I’ve talked about domestic clean coal technology before and now, like then, I’m not sure that this is the answer to our upcoming hydrogen fuel needs. But, as I don’t want to throw any idea for creating hydrogen off the table at this point, I will proceed.
A company called Linc Energy has discovered an Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) method that has been successfully trialed at their Chinchilla Demonstration Facility just outside of Queensland, Australia.
Linc Energy was able to use their proprietary method to reach coal seams underground that are too deep for traditional mining, meaning a new source of fuel is being tapped into. The result of UCG is called syngas (synthesis gas), which is composed mainly of hydrogen and carbon monoxide.
The carbon monoxide is then sequestered at the source and stored underground while the hydrogen is run through a fuel cell. In this case the hydrogen was run through an AFC Energy low-cost alkaline fuel cell which is 60-percent efficient in producing utility scale electricity compared to less than 40-percent at traditional coal-burning power plants.
Today, the most popular method for producing hydrogen is steam-reforming of natural gas, which also produces syngas. The hydrogen is separated and carbon sequestered and the hydrogen is used in the oil refinery business and in some in hydrogen cars.
The syngas used in the Linc Energy experiment is intended to be used for clean, hydrogen fueled power plants running off high temperature alkaline fuel cells. But, there is another market for this hydrogen as well including hydrogen cars.
Not all UCG mines will be located in places appropriate for power plants. In this case the hydrogen can be piped or trucked to fueling stations for use in cars. This also brings up the point that as the hydrogen economy revs up there will be more competition for this hydrogen among power plants that run off fuel cell or clean steam generators, stationary fuel cells for home and business and hydrogen cars.
This is one reason that more than one source for hydrogen fuel will be needed in the foreseeable future. We will need to produce hydrogen from coal, natural gas, water, ammonia and other hydrogen rich chemical compounds for some time to come.
The clean capture of the carbon and disposal of it may be trickier with some hydrogen production methods than with others. For instance, if we produce hydrogen from water using renewable resources such as wind and solar then we won’t have to worry about sequestering carbon. And this is the ideal.
But, to get the ball rolling in regard to producing hydrogen for cars and power plants we will need to use all available domestic resources to tide us over until renewable hydrogen fuel is able to take over the marketplace. And, this transition, like all large-scale disruptive technologies may take some time.