The government is investing up to $6M in the development of New Zealand's own hydrogen-powered fuel cell technology, extracting the hydrogen from coal.
Researchers expect to have the technology up and running in a laboratory in three years, and a prototype in the field within six years.
Fuel cells run on energy produced in a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. Initially it would be used to produce energy at small sites, and for transport. A fuel-cell car could be plugged into the electricity grid overnight to generate hydrogen to power it the next day.
In the longer term the hydrogen should be pure enough to run high-efficiency fuel cells, micro-turbines and the fuel cells of transport fleets. In New Zealand, CRL Energy, the former research arm of state coal company Solid Energy, is to be funded to find ways to produce hydrogen from coal.
At the same time, the government's science funding agency, the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, is investing in a projectby crown science company Industrial Research Ltd (IRL) to use the hydrogen in fuel cells. These could range from small ones to power city vehicles, to larger units which could produce the electricity required to run a high-rise building or a factory.
The research manager for IRL's "Electrotec" team, Alister Gardiner, said it was possible to turn hydrogen into electrical energy with no "waste" except clean water. Commercialisation of fuel-cell technology had begun and IRL had already demonstrated a 5 kW fuel cell.
IRL was seeking the best way to obtain hydrogen gas of sufficient purity for electricity generation in small fuel cells at sites close to where the electricity would be used. CRL Energy general manager Rob Whitney said hydrogen generated from local resources could also make the nation more self-sufficient in energy.
This could provide significant economic benefits, including the creation of new industry, reduced overseas debt, and reduced impacts from oil price fluctuations. "Not since themotorcar replaced the horse has our society seen such a great leap forward in mass-producible energy technology," he said.
Recent CRL Energy work on newly developed and experimental advanced coal-conversion technologies showed that many New Zealand coals were particularly suitable for hydrogen-rich gas production. Solid Energy CEO Don Elder said the coal industry was pleased to be involved in a project because it offered the potential of clean and economic energy being produced from coal.
"New Zealand has enough coal to provide energy for thousands of years if we can make it environmentally viable."
Source: New Zealand Herald / Alexander's Gas and Oil Cnnnections
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