Altruism isn’t dead and it may even lead to revolutionary and profitable products. This is what the University of California, Riverside engineering team is finding out as they were developing a way to help third world countries. The idea was to develop a device to harness energy from the sun, electrolyze water and capture hydrogen from water to use at night with a fuel cell for power when there is no sun.
The UC Riverside team won an honorable mention in a DOE contest for developing a low cost home hydrogen fueling system for a single family home that will refuel a hydrogen car. The project started out, however, as a way to supply off-the-grid energy to people in third world nations.
The solar electrolyzer uses new technology developed by the engineering team. According to UC Riverside, “The UC Riverside students’ research focuses on combining the fuel cell and electrolyzer into what they call a regenerative hydroxide exchange membrane fuel cell system.
“The electrolyzer splits water to generate hydrogen and the fuel cell generate power using the hydrogen. The water byproduct created by the fuel cell is spit back in the electrolyzer and the process starts again.
“The key innovation is a newly developed quaternary phosphonium-based hydroxide exchange membrane that allows use of catalysts such as nickel or silver, which are thousands of times less expensive than platinum, a catalyst now commonly used.”
So, there you have it. What started out as a project to help people in developing nations who currently have no electricity, many just have expanded into a home hydrogen fueling station that people globally with hydrogen cars can use a few years from now. A couple more “happy accidents” in science and political will are all that are needed to make hydrogen cars a reality in the near future.