CHE Seminars  



Donald J. Wilhelm, SFA Pacific, Inc., Mountain View, CA, USA
Biggest Challenge for the Hydrogen Economy, Hydrogen Production & Infrastructure Costs
Friday, 20 Feb 2004
L-12  Lecture Hall Complex
4.00 to 5.00 p.m.

This presentation is an overview of ongoing work at SFA Pacific, Inc. on hydrogen technology, the “hydrogen economy” concept, and CO2 reduction from fossil fuel-fired electric power plants as a response to global warming concerns. Specifically, it discusses hydrogen production technologies and economics, challenges in the development of a hydrogen infrastructure for fuel cell vehicles (FCVs), and a possible way of simultaneously addressing these challenges and global warming issues by co-producing H2 and electric power from fossil fuels, while also capturing CO2 (for underground sequestration) as part of the plantsÂ' operations. Why hydrogen as a fuel? Characteristics of hydrogen as a fuel and an energy carrier are reviewed, as well as the status of the hydrogen industry worldwide, hydrogen production technologies and economics, and hydrogen transportation and distribution options and issues relative to developing a “hydrogen infrastructure” to support a potential FCVs market and owner base. Small-scale H2 generation units at FCV filling stations are considered, as well as large central H2 production plants. Related characteristics of FCVs are also discussed. The development challenges faced by an aspiring future FCV industry and market – and the essential supporting hydrogen infrastructure – present a classic “chicken and egg” dilemma. If the development of this kind of a hydrogen fuel future can be justified, as advocates are promoting, we propose that it can be facilitated by a program of CO2 emissions reductions from improved fossil fuel power plants – with co-production of H2. The most cost-effective CO2 emissions reductions are realized at large point sources, and large power plants are the largest sources. Great potential exists for improving power generation technology by replacing aging inefficient coal-fired steam (boiler) plants with coal gasification combined cycle (CGCC) plants. And CGCC is the only coal-based technology with which H2 can be co-produced. Moreover, CO2 is more cost-effectively removed from the nitrogen-free pressurized “syngas” product of gasification than it is from boiler flue gas at atmospheric pressure. To remove CO2 from CGCC plants, the syngas must be put through a water-gas shift process, in which CO and water react to form CO2 and H2. Then, after the CO2 is removed in an acid gas removal process, the H2-rich syngas can be split into a stream for firing the combustion turbines in the combined cycle power section of the plant – and an H2 stream, which can be purified as required by the market. In this way, future growing demands for both power and a growing H2 fuel market can be addressed, while capturing the CO2 emissions from these plants.