In Hempstead, N.Y., the city not long ago began creating truly clean hydrogen fuel for their fuel cell vehicles by hooking a 100-kilowatt wind turbine into the system. But wind is just one renewable way to skin the hydrogen cat: The German research powerhouse Fraunhofer ISE this month fired up a station that uses photovoltaics to create hydrogen fuel with reduced impact on the grid.
The process at play here is pretty simple, actually: Power from solar panels on the charging station canopy and a nearby building is used indirectly to separate hydrogen and oxygen in water by the process called electrolysis. The hydrogen can then be stored and later used by fuel-cell vehicles.
At the station in Freiburg, Germany, “automobiles, buses and bikes powered by fuel cells can be tanked at the filling station,” Fraunhofer said. (Bikes? Yep, Fraunhofer has developed fuel cells customized for integration in bikes.)
So why not just use the solar power to charge up electric vehicles? Well, that’s happening in Germany, too, but the idea here is to run a demonstration project that explores what could be some real advantages by using hydrogen instead of batteries as the energy storage medium for electric vehicles.
One big advantage, for example: Fraunhofer said that a vehicle can fill up with hydrogen in just three minutes and then travel nearly 250 miles. Even the so-called “fast chargers” being developed for battery electrics can do a full charge in less than about a half hour.
We should point out that while Fraunhofer is using solar panels for this station, it is a grid-tie setup. That means that the solar panels supply electricity to the power grid and reverse the electricity meter to offset the power consumption of the station. The Fraunhofer setup only partially offsets the power consumed in producing the hydrogen fuel, but it is a start.