This “Hydrogen Battery” Might Overcome Energy’s Biggest Roadblock

by | published February 3rd, 2015

Hydrogen has always been an intriguing alternative energy source.

Pound for pound, it contains almost three times as much energy as natural gas, and when consumed, its only emission is pure, plain water.

The problem with this “miracle fuel” has always been the price.

The capital expenditures required to transport, store, and deliver hydrogen in large commercial volumes are staggering.

Even after improvements in the prototype models, it still costs almost $200 million per mile to move the fuel in a properly encased pipeline. And without the infrastructure, there won’t be a “hydrogen economy.”

But that doesn’t mean hydrogen as an energy source is completely without merit – far from it.

In fact, aside from local generation for local use, hydrogen may now be on the verge of solving one of energy’s biggest obstacles.

It’s the problem of storage, and a new “hydrogen battery” may just hold the key…

Storage: Energy’s Biggest Roadblock

Of course, as many of you know, I have been arguing in favor of a wider energy balance for years now. This approach emphasizes a greater number of available energy sources, while also improving their interchangeability.

The objective is to create as seamless an energy fabric as possible, using multiple flows of energy to meet demand with a result of increased efficiency.

This forward-looking equation is going to require more renewable energy sources, especially solar and wind. You see, unlike other approaches, mine does not require a “silver bullet.”

It’s not dependent upon the development of a new source of energy to wean society from crude oil. Rather, the goal is to integrate of all of the available energies into a flexible whole.

In this case, the more genuinely distinct energy sources a system has, the better.

There’s only one problem: the elusive ability to store energy for later use. This shortcoming is true across the board when it comes to generating electricity, but it’s especially problematic for wind and solar power.

This single limitation is the biggest roadblock to efficiently delivering electricity on demand from a range of sources, including renewables.

In turn, that has created a race to develop a high volume battery, which would have a huge impact on how much energy costs and the ease with which we can use it.

And that’s where hydrogen may prove to be the decisive key.

A “Hydrogen Battery” Breakthrough

In fact, the Japanese mega-corporation Toshiba (OTC: TOSBF) recently achieved a significant advance in large-scale electricity storage using hydrogen. It just may be the solution the energy market is looking for.

Two weeks ago, the Nikkei Asia Review (NAR) announced the development as follows:

“Toshiba has developed a way to use hydrogen to store large quantities of electricity for extended periods of time, with a storage system deploying the technology potentially reaching the market in 2020.

“The Japanese company will first provide a system capable of storing up to 40,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity – enough to power 10,000 households for eight hours. The system will be made by assembling fuel cells, electrolysis equipment and hydrogen storage tanks on a 600 square meter plot. Hydrogen obtained through electrolysis will be stored in the tanks and reacted as needed with oxygen in the air via the fuel cells to produce electricity.”

OK, so far this looks like another attempt to serialize hydrogen fuel cells. There have been some notable successes in fuel cell use (especially by the military), but there is much more here, as NAR notes.

“Energy conversion efficiency is a measure of how much energy can be reproduced when the energy is made to change forms. Toshiba’s system has an energy conversion efficiency of 80%, exceeding the 70% efficiency of pumped-storage hydroelectricity, in which water is pumped to a higher elevation and then released to generate power.

“The energy storage efficiency of typical storage batteries is thought to be around 80%, but massive quantities of electrode materials are necessary to increase capacity. A 40,000kwh storage battery would cost nearly 2 billion yen ($16.8 million). Such batteries also have problems with long-term storage due to self-discharge.

“If safety technology to prevent leaks can be secured, the capacity of a system using hydrogen could be increased simply by enlarging the size of the tanks. The total cost including installation and operation would reportedly be reduced by half compared with existing storage batteries.”

That savings certainly increases the interest and the viability, since reducing the cost of very large capacity storage options has always been essential.

But the real difference in this approach is in its ability to give solar and wind power enough pricing leverage to transform the grid.

As NAR puts it:

“To producers of renewable energy such as solar and wind power, the ability to store surplus electricity at low cost would help to cushion the risks from unsold output. The technology is also envisioned for use by local municipalities as an emergency power source during disasters. Toshiba plans to install a small-scale test system capable of storing 350kwh of electricity in Kawasaki this spring.”

Given these new developments, we may be on the verge of something quite important here.

So don’t be so quick to write off the value of hydrogen to the energy markets. I’ll have more on this as it develops.

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  1. SashSash SashSash
    February 4th, 2015 at 01:49 | #1

    Do we have in the near future for hydrogyn fusion. And is it feasable.

  2. Werner Hochstrasser
    February 4th, 2015 at 11:15 | #2

    Very nice idea, but to store 40’000 kWh you need at least 12’000 m3 of hydrogen which is a cylinder with 75 ft. dia. and 90 ft. high. This would just be enough to store the electricity surplus of solar from summer into winter for 40 households and costs probably considerably more than 100’000 $ per household.

