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Celebrating the Hydrogen Energy Future, Today

Neil Armstrong famously said “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” when taking his first steps on the moon. The U.S. space program contained many other giant leaps for mankind, including the utilization of fuel cell technology. For decades, NASA used hydrogen fuel cells to provide electricity, heat and water for its missions. From its start helping put an American on the moon, today fuel cell technology is powering forklifts, cars, buses, trucks, trains, and drones; connecting citizens by fueling global communications networks; and ensuring reliable and resilient electricity for customers that include Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, utilities, municipal facilities, military operations, and more.

The atomic weight of hydrogen is 1.008, so to commemorate this energy powerhouse and to recognize how far the technology has come, the fuel cell industry and its supporters have designated October 8th (10/08) as National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day. 2018 marks the fourth year that Congress has officially recognized this day with a Senate resolution. This October, a range of activities around the country will celebrate the important benefits this innovative, American-developed technology brings, including energy security and reliability through efficient use of domestic energy; increased manufacturing jobs and high-value technology exports; and all with reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Today, fuel cells and hydrogen are beginning to make a huge impact on the energy landscape in the U.S. There are more than 5,000 fuel cell vehicles from major automakers in the hands of drivers in California, expanding soon to the Northeast. Over 21,000 fuel cell forklifts are operating around the clock in warehouses, distribution centers, and cold storage facilities across the country, disrupting the traditional material handling market by replacing battery-powered systems and saving customers time, space and money. Dozens of fuel cell buses are in revenue service in several states, and fuel cell-powered heavy-duty trucks are starting to prove their worth in demonstration projects at the country’s busiest ports. Fuel cell vehicles bring the best of both worlds into consumers hands, by combining the fast refueling time and long-range of traditional internal combustion engine vehicles with the high torque and quiet drive of electric vehicles, all with zero tailpipe emissions.

As these commercial fuel cell vehicles gain steam, an early network of hydrogen fueling stations has developed in California to support these zero-emission vehicles. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and can be sourced from a variety of domestic feedstocks such as natural gas, or renewable biogas generated from landfills, wastewater treatment plants, industrial farms, breweries, wineries or food processing facilities. Hydrogen can also be produced by splitting water using electricity from the grid or renewables such as solar or wind power. Today, there are 35 retail hydrogen stations in operation in California, with another 30 stations already in development. These will soon be joined by an early network more than a dozen hydrogen stations in the Northeast. There is huge potential for economic and employment gains within the hydrogen industry as this infrastructure continues to be developed.

Beyond transportation, there are a wide range of fuel cell systems operating today powering hospitals, retail sites, call centers, cell towers, banks, company headquarters, apartment buildings, data centers, grocery stores, schools and universities, and other critical facilities. Fuel cell systems can be installed as part of the electric grid, or in parallel to it, so if there is a power outage, the fuel cell will continue producing power for the facilities it serves. This resiliency is invaluable due to the aging electrical infrastructure, increase of severe weather incidents, and cybersecurity threats, which is why many customers are installing fuel cells at their most critical sites. Fuel cells are also being integrated into microgrids to ensure reliable, continuous power to first responder networks, police and fire stations, and shelters in the case of an emergency. In addition, there are more than 8,500 fuel cell systems providing long-lasting and reliable back-up power to telecommunications and other networks across the United States, even in the most rural areas.

This is just the beginning for our fuel cell and hydrogen future. The next few years will see more automakers enter the fuel cell vehicle marketplace, more hydrogen stations fueling these vehicles, more customers adopting fuel cell systems, and more economic, environmental, and national security benefits to the American people. Today, we celebrate National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day and look forward to a brighter, cleaner, more reliable future with hydrogen and fuel cell technology.

Morry Markowitz's picture

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Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on October 12, 2018

Excellent, open-minded overview. The proton (hydrogen ion) is indeed a fascinating counterpart of the other charged fundamental particle, the electron.

Trying to bring together the (1980) separate fields of biochemistry and solid state physics it was useful to point out;

1) Water is a semiconductor, acids bases / proton donors acceptors behave like silicon semiconductor electron donor acceptors.

2) Biochemistry is full of symmetry structures and conductive pathways embedded in non-conductive insulator organic material. Noticing the cumulative dipole structure of old Linus Pauling's alpha helix got me cussed out.

In short, water based biochemistry is the counterpart of silicon based electronics. Great if you can make (my antique notion of) fuel cells scale economically. But your chemical physics expertise would also be valued helping convert hydrogen bonded cellulose to basic sugars.

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