Four main technology areas exist in relation to utilizing hydrogen as an energy carrier: Production; Delivery; Storage; and Manufacturing.
Hydrogen can be produced from a variety of sources, including natural gas, coal, nuclear power and renewable resources. Critical focus areas of Research & Development with respect to hydrogen production include cost reduction, emissions reduction and increased efficiency with respect to production processes, as well as the viability of long-term, commercial-scale hydrogen production having little or no environmental impact. Current research from the Department of Energy’s Office of Science basic research program emphasizes fundamental understanding of photoinduced water splitting. In this process, energy from sunlight is used to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen by semiconductors or photocatalytic assemblies. Other research focus areas include catalysis, membranes, and gas separation.
In addition to its needing to be transported from production site to use site, hydrogen also must be safely compressed, stored and dispensed at refueling stations or stationary power facilities. Hydrogen’s transportation, storage and final delivery to the point of use can be one of the most significant costs and energy inefficiencies due to its relatively low volumetric energy density. The activities of the Department of Energy’s Hydrogen Program are focused on developing hydrogen delivery technologies that will enable the introduction and long-term viability of hydrogen as an energy carrier for transportation and stationary power. Current research efforts are focused on challenges at refueling stations and stationary power sites, as well as lowering the cost and energy use of the hydrogen delivery system. This includes developing improved lower cost materials for pipelines, breakthrough approaches to hydrogen liquefaction, lighter weight stronger materials and structures for high pressure hydrogen storage and transport, and novel low pressure solid and liquid carrier systems for hydrogen delivery and storage.
The storage of hydrogen is a key enabling technology for the advancement of both hydrogen and fuel cell power technologies in a variety of application areas, including transportation, stationary, and portable applications. The Department of Energy’s primary Research & Development activities for hydrogen storage are focused on on-board vehicular hydrogen storage systems. The goal for on-board systems is to reach a driving range of greater than 300 miles while meeting packaging, cost, safety, and performance requirements competitive with current vehicles. Off-board applications requiring hydrogen storage systems, including the hydrogen delivery and refueling infrastructure and Power Parks, are also being pursued by the Department of Energy Hydrogen Program. Research is focused on:
- High-pressure Tanks
- Cryogenic Tanks
- Advanced Solid State Materials
- Advanced Liquid Materials
- Complex Hydrides
- Nanostructured Materials
Manufacturing includes a wide range of components and systems that are related to hydrogen production and delivery, fuel cells, and hydrogen storage. A significant challenge with respect to manufacturing includes moving from current laboratory-scale manufacturing to commercial-scale production. Critical manufacturing needs for the initial transition to a hydrogen economy include:
- Distributed production and delivery
- On-board vehicle storage
- Polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells