United Hydrail Nations

by guest blogger Stan Thompson

This update follows much farther behind the wonderfully successful 9th International Hydrail Conference in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany (June 2014) than I had intended.  The reason is one I can’t regret: the cast of international players on the hydrail stage has grown so large, and there are so many  intertwining plots, that I can hardly keep up with chronicling the process!

First in order is congratulations and thanks to the organizers of the Ninth International Conference held 16-18 June, 2014, in Neumünster, Germany.  “9IHC” was the first Hydrail Conference to be conducted in a language other than English. It was in German…but the hosts provided real-time translation. The organizers were Herr Detlef Matthiessen MdL, Speaker for Energy Policy and Technology in the Schleswig-Holstein Landtag (Parliament) and Dr. Holger Busche, President-Kulturlokschuppen Neumünster e.V.  We also owe special thanks to Dr. Urte Domaschk, who made the necessary travel and logistics run smoothly.

A most important “first” by Herr Hens Baake of Vossloh Locomotives, Gmbh, of Kiel, Germany, must be acknowledged.  He became the first presenter actually to bring a locomotive to the Conference!  Some of us even got to ride the brand new DE 18 locomotive.  The D series is the first standard production locomotive in the world specifically designed for a hydrail configuration upfit. The Vossloh loco that Herr Baake brought to Neumünster was a diesel electric. In North America, where less than 1% of rail lines are electrified, we never think about “how do we go beyond the end of the wire?” But in Europe, where most lines are electric; where many diesels are old and smoky; and where CO2 emissions are a grave concern, the advent of a new, clean, green (literally!) catenary-free locomotive is big news.

Vossloh’s D18 can be configured as a double-diesel electric; a diesel-battery hybrid; or a pure battery electric locomotive. But, as Herr Baake’s presentation explains (http://hydrail.org/sites/hydrail.org/files/9_Baake.pdf), it is designed for the hydrogen economy transition as well. Vossloh calls it “Future Proof.”

Absent from Neumünster, and sorely missed, was Dr. Andreas Hoffrichter, the hydrail Ph.D. from the University of Birmingham, UK.  A native of Germany, Andreas would have been a star presenter but he had a prior speaking commitment in New Zealand and missed 9IHC.  Andreas was the key organizer of 7IHC, hosted by the University of Birmingham in 2012.

Two of the newest players on the hydrail stage are graduate students at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte:  Ben Gorman and Edward “Matt” Washing. They represent the first wave of an international hydrail design collaboration between UNC Charlotte and the Centre for Railway Research and Education at the University of Birmingham, UK.

The eventual objective of the collaboration is a joint UK-US advanced railway engineering education school, including (but going far beyond) hydrail design. Matt and Ben were in Birmingham recently as the first American team members of U. Birmingham’s hydrail locomotive design team. In 2014, for the third year, Birmingham participated in the UK’s Institute of Mechanical Engineers’ Railway Challenge. The Challenge pits universities against each other to design breakthrough locomotive innovations. Dr. Andreas Hoffrichter led the team with Dr. Stuart Hillmansen, head of U. Birmingham’s traction engineering studies. The Challenge locomotives run on park or “live steaamer” gauge (10.25″) tracks.

Gorman and Washing went to the UK with the help of a grant from the Mooresville Morning Rotary Club, organized by former Mooresville Mayor Bill Thunberg (a hydrail speaker in Neumünster this summer).  Mooresville Rotary has undertaken two Hydrail Education Projects as part of Rotary International’s focus on community economic development. One project is regional (NC,SC,VA,TN,GA);  the other is international.

The purpose of both Hydrail Education Projects is—by making available hydrail education program presentations to local Rotary Clubs—informing business and government leaders that a far less costly option than external track electrification is becoming available.  Scarce fiscal resources needn’t become stranded investments in very expensive legacy technologies, such as trolleys, which can require as much as ten million dollars per mile extra for unnecessary track electrification.

A second Rotary Hydrail Education Project will make available presenters from the nine previous International Hydrail Conferences for programs at Rotary Clubs in their respective countries. So far, presenters have come from Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Holland, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the UK and the USA. Prospects for increased world-wide hydrail awareness are excellent.

One highlight of Neumünster’s Hydrail Conference was Herbert Wancura’s visionary presentation on the potential for adapting hydrail to high speed rail applications:  “The Far Horizon – High Power Hydrail”  (http://hydrail.org/sites/hydrail.org/files/9_Wancura.pdf). When Herbert was in the USA lecturing at UNC Charlotte and visiting the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Rail Division, our talk turned to another Hydrail Conference presenter—Russian Railways’ Dmitry Grigorovich, Principal Researcher at the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute for Railway Transportation in Moscow. Herbert and I speculated about connecting Russian Railways’ Hydrogen Power Car (http://hydrail.org/sites/hydrail.org/files/8-4_Grigorovich.pdf)—built to power heavy track-laying machinery in Siberian tunnels—to an electric passenger locomotive. As we prepared the Ninth Hydrail Conference, I asked Herbert to develop the idea and to present it at Neumünster. He had already been thinking along those same lines. With his always thorough engineering approach, Herbert did so. The result will, I predict, prove to have been a landmark in the evolution of railway technology in the twenty-first century.

