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Hydrogen & Electrolysis

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Hydrogen & Electrolysis, A crappy combo... or is it?


We all know that the "hydrogen economy" has a long way to go in a lot of areas before it is viable:

- development & reduced cost of fuel cells (for stationary and automotive use)

- standardization of hydrogen storage, transportation, and transfer (fueling)

- development of hydrogen sources

Regarding the development of hydrogen sources, there are a number of sources being studied, including bacteria and plants that may create hydrogen as a natural product, superheating water in nuclear plants, stripping hydrogen from fossil fuels, and various others. Then there is electrolysis.

I and many others have pointed to electrolysis & said "that's the most stupid method possible!" Indeed, it seems very backward, as it requires producing electricity to create hydrogen in order for the fuel cell to make electricity. In this process, hydrogen is not really a fuel source, but an electrical storage method - a sort of alternative to using batteries in an electric car. Fuel cell vehicle studies show that this may be a method toward better vehicle range, but of course with the added system loss of converting energy from one form to another more times.

But while thinking/daydreaming about various topics recently, I realized something that may be relevant to the whole issue. Have you ever driven past a wind farm, and noticed some windmills turning and others not? From what I understand, this is due to the varying need of the power grid. During the day, the nation's power grid is stretched to the limit - we can't get new power plants fast enough. This fact makes the use of electrolysis seem even more silly - why use electricity when the grid is already maxed out? Simple: varying demand. I was not able to find a reputable source on how much variation there is in demand, but the difference between night and day is, well, night and day. It's huge. And my understanding is that wind farms are often among the first power providers to be shut down, as they are often set up to provide extra power during peak demand times.

So, if these wind generators are being shut down so often... why not use them to create hydrogen via electrolysis? Unlike other power plant types, where you would have to use/burn more fuel, using the wind generators would only add some extra wear on bearings, etc, which I would expect could be easily offset by the sale of the hydrogen produced. Depending on the additional profit vs additional wear, this may even help increase profitability of wind farms, and speed in their proliferation.

A similar setup may be viable for nuclear and hydro electric as well, which are by far among the lowest cost/unit producers of electricity right now. Hydro may be limited, though, as in many areas their main function is the regulation of water flow, and electrical production is a secondary benefit. If they are having to allow water flow without power production, though, there may be enough extra production capability there to merit some hydrogen production.

In addition to a source of hydrogen, this off-peak hydrogen production may help offset the set costs of power facilities and reduce electricity costs. I don't propose this necessarily as a main production method in a future "hydrogen economy", but it may be a good supplement, and an easily implemented methodology for near-term production while more efficient methods are further developed.

Edited by PurdueGuy

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That's a fine bit of thinking there. Similar small advantages are likely to be found everywhere if we take a closer look.

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