  3. Lynn Morgan
    February 4th, 2015 at 11:25 | #3

    It’s too bad that engineers and scientists can’t be more cooperative in utlizing their knowledge and skills. For a good number of years, micro and nano technology has been minimizing the size of functional electronic operations and storage. It’s about time that fuel science begins to accept the micro and nano motivating attitudes relating to the usable energy needed by consumers. Certainly if a “tank” can hold X amounts of hydrogen to later be utilized in production of electricity, then a Micro Battery or Nano Battery could be developed to be onboard a vehicle or building any other electrical power end user and at a commercially viable cost to the end user. Package the hydrogen and carborate the mixture to generate the quantity of electrical energy to operate a car, a house or building, or city. It’s time to wake up America, and become the leaders that our forefathers expected us to be.

  4. Lynn Morgan
    February 4th, 2015 at 11:35 | #4

    Oh, and one more thing. Can’t anyone else see the true possibilities that a high speed, mono-rail, mag-lev train system built upon and above the existing Interstate Highway system could do to bring the transportation system into the 21st and 22nd century. Hmmm, this might even relate to the previous commentary by me.

  5. DLH
    February 4th, 2015 at 20:16 | #5

    Hydrogen is neither an energy source nor a fuel. It is an energy storage medium, similar to a battery. Per the cited article, it is only the medium for the described electrical storage system. Large amounts of electricity are first used to crack water molecules. The resulting hydrogen is stored, then later reconverted to electricity using fuel cells, with a round trip conversion efficiency of only 80%. That is not fuel. Wood, coal, uranium, oil, and natural gas all release more energy take they take to harvest/refine. These are fuels. Your Tesla will utilize its batteries to store converted energy sources that utilities use to generate electricity. The batteries are not the energy source for your car, just as hydrogen is certainly not a miracle fuel.

  6. Sam Orr
    February 4th, 2015 at 23:23 | #6

    Has any progress been made in developing non-platinum/palladium catalysts for PEM fuel cells? That would be a big breakthrough.

  7. February 5th, 2015 at 03:15 | #7

    Hi!, Patrons Of Oil & Energy Investor Et. Al.:

    If we look far beyond the roadblocks to progress via scriptures in OUR Bible, we find the statement that “all things are possible!” Look just a little further and we read: “the things not possible with men are possible with GOD!” Usually these types of statements lead us into immense controversies but that’s only an add on roadblock isn’t it? Who besides God created all the elements we have available to US here on Mother Earth such as natural gas, oil, hydrogen or other natural resources was it happenstance evolution or by divine design? Does it really matter which side of the God vs. evolution controversy one stands on in life? The point is to get on with the proposition that all things ARE possible. If it were not for my brothers and sisters on Mother Earth producing what they do for the betterment of mankind, what good would such scriptures be except latent unused vocabularies but instead look at what modern man has produced due to his efforts towards proving that “all things ARE possible!” These evolutionary changes do not occur without efforts and the only entities available for proving up the terms and conditions of life being met with creative innovations that benefits mankind are OUR brothers and sisters working alone or together using the minds provided by whom God or evolution? Tapping into these kinds of innovations are what makes OUR lives more interesting and productive are they not solving human problems that overcome all roadblocks!!

    RUSS SMITH, CA. (One Of Our Broke, Fiat Money Corrupt States)

  8. February 5th, 2015 at 09:47 | #8

    Vodik may hold the solution to the energy storage issue for the Toshiba project. We can produce 10Kg storage vessels that are no larger than a pony keg of beer using our proprietary metal hydride material and technology. These vessels can also store the hydrogen indefinitely and at low safer pressures. Contact me directly if interested in knowing more.

  9. Chuck S
    February 5th, 2015 at 15:13 | #9

    Very good storage is literally acres of coal piled up next to a coal plant. It’s weeks or maybe months of storage, very cheap.

  10. February 5th, 2015 at 23:13 | #10

    You never get around to saying how this technology differs from the prior art, which makes it impossible to evaluate its significance.

  11. Jim B
    February 6th, 2015 at 18:27 | #11

    I wonder about the energy efficiency of generating hydrogen from electrolysis (of H2O) and recovering electricity by returning it to H2O by combustion or otherwise. Entropy will eat your lunch.

  12. February 7th, 2015 at 16:09 | #12


  13. February 7th, 2015 at 17:11 | #13

    @Carey Hilton

    @Carey Hilton
    Are they available for purchase now or still in R&D? Are there comercial sponsers in place? When can energy using companies/campuses expect to use these for production? Heat, Power, Chill?

    Thanks, JVD

  14. February 8th, 2015 at 15:59 | #14

    It still costs almost $200 million per mile to move the fuel in a properly encased pipeline. And without the infrastructure, there won’t be a “hydrogen economy.
    I take exception to that statement. How much Gasoline goes through a pipeline? Natural Gas to strategically planned locations for processing the Hydrogen and truck shipment from there just gasoline. Hydrogen will change the world and the Japanese have stolen the show again. As for power plants make the hydrogen next door to where you make the electricity that sounds simple enough.