From the first International Hydrail Conference in 2005, Bill Thunberg, Jason W. Hoyle of Appalachian State University’s Energy Center, and I have been confident that by facilitating the international exchange of ideas we can make hydrail—an inevitable green paradigm shift—available to society a few years, or even decades, sooner.  Looking back, especially at the last three International Hydrail Conferences, I’m more confident that ever that we’ve come far in that direction.


Gold Nanoparticles Help Produce 74 Times More Hydrogen

Researchers in South Korea have succeeded in producing 74 times more hydrogen from water using sunlight and gold nanoparticles.

Business Korea says, “According to the research team, gold nanoparticles are capable of producing hydrogen from water by absorbing visible rays at a low energy level and creating thermoelectrons. However, the production efficiency and practicality of this process is extremely low, as most thermoelectrons break down very quickly, only lasting 1/10 quadrillionth of a second.

“However, the research team was able to radically enhance the lifespan of electrons created from gold nanoparticle catalysts by developing ternary system nanostructures in which two more nanoparticles are attached to the gold particle. Through this method, 74 times more hydrogen was produced than when gold nanoparticles were used as a catalyst alone.”

To the naysayers this will not be big news. According to Stan Thompson, the solacaust deniers “…believe that the American economy is better served by staying the carbon course than by investing in renewable energy technologies.” However to others of us, this hydrogen production method may just be the breakthrough for which we’ve been waiting.


Thermoplastic Hydrogen Storage Tanks for FCVs in Development

A company called Element Materials Technology is developing a high pressure thermoplastic hydrogen storage tank to be used inside of fuel cell vehicles. The resulting storage vessel is expected to be strong, light-weight and leak-free.

According to Element, “During this project Element Hitchin performed high-pressure permeation tests using hydrogen for the roto-molded liner samples, mechanical tests (quasi-static and fatigue) on all materials, accelerated ageing tests and rapid gas decompression (RGD) tests to assess the effects of rapid depressurization on the liner materials.

“The low-cost, high-pressure (350-700 bar) gaseous hydrogen storage vessel was developed in collaboration with EPL Composite Solutions, Delta Motorsport, Crompton Mouldings, Celanese (formerly Ticona), CTG-UTC Aerospace Systems and Oxford Brookes University. It is intended for the automotive market, with improved fatigue performance and is fully recyclable at end of life.”

The materials used to build hydrogen tanks directly affect both the range of the vehicle, and the cost, too. So, if these thermoplastic tanks live up to expectations, future hydrogen car owners may experience more miles and fewer dollars paid for the vehicles.


VW Bearish on FCVs Outside of Japan

One may think that a German automaker that has hydrogen fueling stations popping up all around the hillsides of Germany may be bullish on fuel cell vehicles at least in that country. But, this is not the case with Volkswagen.

In fact, VW is predicting that fuel cell vehicles will only be big in Japan.

According to Volkswagen Group Japan President Shigeru Shoji, “’It may fly within Japan, but not globally,’ said Shoji, 51. Fuel cells could become another example of the ‘Galapagos syndrome’ that plagues Japanese companies for making products that are only popular at home, he said.”

This is back-pedaling from a couple of years ago when Volkswagen was building hydrogen fuel cell prototypes right and left such as the HyMotion, Tiguan, Passat Lingyu and the Space Up Blue.

In the next 1 – 3 years commercial hydrogen FCVs are expected to rollout in Japan, Germany and California. If VW isn’t onboard with hydrogen vehicles by then, they may just miss the boat.


Hyundai FCV Travels 1481 Miles in 24 Hours

Drivers Marius Bornstein and Arnt-Gøran Hartvig (pictured left to right) hopped inside of a Hyundai ix35 Tucson Fuel Cell and drove it 1481 miles in 24 hours – try to do that, battery electric vehicle fans.

The entire trip took place inside of Germany between Hamburg and capital city, Berlin.

According to the email I received, “The 24 hour drive included seven refuelings, four at Shell Sachsendamm in Berlin and three at Vattenfall HafenCity in Hamburg. The average time used on each pit stop was 10 minutes.

“Prior to this trip Bornstein and Hartvig made an unprecedented 1404 mile drive from Oslo to Monte Carlo in April 2012, and a world record 435 mile drive on one tank of fuel through Scandinavia in June 2014. The Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell has been the vehicle on all occasions.”

Many thanks to Marius Bornstein for forwarding me this info.

Electrolyte Hydrogen Fuel Cell e-Bike to Debut

Next week German e-bike maker Electrolyte will be showcasing their first hydrogen fuel cell bicycle. According to the manufacturer this e-bike can travel 300 miles before refueling.

BikeBiz.com states, “German electric bike maker Electrolyte is to debut what it says is the world’s first cartridge hydrogen fuel cell electric bike at Eurobike next week.

