[Hydrogen Energy And Fuel Cells] The Past And Present Of Hydrogen Energy Development

Introduction: In 1874, Jules Verne referred to hydrogen as the energy carrier of the future in his novel The Mysterious Island. Verne wrote that electrolysis could be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, the hydrogen that could push coal – the most important fuel at the time – onto the market. A century and a half later, hydrogen as an energy carrier is somewhat of a reality. At present, hydrogen energy can be used on a large scale in the industry. However, it is still mainly used for petrochemical industry raw materials, glass, metal, grease, microprocessor and computer chip production.

hydrogen electrolysis
hydrogen electrolysis
The idea of developing hydrogen energy originally came from a science fiction novel.

Currently, the world produces about 60 million tons of hydrogen annually, mainly from natural gas separation. The energy content of this hydrogen is almost three times the total energy consumption in the Netherlands. About 90% is used in the production of ammonia (mainly for producing fertilizers), methanol and petroleum refining. In Europe, the Netherlands is the second-largest hydrogen producer after Germany, with an estimated output of around 10 billion cubic meters per year.

Development Timeline

In 776 , Hydrogen was first identified as a unique element by the British scientist Henry Cavendish because the reaction of zinc metal with hydrochloric acid produces hydrogen. During a demonstration to the Royal Society in London, Cavendish sparked hydrogen, which produced water. This discovery led to his later discovery that water (H2O) is composed of hydrogen and oxygen.

Henry Cavendish
Henry Cavendish

In 1800, British scientists William Nicholson and Sir Anthony Carlisle discovered that applying an electric current to water produces hydrogen and oxygen. The process came to be known as “electrolysis”.

In 1838 Swiss chemist Christian Friedrich Schonbein discovered the fuel cell effect, combining hydrogen and oxygen to produce water and electricity.

In 1845, British scientist and judge Sir William Grove proved Schönbin’s discovery in practice by creating a “gas battery”. He was dubbed the “Father of Fuel Cells” for his achievements.

In 1874 The potential use of hydrogen as fuel was prophetically studied by British author Jules Verne in his novel The Mysterious Island.

In 1889 Ludwig Mond and Charles Langer attempted to build the first fuel cell device using air and industrial gas. They named the device a fuel cell.

In the 1920s, German engineer Rudolf Erren converted the internal combustion engines of trucks, buses and submarines to use hydrogen or a mixture of hydrogen. British scientist and Marxist author JBS Haldane proposed the concept of renewable hydrogen in his paper “Science and the Future,” where he proposed that “in windy weather, there will be power stations that use surplus electricity to electrolysis water into oxygen and hydrogen.”

In 1997 After ten successful Atlantic flights from Germany to the United States in 1937, the Hindenburg, a hydrogen-filled craft, crashed while landing in Lakewood, New Jersey. Finally, the mystery of the crash was solved. A study concluded that the explosion was not due to hydrogen, but a weather-related electrostatic discharge, which ignited the airship’s silver canvas hull, which was treated to become a key ingredient in solid rocket fuel.

In 1958 the United States established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NASA’s space program currently uses the world’s most liquid hydrogen, mainly rocket propulsion and fuel cell fuel.

In 1959 The first practical hydrogen-air fuel cell was built by Francis T. Bacon of the University of Cambridge, UK. A 5 kilowatt (kW) system powers the welding machine. He named his fuel cell design the “Bacon Cell.” Later that year, Harry Karl Ihrig, an engineer at the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company, demonstrated the first fuel cell vehicle: a 20-horsepower tractor. Hydrogen fuel cells based on the Francis T. Bacon design have been used to generate onboard electricity, heat and water for the astronauts on the famous Apollo spacecraft and all subsequent space shuttle missions.

In 1970 The term “hydrogen economy” 1970 by electrochemist John O’M. Bockris during a discussion at the General Motors (GM) Technology Center in Warren, Michigan.

In 1973 OPEC oil embargo and the resulting supply shock signalled that the era of cheap oil was over and the world needed alternative fuels. So began the development of hydrogen fuel cells for traditional commercial applications.

In 1974 The International Energy Agency (IEA) was created in response to disruptions in the global oil market. The activities of the IEA include research and development of hydrogen energy technologies.

In 1988 the Soviet Tupolev Design Bureau successfully converted a commercial jet carrying 164 TU-154s to operate one of the jet’s three-cylinder liquid hydrogen engines. The maiden flight lasted 21 minutes.

1990 Commencement of the world’s first solar hydrogen production plant at the R&D and test facility Solar-Wasserstoff-Bayern in southern Germany.

In 1994 Daimler Benz presented its first NECAR I (New Electric Vehicle) fuel cell vehicle at a press conference in Ulm, Germany.

