Hydrogen produced through renewable energy sources is an emissions-free way to carry clean energy. Hydrogen is most commonly generated from renewables with a device called an electrolyzer, which uses electricity to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen. By converting renewable electricity into hydrogen, the intermittent power of wind and sunlight can be stored for long periods and used in a fuel cell for power at any time, day or night. Electrolysis can also leverage the surplus generation from renewables that would otherwise be wasted. Currently, wind turbines are shut down on windy days when electricity generation outpaces demand. By simply installing electrolyzers, that surplus power could be put to use generating hydrogen.
Landfills, wastewater treatment plants, and food processing facilities are some of the other places fuel cells can produce renewable power. All of these facilities handle organic waste, which can be processed using microorganisms like bacteria in an anaerobic digester to create biogas. Biogas is a mix of mostly methane and carbon dioxide. Many waste treatment plants simply burn off this biogas. However, biogas can be cleaned up with a reformer and used to power fuel cells. This trash-to-energy conversion is free, renewable, and already happening around the country.
How Renewable Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Integrate with the Grid
Solar Hydrogen Stations
Imagine a gas station that created gas from water and sunlight. Some hydrogen stations already do this today. By linking solar panels to an electrolyzer, power from the sun splits water into pure hydrogen and oxygen. At stations like this, you can fill a fuel cell car with renewable hydrogen and drive hundreds of miles with no emissions.
The ancient art of brewing produces a steady stream of organic waste. Passing this waste through anaerobic digesters yields biogas. Breweries can use this biogas to power fuel cells, producing electricity and heatwhich can be used in the brewing process. This waste-to-energy concept makes many breweries nearly energy independent.
Airplanes That Never Land
As part of a project with the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Boeing is creating an aircraft that can fly continuously on sunlight alone. The planes wide wings are covered in solar panels. But how does it fly by night? A solid-oxide fuel cell from Versa Power Systems powers the plane’s electric engine at night using fuel produced from excess solar generation during the day.