Last week we profiled improvements to hydrogen-fueled energy generation, which was the focus of a webinar hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fuel Cell Technologies Office. As an energy carrier, hydrogen may have an incredible capacity to reduce our energy reliance on fossil fuels and reduce pollutants caused by conventional energy generation processes. In order to get an idea of the wider world of development in this field, we’ve surveyed the most recent patents issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to find the latest hydrogen-related innovation that have been protected through U.S. patent grants for companies worldwide.
In this follow-up piece, we focus on recently patented technologies that deal with all aspects of hydrogen generation and the use of hydrogen fuels. We begin our discussion with a trio of patents related to various processes of hydrogen generation. Storing and transportation of hydrogen has been cited as an issue for more implementation of hydrogen technologies, which is why we were happy to include a couple of patents aimed at solving these problems. Methods for refilling hydrogen fuel cells and a couple of technologies for recovering greenhouse gases created by hydrogen generation processes are also discussed below.
Hydrogen Generation: Electrolysis, Hydrolysis and More
One of the aspects of hydrogen which has been so heralded by researchers is that the hydrogen gas needed to complete energy generation processes can be collected from water. Electrolysis, the process through which most hydrogen is created, simply requires a water supply and two electrodes which pass a current through the water. This current splits the water into its oxygen and hydrogen components. One issue in increasing the use of electrolysis for hydrogen production was the need to construct electrodes from expensive precious metals. Recently, however, a team of researchers at Stanford University successfully collected hydrogen through electrolysis using inexpensive materials including a AAA battery and nickel-coated electrodes. This discovery may pose some amazing implications for increasing hydrogen generation in a cost-effective manner.
In our search of patented technologies related to hydrogen-powered energy processes, we noticed a great deal of innovation in the field of hydrogen generation. Some of these methods involve sources of hydrogen other than water, such as the method of collecting hydrogen disclosed within U.S. Patent No. 8785065, which is titled Catalyst for Generating Hydrogen and Method for Generating Hydrogen. This patent, assigned to the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology of Tokyo, Japan, discusses a method of generating hydrogen from hydrazine, a substance which is 12.5 percent hydrogen by weight. The method protected in this patent involves the use of nano-size ultrafine particles composed of an iron-nickel composite metal for use as a catalyst for the generation of hydrogen from liquid hydrazine.
There are a number of known substances which can help to catalyze the generation of hydrogen. For example, U.S. Patent No. 8808663, issued under the title Hydrogen Generation Using Compositions Including Magnesium and Silicon, discusses the use of those two substances to generate hydrogen from a solution comprised of water and salt. Assigned to Societe BIC of Clichy Cedex, France, this patent protects a hydrogen generating method involving magnesium, silicon and a corrosion-facilitating agent to collect hydrogen through hydrolysis, a chemical reaction which does not require the application of an electrical current. This combination of catalysts is designed to generate even more hydrogen from the water and salt solution.
Generators which can support the long-term stable production of hydrogen are also a focus of research around the world, as we can see through the technology described within U.S. Patent No. 8808410, entitled Hydrogen Generator and Product Conditioning Method. This hydrogen generator, patented by Intelligent Energy Limited of Great Britain, contains a solid fuel mixture, a liquid reactant, a liquid delivery medium, a movable boundary interface and a reaction zone to create a system which produces hydrogen gas. The generator is capable of stable hydrogen production during a continuous process or in response to an on/off operation.
Storage Technologies for Hydrogen
As we reported in our recent coverage of technological advances in hydrogen fuels reported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fuel Cell Technologies Office, one of the major hurdles stopping the increased scale of hydrogen technologies is the difficulty in storing and transporting hydrogen. This is one reason why we were so piqued by a couple of patents recently issued which protect advancements in this field. U.S. Patent No. 8794477, entitled Sealing Material for High-Pressure Hydrogen Container, and High-Pressure Hydrogen Container, protects a sealing material comprised primarily of silicon rubber composed of a dimethyl siloxane segment, a diphenyl siloxane segment and a methyl vinyl siloxane segment. The sealing material protected here includes an explosion-proof elastomer which also provides excellent resistance against sag at low temperatures. This patent was assigned jointly to Toyota Jidosha Kabushiki Kaisha and Mitsubishi Cable Industries, Ltd., both of Japan.
A technology for higher capacity hydrogen storage is the focal point of the innovation protected by U.S. Patent No. 8790616, which is titled Hybrid Hydrogen Storage System and Method Using the Same. This hybrid storage system, patented by Ford Global Technologies, LLC, of Dearborn, MI, contains two hydrogen storage materials combined in an unreacted mixture which is capable of storing hydrogen effectively at a wide range of volumetric capacities. This technology is designed for the storage of hydrogen as an energy carrier on-board hydrogen-fueled vehicles.
Refilling Hydrogen Fuel Cells
Fuel cells are the last stop for hydrogen on its way to being converted into electricity. Fuel cells have seen their greatest development for use in alternative energy-powered vehicles, although fuel cell use on an increased scale could see applications in energy grids for electrical utilities, whether for residential, commercial or industrial use. A fuel cell technology which is capable of producing it’s own stream of hydrogen gas is protected by the recently issued U.S. Patent No. 8764859, issued under the title Hydrogen Generating Fuel Cell Cartridges. This patent was assigned to Societe BIC, the same French company that invented the hydrogen generating technology protected by the ‘663 patent in the first section of this article. The technology protected by this patent overcomes a shortcoming in hydrogen gas generators wherein additional hydrogen gas cannot be added to a cartridge after a reaction has already started. This innovation is designed to encourage the commercial success of fuel cell applications for mobile phones, laptops and other portable electronics.
The storage and transportation of hydrogen to fuel cells is also addressed by U.S. Patent No. 8758722, entitled Method for Producing Hydrogen Aimed at Storage and Transportation. Assigned to Chiyoda Corporation of Yokohama-shi, Japan, this patent protects a method for hydrogen storage and transportation which involves an organic chemical hydride method. This technology provides for the low-cost and efficient production of hydrogen for fuel cells in a manner that also reduces the amount of carbon dioxide which is often produced as a by-product of hydrogen generation.
Capturing Carbon Dioxide from Hydrogen Generation
The processes that create hydrogen typically use at least a little bit of fossil fuel to create the energy needed for electrolysis. This means that, currently, there is still a little bit of pollution released by the creation of hydrogen in the form of greenhouse gases. Methods of capturing carbon dioxide released by fossil fuels and then using that carbon dioxide to generate even more hydrogen are disclosed within U.S. Patent No. 8790617, titled Process for Producing Hydrogen With Complete Capture of CO2 and Recycling Unconverted Methane. Issued to IFP Energies Nouvelles of Rueil-Malmaison Cedex, France, this patent protects a method of capturing carbon dioxide, methane and other impurities from a hydrogen stream created by a steam reformer. These materials can be recycled to the steam reforming step after capture for use in creating more hydrogen without any energy loss.
Similar methods of capturing carbon dioxide and methane created as byproducts of hydrogen generation processes are also protected by U.S. Patent No. 8784516, entitled Process for the Production of Hydrogen With Intermediate-Pressure Pushing. Interestingly, this patent was also assigned to the IFP Energies Nouvelles responsible for the ‘617 patent above for carbon capture from a hydrogen stream. This technology involves capturing CO2 and methane created by a vapor reforming unit and recycling those impurities to the vapor reforming phase. This innovation not only increases the overall yield of the vapor reforming process but also obtain a CO2 avoidance level greater than 90 percent.