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Japanese Start-up Plans Hydrogen Fuel Cell For 2014 55

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the 1996-here-we-come dept.
angry tapir writes "A Japanese start-up says it has finessed a technology that could finally make consumer-grade fuel cells a reality. If successful, the company, Aquafairy, would create a business where many much larger companies have failed. Prototypes of the company's hydrogen fuel cell technology are on show this week at the Ceatec exhibition in Japan where the company's president, Mike Aizawa, said he hopes the first products will be on sale next year."
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Japanese Start-up Plans Hydrogen Fuel Cell For 2014

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  • Doomed to failure (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Guspaz (556486) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @10:55AM (#45014071)

    Their specs indicate lower specific energy than lithium ion batteries, combined with a huge base unit. The end result is that you're going to end up with something that is heavier and bulkier than existing USB lithium ion batteries, making it just another gimmick.

    I could see them having some success in much larger scale applications, though (like three orders of magnitude).

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Also they are disposable fuel carts. Making this a non-starter. There is a reason I have not bought disposable batteries in more than a decade.

      • Disposable, but refillable.

        • by Guspaz (556486)

          It doesn't look like they're refillable (these use a solid fuel that releases hydrogen gas when exposed to water, not a gas or liquid).

          • by kermidge (2221646)

            So, take the 'empties' back to exchange them for re-manufactured ones at a goodly discount.

            Depending on application and needs I see this as distinct advantage over batteries, which eventually wear out (although nice thing about most lithium-ion is that they're readily reclaimable, if I understand correctly). I'd like to see figures on power density beyond what's in the article, and on operations envelope. So far, though, looks interesting; I suppose follow-up will be if Mike can get these to market.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      I was thinking that mostly the name 'AquaFAIRY' was going to be their undoing myself...
      • Can you imagine their product lines?

        This is our princess line.
        These tiny ones are our oompa loompa models.
        This special one is our queenie.

    • I was thinking these would be great to use for electrolisis to make hydrogen for my fuel cell. Oh, wait...
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by moteyalpha (1228680)

      Their specs indicate lower specific energy than lithium ion batteries, combined with a huge base unit. The end result is that you're going to end up with something that is heavier and bulkier than existing USB lithium ion batteries, making it just another gimmick.

      I could see them having some success in much larger scale applications, though (like three orders of magnitude).

      I agree with that.
      It seems odd that they would want to expend more energy to convert to a different energy base.
      I have been working on this for decades and have finally developed a system that deals with the problem. I recently put up a web site that is intended to have all the specifications of the system, how to fabricate, as well as the experimental results that can be independently verified like real science. I am working with a local university as well as a respected expert in nuclear energy power g

    • by aiadot (3055455)
      Yes, but given that is a really "new tech", that is a really short-sighted point of view. If they at least make sure that it is stable, it works and can somewhat be easily manufacturable, then I think that is more than enough for now. Why? Because they will show that the tech has a future. They will attract government and private investors. They will have the resources to develop better products and eventually, who knows, this tech might become a game changer in the battery market we've been all looking for
  • by pla (258480) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @10:58AM (#45014107) Journal
    Right. Because 3000psi hydrogen gas makes a much more convenient storage medium than a plastic gallon jug of methanol or ethanol.
    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Well in both cases I think you will want cartridges. For safety and usability.

      Fuel cells don't much care for commonly available methanol or ethanol. They are poisoned very easily and the commonly available stuff is not pure enough.

    • by 0xG (712423)
      RTFA
    • by necro81 (917438) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @11:08AM (#45014245) Journal
      You must have glossed over the part of the article where it states that the hydrogen fuel is not stored as a high-pressure gas:

      the company has developed a treatment that turns it into a sold form that's safe to handle but is still useful as a fuel

      Details aren't mentioned in the article, but there have been a variety of groups demonstrating various powders and matrices that absorb the gaseous hydrogen and release it later (in response to gentle heating, a drop in vapor pressure, etc.), a so-called hydrogen sponge [google.com].

      • by kermidge (2221646)

        Yup, guy lived not too far down the road, Ovshinsky, he of amorphous crystalline structure solar cells, earlier (late 70s?) demonstrated tanks filled with basically steel wool. Stored a lot of hydrogen safely. As a demonstration he pierced a full tank with a bullet from his deer rifle. Couldn't see the flame in the bright sunlight, just the heat shimmer. That's all it was, a small flame, no boom. He still couldn't get investors for it at the time, although now it's a big business - he was finally vindi

    • Less temptation to drink it though.
    • by AlecC (512609)

      From TFA " Typically an extremely reactive fuel, the company has developed a treatment that turns it into a sold form that's safe to handle but is still useful as a fuel, said Aizawa."

