Hydrogen from natural gas is powering a combined heat and power (CHP) fuel cell for Japan’s homeowners. Toyota is collaborating with a consortium of Japanese gas and manufacturing companies and solar powerhouse Kyocera on this home power plant, which can get twice the bang for the buck out of a fossil fuel that is already piped into most homes in Japan.
Instead of only burning the natural gas, they use it for cogeneration (making both electricity and heat) by mining the natural gas for hydrogen. With its four hydrogen atoms (CH4) natural gas is easy to convert into hydrogen by just stripping off the carbon atom.
Since natural gas is already piped into most homes—just to burn a little flame under the boiler to make hot water, into the clothes dryer to dry clothes, and into the gas stove for cooking—household natural gas is an obvious place to extract hydrogen. (But most research into hydrogen fuel is solar, for a cleaner source.)
Because they generate both heat and power, CHP systems can get twice the bang out of fossil fuels, in general. In the U.S. they are used in industrial situations to wring the maximum efficiency from industrial processes that generate a lot of waste heat.
Like electricity, which carries the energy produced by solar or coal power, hydrogen is an energy carrier, but it rarely exist alone in nature. It must be produced by splitting the hydrogen atoms off from water (H2O) or from a fossil fuel such as natural gas (CH4).
The consortium’s micro-CHP—with the, uh, incredibly catchy name ENE-FARM Type S—boasts the highest efficiency level (45 percent) in the world for a residential-use fuel cell, according to Kyocera, but there’s not much competition.