  15. February 8th, 2015 at 16:06 | #15

    @Lynn Morgan
    Bernie Sanders,

    I write to you to congratulate you on your Bill spending Trillion Dollars on infrastructure. I have a few suggestions based on my vision of the future.

    I see two major events that have the potential to change life in America. The first is the driverless hydrogen powered car. The second a system of high speed rail.

    Let me explain; as you age you lose your eyesight, your memory fades and you lose your confidence to drive. In a driverless car all you need is to know where you want to go, and that would allow a lot more travel. People that don’t have a driver license and younger people who can’t yet drive will be able to go where they want. In general, I would estimate 30 to 40 percent more vehicles on the road if this came to fruition. That estimate does not take population increase into account. If we could change our government to strive for a better way of life instead of higher profits, these numbers could more than double.

    The congestion this would create on the highway system would demand we build a high speed rail system. I can imagine a system built two thirds underground with a structural support above, and the residual soil from the dig placed on top. This would make a small, but easy hill to walk on. I suggest underground, because a train going 300 miles an hour needs to be isolated from environmental hazards. Automobiles could then be owned by the rail system who would coordinate all your travel needs. They cars can be activated by credit card and charge for usage at every rail stop. Warren Buffet has repeatedly said that with driverless cars, there will be no need for auto insurance. I can imagine a vacation industry that will increase employment by hundreds of thousands if not millions.

    In a country that is controlled by over eleven thousand lobbyist and three billion dollars there is little hope for this type of change. If the airlines lose one ticket sale for every ten train ticket sold why would we allow the airline lobbyist to have a say in this decision?

    People will need to make the same money for fewer hours to take advantage of this new vacation industry. That means more people working, and even more still having a chance to go on vacation. All of this leads to a much healthier economy. To accomplish this, we would need to pass a law that all work over forty hours a week be mandatory double time. That must include salary workers if we wish to support this new economy. Rather than all the increased profits from higher productivity going to the CEO’s some of that money will have to be shared with the workers.

    The knowledgeable economists know this can happen. As a society, all the progress we have made over the years has been due to this type of change. Progress is not made by complaining about being broke, but by putting the money into circulation to stimulate growth. Then upon completion of the projects, you can take the money back out of circulation to control inflation. By doing this you create an economic engine that runs on its own and feeds future growth.

    If the feds can put eight five billion a month into to market to stabilize the world markets, I am sure they can accomplish what needs to be done in this country. After all we control the world money supply and know how to manage the world markets.
    Janet Yellen is fanatic, and would be of great help in this endeavor. She is the right person at the right time in history. Elizabeth Ann Warren would make a great vice president and a great guiding hand to work with (cut a deal if you can).

    The super-rich will never be happy until you take your hat off and say yes sir, no sir, and stand at attention when they speak to you. They want us to work until death, and only get what they want us to have. Also, you had better be grateful and not utter one word of complaint. If you die from hunger, it’s too bad; apparently you didn’t kiss enough asses to get ahead. This does not fit well with the American dream.

    Four Trillion Dollars over Sixteen years should allow us to get this started. That only amounts to two hundred fifty billion a year. That’s not that much more than we spent on war in the past twelve years, and what has that really gotten us?

    I hope you take my vision seriously and consider using it to guide this great nation into the future.


    Jim Brown

  16. David Bobrek
    February 9th, 2015 at 06:46 | #16

    What economics?
    R&D projects will not fuel the electrical demands of the 21st century no matter how much tax payer money is diverted to these looser ideas.
    Only one fuel cell project might get us where we need to go and that is cost effective hydrogen in metal hydride form, solving both storage and delivery issues.
    Also geo thermic drilling technology has promise.
    Forget solar and wind. Have a look at Germany’s energy infrastructure and costs and see if you’d like to be in their shoes!
    Politics and economics don’t mix well.

    February 13th, 2015 at 14:01 | #17

    Consider that the Hydrogen problem has already been solved at MIT with an “open” Patent that converts water into its 2 components hydrogen and oxygen with only sunlight as the working element. Not Pie in the sky, But available NOW for development. Public information!
    Now How come all you GURU’s of the marketplace haven’t heard about it?

  18. February 14th, 2015 at 11:36 | #18

    Desr Kent, I have believed for many years the concept of varied sources of energy production, however there has been a major question in my mind regarding the vulnerability of the system. Currently energy production is provided by centralized generation and then distributed, this leaves a major point of vulnerability and failure. It has always been my contention that if the same amount of revenue were utilized in individual points such as homes and businesses and feeding any excess into the grid the vulnerability would be greatly decreased, individual costs reduced and greater energy provided to the entire infrastructure! Input could be provided from many sources.

  19. Garry
    March 27th, 2015 at 23:52 | #19

    Nice replies in return of this difficulty with solid arguments andd describing everything regarding that.

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