      Hence no 3000psi gas. But also, no credibility to me. Until this miracle is explained, it sounds fake to me. Most likely, some other (probably extremely expensive) fuel that generates hydrogen as an intermediate.

  • by foxalopex (522681) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @10:59AM (#45014119)

    Hydrogen Fuel-Cell systems are interesting but I suspect the whole idea doesn't work. There's still a problem of how you're actually suppose to produce the hydrogen for cheap. Imagine developing a combustion engine while you haven't even worked out a process to drill or refine oil for the engine. Besides, I'm not sure folks would want to buy fuel for their laptop rather than just plugging it in for few pennies of electricity.

    • I reckon this is more about convenience than efficiency. Look at the popularity of "brick" batteries to keep your smartphone going all day. This is the part I found interesting:

      the company has developed a treatment that turns [hydrogen] into a sold form that's safe to handle but is still useful as a fuel

      So apparently their business model is to sell packets of "hydrogen-goop" in your local 7-11. Hey, as long as it's reasonably safe for the user and the environment, go for it. Who knows? It might actually take off.

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      The idea is that it gives you an energy "currency" that's fungible, like current fuels, and can be easily made from whatever energy source you have on hand, unlike current fuels. Where that energy comes from is essentially a separate issue as far as hydrogen research is concerned, although the way that it was sold to the public you'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

      There is some work on making hydrogen efficiently from solar energy and water, but that tends to get lumped with the related work that aims t

      • by TFloore (27278)

        Yeah, this is basically how I interpretted it. Where the hydrogen comes from is outside scope of the sales pitch. I don't care about a portable battery replacement though.

        I have a house with "common asphalt shingles" like most home owners in the US. When that house needs to be re-roofed, I'd like to get a set of solar panels, if I can convince myself at the time that it is cost-effective. That will probably be in 10-15 years, as the house was built in the mid-1990s. A large part of the cost of consumer roo

    • That's the chicken and egg argument, yes. The other part is "why would you develop a cheap method of producing hydrogen when there's nothing that uses it." Solving one won't, obviously, magically solve the other, but it will make it much more likely to BE solved.
    • Re:Cheap Hydrogen (Score:5, Informative)

      by pixelpusher220 (529617) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @12:03PM (#45014955)

      Imagine developing a combustion engine while you haven't even worked out a process to drill or refine oil for the engine.

      You mean like Mr. Diesel did with his engine? It was demoed running on peanut oil in 1901 I think.

      Hydrogen is the most plentiful element in the universe. Using the state transition of water/electrolysis to store and release energy means that we have a completely renewable source of hydrogen. 'Using' the fuel simply puts it back into the feedstock state.

      Couple that with the fact that more energy hits the earth as sunlight in an 'hour' than we currently use across the entire planet in an entire year and you have all the energy you need to split water into hydrogen.

  • The TFA talks about a small unit that puts out a couple of watts and a "large" unit that puts out 200 watts. While this is cool, I would like to see units that put out several thousand watts, or enough to be used as a backup or even primary source of power for a house.
    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      And I would like a pony.

      What you are talking about would cost a lot more. Unless they have some magic you can't get around using platinum series metals and they are not cheap.

      • by firex726 (1188453)

        Also as a comparison a Prius motor will use something like 20,000-40,000 kW/hr

        • by iggymanz (596061)

          eh, kW/hr doesn't mean anything.

          A prius battery holds 6.5 ampere-hours at 273 volts, but normally is only charged to half capacity. less than 900 watts for an hour, basically.

          • by gewalker (57809)

            Actually watts/hr does have a very useful meaning. It it used to specify how quickly your can "ramp up" an energy producing device. Hydro electric plants have a very high rating, nuclear plants are quite low. Original poster clearly misused this (unfortunately all too common). Natural gas generation is often chosen in part because they perform well in terms of ramp up speed. You only have so much hydro power storage so in many areas, the available hydro is dedicated to peak load situations.

      • Nah, you don't really want a pony. They take up a lot of room and smell funny.

        And you can't charge your iPhone with it.

        • by Nidi62 (1525137)

          And you can't charge your iPhone with it.

