Wind-Generated Hydrogen Fuels NREL Tours

It only makes sense: If you’re going to tour the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colo., you ought to do so using a renewable energy. And now you can, in a hydrogen-powered shuttle bus, one of 12 that the Department of Energy is leasing and placing at federal facilities around the country.

But wait: Is hydrogen power “renewable”? Well, it is if the fuel is made from wind energy. According to an NREL press release, their shuttle uses the same basic technology as a conventional gasoline-powered engine but runs on hydrogen fuel created at the Wind to Hydrogen (Wind2H2) Project in Boulder. “The Wind2H2 project links wind turbines to electrolyzers, which pass the wind-generated electricity through water to split it into hydrogen and oxygen,” the NREL said. “The hydrogen can then be stored and used later to generate electricity from an internal combustion engine or a fuel cell.”

Hydrogen powered tour bus, NREL

image via National Renewable Energy Laboratory

NREL said its hydrogen-fuel shuttle, which can run 175-250 miles before it needs refueling, is up to 25 percent more energy-efficient than a regular gasoline-powered vehicle. If 25 percent doesn’t seem like that much of a difference, the NREL agrees.

“Fuel Cells are the most efficient way to use hydrogen in vehicles,” Keith Wipke, an NREL senior engineer, said in the press release. “So, this type of passenger bus utilizing an internal combustion engine is less efficient than a fuel cell, but is a good stepping stone to get the technology into the market and provide an alternative to fleets while the infrastructure for hydrogen fueling stations develops.”

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Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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