In 1997 Addison Bain, a retired NASA engineer, challenged the belief that hydrogen caused the Hindenburg accident. Bain demonstrated that hydrogen does not cause catastrophic fires but rather a combination of static electricity and highly flammable substances on the airship’s skin. German automakers Daimler-Benz and Ballard Power Systems have announced a $300 million research collaboration on hydrogen fuel cells for transportation.

In 1998 Iceland unveiled a plan to build the first hydrogen economy project by 2030 with Daimler-Benz and Ballard Powertrain.

In 1999 Royal Dutch/Shell committed to the future of hydrogen by establishing the Hydrogen Business Unit. As a result, the first hydrogen refuelling stations in Europe opened in Hamburg and Munich, Germany.

In 2000 Ballard Power Systems demonstrated the world’s first production-ready PEM fuel cell for automotive applications at the Detroit Auto Show.

In 2003, US President George W. Bush announced in his 2003 State of the Union a $1.2 billion hydrogen fueling plan to develop commercially viable hydrogen-powered fuel cell technology for “firsts born today. A car can have a fuel cell.”

In 2004 the US Secretary of Energy announced a $350 million investment in hydrogen research and vehicle demonstration projects. The grant represents almost a third of President Bush’s $1.2 billion commitment to research hydrogen and fuel cell technology. Funding includes more than 30 leading organizations and more than 100 partners selected through a competitive review process.

In 2004 the world’s first fuel cell powered submarine underwent deep-water trials (German Navy).

Hydrogen Power Cars

As an alternative fuel, it is not the first time that hydrogen energy has been seen as a potential energy carrier in the future. The project has been a major research subject in the Netherlands and elsewhere since the oil crisis of the early 1970s. In the early 21st century, hydrogen energy briefly swept the energy circle. At the time, the development of hydrogen energy was focused on its use as a fuel for fuel cell vehicles. This new concept, born at the time, further gave birth to clean and economical electric vehicles. However, since the battery technology was not fully developed then, people turned their attention to fuel cells, which were considered to have greater development potential at the time. However, limited by the technical conditions at the time, the breakthrough of fuel cells was still premature, partly because internal combustion engine technology still needs to be improved.

During the wave of fuel cell and hydrogen attention in the early 2000s, the Netherlands was once one of the frontrunners in Europe: the Netherlands was the first city to have an electric bus powered by fuel cells (CUTE project in Amsterdam); the Netherlands had the first fully hydrogen-based canal cruise ship (FuelCell Boat) was also developed and built in the Netherlands; on the island of Ameland, the Netherlands also carried out The first hydrogen demonstration project, where up to 20% hydrogen is mixed with a domestic natural gas network to power the district.

Globally, hydrogen energy development focuses mainly on automotive fuel applications. Due to the lack of domestic car manufacturers in the Netherlands, Dutch companies in hydrogen and fuel cells do not have enough capacity to promote national-level attention. Breakthroughs have occurred, so these projects are stagnant in the plateau period of development. In addition, hydrogen and natural gas were used more as transition fuels at the time. Therefore, at the beginning of the 21st century, the fertile soil for developing and applying hydrogen energy has not yet emerged.

A New Age Of Hydrogen Energy

Today, hydrogen energy has once again quickly entered the public eye. Only this time, the focus of hydrogen energy development is not limited to automotive batteries and transportation applications but a wide range of all aspects of supply for energy and industrial production. In addition, as countries continue to set policy goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this behaviour has also led to a growing recognition that when it comes to sustainability, the power system and the fuel sector face challenges. Great challenge. Therefore, this series of comprehensive factors has led people to gradually focus on hydrogen energy. At the same time, the development of wind energy and solar energy will lead to large-scale competitive power generation. Furthermore, the potential grid connection problem of new energy brought by this development has led us to urgently search for energy storage and sustainable power development in the energy system. Possibility. The combination of sustainable electricity and hydrogen energy provides a very good entry point for this.

  • Use hydrogen as a carbon-free alternative to natural gas for heat production in industrial and built environments, as a fuel cell for electric power vehicles, or as a new fuel for the transportation industry.
  • Using hydrogen in new sustainable processes for the low-carbon production of chemicals and materials, synthetic fuels, and steel.
  • Using hydrogen energy as a medium for storing or integrating solar photovoltaic and wind farm electrical energy for peak and frequency regulation when solar and wind energy supplies are limited.
  • Providing ancillary services in the electricity market to maintain grid stability, using hydrogen as a transport medium for sustainable electricity can address the challenges of required reinforcement and power infrastructure expansion.
  • Use SENZA hydrogen generator car kit to improve the fuel economy of fuel vehicles, improve fuel efficiency, and reduce polluting exhaust emissions.


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