          Set up a treadmill attached to a generator and put a salt lick at the front of the treadmill. Problem solved.

        • by cusco (717999)

          Sure you can! You just accumulate the methane it produces, purify it, compress it, and burn it in a natural gas generator. No problem, it would only take one wave of the magic wand to get all that working . . .

    • by necro81 (917438)
      I don't know if there are any viable products that you can buy right now, but there are several outfits attempting to do so [1 [forbes.com]] [2 [inhabitat.com]]. A home-sized fuel cell, operated off of natural gas, could provide combined heat and power (i.e., co-generation) for a home at modest cost and reduced emissions compared to many conventional alternatives. The tough part is the upfront cost - $20k - 40k - which makes it hard to recoup the investment in a reasonable timeframe.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mlts (1038732) *

      A "large" unit that does 200 watts might be useful for trickle charging batteries on a RV to allow for some boondocking when the solar panels don't give enough power to keep the bank charged... but we already have technologies out that give a better energy/volume than what is stated.

      Truma, an European RV appliance maker makes a fuel cell that uses propane. It makes up to 250 watts, which may not run an A/C, but it does a good job at keeping the batteries topped off, which is important because RV furnaces r

  • Isn't this only useful if people produce hydrogen without burning fossil fuels to generate electricity to make hydrogen from water?

    Either renewable biomass burning, or some other electricity generation, or some other method of hydrogen extraction magically not dependent on electricity?

    Perhaps it would be better, if just for old-school pollution, I guess.

    • It's cheaper to make hydrogen from fossil fuel directly, though getting it to fuel-cell-worthy efficiency is a very tricky process - even a hint of carbon monoxide destroys fuel cells.

      Splitting water has the advantage of changing production rate within seconds, making it ideal for exploiting periods of low electricity demand and thus low electricity price.

    • Re:Hi, drogen! (Score:4, Informative)

      by LoRdTAW (99712) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @11:57AM (#45014879)

      Most commercial hydrogen is produced by steam reforming natural gas, not electrolysis.

      They key to a hydrogen economy (Ugh, buzzword/phrase) isn't the production of hydrogen but its storage. 3000 PSI (20.68Mpa) cylinders aren't appealing to safety advocates or consumers and other forms of storage haven't panned out. Plus the energy needed to compress hydrogen to high pressures begins to make the overall process much less efficient. Without a method to densely store hydrogen safely, effectively and efficiently, liquid fuels (including liquefied gas) will remain the preferred choice.

    • Solar provides all the electricity you'll ever need. Use it to split water to get hydrogen and poof, now solar works 'at night' too.
  • Well I think it has a whole bunch of fails, but its a start, and when there is one working correctly,it doesnt matter the size the weight the name of the thing its gonna be the next humanity energy
  • Already exists (Score:4, Informative)

    by SwedishPenguin (1035756) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @11:44AM (#45014695)

    A Swedish company already did this, they call it "myFC" and it's powered by a "puck" of hydrogen. Wether it's useful, I have no idea.
    http://www.kth.se/en/forskning/pa-djupet/ladda-mobilen-med-vatten-1.381551 [www.kth.se]
    http://powertrekk.com/ [powertrekk.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What kind of name is that for a company? Why did "moistened bint" immediately spring to my mind?

  • by Joey Vegetables (686525) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @12:30PM (#45015327) Journal
    It's always been possible to use metal hydrides to, in effect, store and release hydrogen relatively safely. I'm guessing this is another attempt to do the same thing. The problem is economics. Even when stored this way, hydrogen simply does not have the volume density to compete with other forms of energy storage. It is a promising technology that may ultimately prove useful if cheap liquid fuels actually do run out, but until then I have to be a little skeptical.
  • Fuel cells have been around for more than 100 years. The problem has always been the cost of manufacture, and getting fuel to the unit. Many companies make fuel cells today, on a commercial scale. But nobody has figured out yet how to get the cost down to where it makes sense to homeowners. A hydrogen fuel supply doesn't exactly make it easy to get the fuel to your unit. Natural gas is much more accessible, at least in the US. So good luck, I'm all for startups trying new things, but we've seen many s

  • ... a watery tart.
  • I wanted to do a home fuel cell generator for my new house but they just weren't ready when it came time to build (and still aren't). I would love to see them finally become practical.

    Ferret

I bet the human brain is a kludge. -- Marvin Minsky

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