Study says ‘hydricity’ could boost the use of renewables

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Electricity storage in large batteries is often cited as one solution, but scientists at Purdue University think they’ve found a better one — ”hydricity.”

The National Solar Thermal Test Facility at Sandia Labs in New Mexico. Credit: Sandia Labs/flickr
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Climate Central

Solar and wind power are major components of the global strategy to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but those renewable energy sources come with a big challenge: They don’t continuously produce electricity, and fossil fuels are used to make up the difference when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.

Electricity storage in large batteries is often cited as one solution, but scientists at Purdue University think they’ve found a better one — ”hydricity.”

The National Solar Thermal Test Facility at Sandia Labs in New Mexico. Credit: Sandia Labs/flickr
The National Solar Thermal Test Facility at Sandia Labs in New Mexico.
Credit: Sandia Labs/flickr

Hydricity is a process that uses hydrogen to generate electricity that emits no greenhouse gases, according to Purdue University research published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.

Greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, mainly those using coal, are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change. Newer natural gas power plants emit roughly half the carbon dioxide, but renewables are seen as an even more climate-friendly alternative, emitting next to zero carbon dioxide.

The hydricity process starts with water: Some is heated to a high temperature to produce electricity while the sun is shining. The rest is split into its parts — hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is then stored so it can be burned in a power plant at night.

“Basically, the technology holds the promise to provide electricity around the clock at unprecedented efficiencies and at a scale that is suitable for large cities, using solar energy and environmentally benign processes,” study co-author Rakesh Agrawal, a Purdue University chemical engineering professor, said.

Hydricity uses hydrogen to produce electricity in a power plant in a way that resembles the way natural gas is used for that purpose today, but there’s a big difference: Hydrogen combustion, unlike natural gas combustion, produces only water, not greenhouse gases, Agrawal said.

He said hydricity may be more efficient at producing electricity around the clock than batteries.

“The storage density is expected to be three times of the best batteries, which translates into using three times less volume to store the same amount of energy and avoids the use of rare earth elements used in efficient batteries,” he said.

Batteries designed to store electricity, such as those being developed by Tesla, are produced using large amounts of rare earth and other metals, including lithium, which are often mined using open-pit mining techniques considered harmful to the environment.

More scientific experiments are necessary before hydricity technology has advanced enough to produce power for cities, which could be at least a decade away, Agrawal said.

Hydricity faces technical and cost challenges before it could actually be ready for use on a commercial scale, said Alan Weimer, a professor of chemical and biological engineering at the University of Colorado-Boulder who is not affiliated with the study.

Some of the materials Agrawal’s team is proposing to use may not stand up to the complex chemical processes hydricity uses, Weimer said. It is also very expensive to store hydrogen and oxygen at high pressures, he said.

“The time frame is distant — 25 to 50 years for large-scale implementation,” Weimer said. “Theoretically, this is an interesting concept as 24/7 renewable solar operation is a major challenge. The idea of combining hydrogen in the process is interesting. The concept appears good; the real challenge is implementing it.”

Source: Climate Central. Reproduced with permission.

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  1. Pedro 3 years ago

    Hydricity is the new word to dress up electrolysis and Hydrogen fuel cells. That technology has been around for decades. I doubt they will ever get the costs down sufficiently for it to be viable.

    • Michael Dufty 3 years ago

      It seems to be talking about burning hydrogen in gas turbines, not fuel cells.

      • Jo 3 years ago

        If that was the case, the efficiency would be even worse. Just around 1/3rd of the energy is recoverable as electricity by any thermal process.

      • Pedro 3 years ago

        Thanks. Missed that bit. From my limited understanding, H2 containment is very tricky and expensive as the molecule is so small. Also special metals have to be used to reduce the risk of explosion. Had an engineering friend who was looking into H2 as an automotive fuel and he came to the conclusion that refilling a H2 powered car would have to be done by robots as human caused static electric discharges would be a very real risk. He considered it a dead end in the early 90’s and thought that nuclear powered aircraft to be more viable as crazy as that sounds.

  2. juxx0r 3 years ago

    Be nice if people stuck to the facts rather than trying to smear everything with false accusations like Tesla batteries containing rare earths, which they dont. It even looks like they went to a lot of trouble to word that ‘just so’ so that it wasn’t lying, even when their intent is to deceive.

  3. Peter Campbell 3 years ago

    I thought the efficiency of hydrolysis was low. Then more energy would be required to compress the hydrogen and oxygen. Then hydrogen combustion (do they mean a gas turbine or fuel cell?) has losses. So, the round trip, I always had heard, was pretty woeful for efficiency. I thought batteries was better and pumped hydro not far behind and a lot better than I expected.

    • Calamity_Jean 3 years ago

      Additionally, the hydrogen molecule, H2, is small & slippery, and tends to sneak out of the tanks it’s been put in. It also attacks steel and aluminum, causing hydrogen embrittlement.

      • Peter Campbell 3 years ago

        Yes. That too. Smallest molecule there is. Hard to contain, let alone ship around the countryside to rural tanks in the way some people expect it to substitute for petrol in hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles. Batteries are working just fine and we have the distribution network for charging already, we just need some more fast chargers along major highways.

        • Calamity_Jean 3 years ago

          “…we have the distribution network for charging already….”

          Yeah, almost everybody has an electrical outlet!

          • Peter Campbell 3 years ago

            “Yeah, almost everybody has an electrical outlet!”
            Exactly. I have been driving an electric car since 2009. hardly ever needed to charge away from home, and when I have, I used an ordinary power point.

  4. Alan 3 years ago

    Not sure why this is seen as new…? A new name, perhaps? Biggest issue, as it’s always been, is producing the hydrogen economically.

  5. Rikaishi Rikashi 3 years ago

    Whenever anyone starts talking about a scheme that involves hydrogen infrastructure investment, remember two key points:
    1. It’s cheaper to get hydrogen from methane.
    2. Economics always wins.

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