“Having formed a partnership with one of the companies at the forefront of hydrogen fuel cell production, Electrolyte have come up with the Vorradler S3 FC, which the firm claims is capable of 300 power assisted miles.”

Now, I’ve talked about hydrogen fuel cell ebikes many times before. But what makes this hydrogen ebike special is the range which is on par with many gasoline powered cars today.


Stanford + AAA Battery + Water = Hydrogen

Researchers at Stanford University have discovered a way to produce hydrogen using an AAA battery to split water. The device uses electrodes composed of nickel and iron, which are both abundant and cheap.

According to Stanford, “Now scientists at Stanford University have developed a low-cost, emissions-free device that uses an ordinary AAA battery to produce hydrogen by water electrolysis.  The battery sends an electric current through two electrodes that split liquid water into hydrogen and oxygen gas. Unlike other water splitters that use precious-metal catalysts, the electrodes in the Stanford device are made of inexpensive and abundant nickel and iron …

“…The discovery was made by Stanford graduate student Ming Gong, co-lead author of the study. ‘Ming discovered a nickel-metal/nickel-oxide structure that turns out to be more active than pure nickel metal or pure nickel oxide alone,’ Dai said.  ‘This novel structure favors hydrogen electrocatalysis, but we still don’t fully understand the science behind it.’”

It’s true that sometimes happy accidents in science aren’t fully understood at first. Scottish biologist Alexander Fleming in 1928 discovered penicillin by happy accident. If this nickel and iron device can be scaled up to industrial levels, producing cheap and abundant hydrogen, then this will go down in history as a turning point in the emerging global hydrogen economy.


BMW May Have Fuel Cell Vehicle by 2016

There is a rumor floating around now that BMW may have a commercial fuel cell vehicle for sale as early as 2016. In addition, BMW will have Toyota to thank for its fuel cell technology.

According to Ecomento.com, “Speaking to Craig Scott, Toyota’s National Manager Advanced Technology Vehicles, the Australia magazine learnt that BMW will almost certainly launch a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in the foreseeable future, with the i3 cited as the most likely vessel.

“’We have a joint partnership with BMW, so we know … where they’re headed,’ says Scott. It’s a technology development program where we are supposed to be jointly developing a fuel cell powertrain.

“’I’ll just say that BMW had a lot of choices – there are a lot of people who make fuel cells – and we’re very happy they chose us. They’ve never made a fuel cell before, so this is going to be a good experience, I think, for them and probably for us.’”

Originally, BMW was planning to bring a fuel cell vehicle to market by 2020, but because of competition of the other major automakers who all have FCVs lined up before then, BMW most likely decided to move their timeframe for rollout up a few years.

Toyota’s Bob Carter Calls Hydrogen Cars the NEXT BIG THING

At the recent J. P. Morgan Auto Conference in New York City, Toyota’s Bob Carter, Senior Vice President of Automotive Operations gave a speech highlighting the future of hydrogen cars.

Carter calls hydrogen fuel cell cars the NEXT BIG THING in automotive technology. And Toyota’s newest fuel cell vehicle, speculated to be called the Mirai, will go on sale in California the summer of 2015.

The FCV has a range of around 300 miles and can be refueled in about 3 minutes. Toyota is also working with First Element Energy and Linde on the operation and maintenance of hydrogen fueling stations in California.

What about the cost of hydrogen fuel?

Bob Carter says, “Well, according to Department of Energy estimates, the cost of hydrogen fuel will initially be higher than gasoline…but longer term…it will come down and be more economical.

“Based on those numbers, we estimate that to fill our fuel cell sedan to go 300 miles initially will cost about $50 and then go down to about $30.”

The numbers are based on the fuel tank holding 5kg of compressed hydrogen gas and the FCV averaging around 60 miles per gallon equivalent.


28copper15hydride May Solve Hydrogen Storage Issue

Hydrogen storage is one of the biggest issues facing the rollout of fuel cell vehicles. And scientists in Australia and Taiwan may have found the answer in a new molecule named 28copper15hydride.

According to Ansto, “Scientists say that the newly-discovered ‘28copper15hydride’ puts us on a path to better understanding hydrogen, and potentially even how to get it in and out of a fuel system, and is stored in a manner which is stable and safe – overcoming Hindenburg-type risks.

“’28copper15hydride’ is certainly not a name that would be developed by a marketing guru, but while it would send many running for an encyclopaedia (or let’s face it, Wikipedia), it has some of the world’s most accomplished chemists intrigued …

“…The discovery puts us one step further along a path to developing distribution infrastructure – one of four obstacles to hydrogen fuel-cell technology as a viable power source for low-carbon motor vehicles, as cited by Professor Steven Chu, Nobel Laureate and former Secretary of Energy in the United States.”

The new molecule (pictured at top) combines copper with a borohydride (hydrogen + boron) with double the hydrogen atoms as was expected before the experiment began. The new molecule is in a solid state which will make it much easier to transport and distribute than highly pressurized hydrogen gas.


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