Researchers look for realistic ways to bring hydrogen technology home

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On August 21, 2008

You probably won’t be able to drive down the highway in your own
non-polluting vehicle that runs on hydrogen power any time soon. And don’t
start making plans to power your whole house with expensive hydrogen-based
technology in the coming years. But, some day in the not-too-distant future,
you might own a cell phone equipped with a hydrogen-powered fuel cell instead
of a battery.         

The cell phone would come with an insert-ready hydrogen pack and a small
solar array for charging.

“We need to be realistic about what we can and can’t do with hydrogen right
now,” says Dr. Scott Grasman, associate professor of engineering management at
Missouri University of Science and Technology. “In addition to some of the more
Buck Rogers things that might happen in the future, we need to study some of
the things we can do in the short

Grasman is one of the lead researchers working on a Missouri S&T study
called “Hydrogen Fuel Cell Analysis: Lessons Learned from Stationary Power
Generation” for the U.S. Department of

The technology necessary to produce hydrogen-powered vehicles that only emit
water does exist, but those kinds of vehicles are not feasible for every-day
drivers right now, according to Grasman. The main drawback is cost. Grasman
says vehicles that run totally on hydrogen fuel cell technology currently cost
anywhere from $50,000 to $1

Things that are more economically feasible? Grasman says his group is
looking at ways to use hydrogen to energize back-up power generators,
forklifts, various types of military equipment and consumer electronic items,
including cell

Grasman has also played around with the idea of using hydrogen fuel cell
technology in toys. In fact, he’s got a small hydrogen car and a toy hydrogen
rocket in his office. He says these kinds of items will help the public
understand how hydrogen technology works.

Here’s how it works at a basic level: An energy source, preferably wind or
solar power, is used to send an electrical current through a substance that
contains hydrogen. In water, the electrical current causes hydrogen and oxygen
to separate. Compressed hydrogen is used to power a fuel cell, which is
essentially a very expensive battery. The fuel cell is then able to
continuously produce electricity that is stored by hydrogen in a system that
discharges only pure

The main benefits, aside from the fact that the energy is pollution-free,
are that hydrogen is an excellent source for storing electricity and that the
fuel cells will last more-or-less forever, or at least a very long time. For
these reasons, scientists continue to be very intrigued by the future
possibilities of hydrogen, which is, after all, the most abundant element in

Next year, Grasman and his colleagues will present their findings about
feasible ways to utilize what we know about hydrogen at a National Hydrogen
Association Conference on strategies to bring the technology to the

Other Missouri S&T researchers working on the DOE project include: Dr.
Fathi Dogan, professor of materials science and engineering; Dr. Umit Koylu,
associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; Dr. K.B. Lee,
professor of chemical engineering; and Dr. John Sheffield, professor of
mechanical and aerospace engineering.

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On August 21, 2008. Posted in Research