Since the inception of the internal combustion engine some nearly 150 years ago & the conversion of fossil fuels to liquid energy; the human need for personal transportation has become second nature to modern inhabitants of planet Earth.
The synthesizing of fossil fuels into liquid fuel for ICE’s & the burning of fossil fuels for trains & marine were the most innovative way for our Industrial forefathers to progress their technologies, as at the time of the Industrial Revolution these were the only fuel sources available to them.
However, in the face of a lack of scientific knowledge, our historical engineers & scientists could not have foreseen the devastating affects that fossil based fuels could have on the environment of the very planet they were trying to develop & grow.
Since connections were made between the lead content in petroleum based fuel, the sulphur in diesel based fuels & the increase in Co2 emissions, cancers & lung disease were found & lead based fuels being banned by the EU in 2000; the race has been on to synthesise less damaging ICE fuels & ultimately to replace all fossil based fuels with a completely emission & carbon free alternative.
Hydrogen Fuel Cell technologies have been being developed for many years, but the perpetual downside to the take up as a more widely used fuel source, is the infrastructure for refuelling. ‘People don’t want to buy hydrogen cars until there are enough hydrogen refuelling stations — and there’s not much incentive to build hydrogen refuelling stations until more people are driving hydrogen cars’ (1)
Building hydrogen fuel refuelling depots in the face of such a small uptake for the vehicular applications, means that they are few & far between. The financial costs are not the only issue with the infrastructure plans. The transportation of hydrogen is also a logistical challenge.
Furthermore, with reports that some counties in the UK may run out of fresh water in the next 20 years; the hydrogen market using H2O destined for personal & industrial use, is not really an option.
Therefore, how can sea water be used as a hydrogen alternative?
A recent report has looked at an innovative new marine venture, The Energy Observer, which is proving that producing hydrogen from sea water is a possibility. The Energy Observer is a 100% energy self-sufficient boat, sailing around the world to prove the usefulness of cutting-edge technologies, including a hydrogen fuel cell made with help from Toyota (1)
The Energy Observer is not the first project to use hydrogen from sea water & the onboard technologies are showing that the flexibility of the ongoing production whilst sailing, could have greater possibilities for the marine sector going forward.
The Energy Observer uses a patchwork of different cutting-edge technologies to generate enough energy to power nine homes each day. During the day, 200 square meters of solar panels charge up the boat’s lithium ion batteries. Any extra energy is stored as hydrogen, thanks to a special fuel cell that goes by the name Rex H2 (short for Range Extender H2).
The Rex H2 was made by Toyota, using components from Toyota’s hydrogen-powered Mirai vehicle line. The fuel cell brings in seawater, removes the salt and then separates the H from the pure H20 with electricity. (1)
Because fossil fuels have a hundred years plus head start on all other vehicular fuel sources for the transportation of humans & human lifestyle needs; it is going to take some time for the collective alternative zero emission fuels to establish themselves.
While there is a raging debate between proponents of hydrogen fuel cells — including Toyota — and proponents of lithium ion batteries — like Tesla’s Elon Musk — over which technology is best for powering the post-fossil fuel vehicles of the future, one of the main benefits of hydrogen is its ability to store more electricity by weight than its lithium ion competition. (1)
Therefore, as we consider our transportation fuelling needs in an ever changing climate, one thing is for sure; zero emissions fuelling systems will continue to develop globally to support the ever growing population & the need for cleaner air for all.
Written by Katy-Jane Mason for & on behalf of Dolphin N2