator. This combination enables E1 to create compelling value for the end customer, and accelerate the sales and adoption of PEMFC solutions worldwide.”
Consider these fast facts:
- Suppliers take organic refuse and convert the material into methanol using steam-methane reform processes
- Element One can then take the methanol and mix it with water into its E1 Pegasus device, which extracts hydrogen from the mixture
- Hydrogen is used to replenish fuel cells
- E1 Pegasus can convert one barrel (about 59 gallons) of methanol-water mixture into enough hydrogen to create 5 kW of electricity for 39 hours (the equivalent of 30 x 200-pound hydrogen cylinders
- Hydrogen fuel cells are used to power a number of machines, including cell phone towers and – one day- vehicles!
This is one type of alternative energy that we hope to see become mainstream soon!