The Hydrogen Stream: Carbon-coated nickel anode to solve problems of hydrogen fuel cell without precious metals


A team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Cornell University, and Wuhan University have designed a nickel-based electrocatalyst with a 2-nanometer shell made of nitrogen-doped carbon to solve the two problems of nonprecious-metal hydrogen oxidation reaction electrocatalysts: low intrinsic activity from strong hydrogen binding energy and poor durability due to rapid passivation from metal oxide formation. According to their paper, recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, nickel nanoparticles tend to adsorb oxygen-containing reaction intermediates. The “hydrogen fuel cell has an anode catalyst consisting of a solid nickel core surrounded by the carbon shell. When paired with a cobalt-manganese cathode, the resulting completely precious-metal-free hydrogen fuel cell outputs more than 200 milliwatts per square centimeter,” the researchers wrote. According to the team, an additional advantage is that the configuration of the active site increases the tolerance for carbon monoxide impurities in the hydrogen fuel. “This means the fuel cells do not need a special unit to remove carbon monoxide and can use less refined hydrogen, further reducing costs.”

Europe is a clear opportunity for Australian companies, and the Netherlands is taking the lead. Europe “is an important marketplace,” said Jason Crusan, vice president of technology at Australian gas producer Woodside, during the World Hydrogen Summit in Rotterdam. Many Australian attendees took part virtually and in person. During the three-day conference, the Port of Rotterdam proved once more its hydrogen ambitions. Together with companies, it offered European institutions to supply northwestern Europe with 4.6 million tons of hydrogen annually by 2030. “This is considerably more than expected,” the port wrote on Tuesday. On Friday, Gasco, HyNewGen, Linde, Vopak, and Port of Rotterdam said they were concluding a feasibility study to develop a 200 to 500 MW green hydrogen project in Chile (Project Tango).

Also taking part in the event, European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans underscored the importance of Australia, the Americas and the Mediterranean. “I started out today with scientific revolutions in Rotterdam, and I am ending with new energy forms coming from Africa and the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean is back, which I find fascinating. But the Mediterranean and the North Sea are connected,” said Timmermans on Tuesday. 

Imports of green hydrogen and green ammonia “are already cost-competitive and can substitute most fossil fuels used by heavy industry and transport in the EU within eight years,” wrote Colorado-based non-profit organization RMI in a study, adding that the European Union should incentivise infrastructures for industrial hubs, promote a certification system and define import rules that prioritise low-carbon fuels. “Incorporating green hydrogen and ammonia into trade policy with renewables-rich countries like Australia, Brazil, Chile, and North African nations will enable imports to reach the continent as early as 2024.” According to RMI’s work, imported green hydrogen from regions with optimal renewable power should cost less than $4/kg in 2024 (including transport), falling below $2/kg by 2030. Renewable hydrogen produced in Europe would then be cost-competitive in 2030. 

Trade Association Hydrogen Europe wrote that a reduction in hydrogen delivery price, an increase in renewable electricity generation, and hydrogen storage solutions are three necessary conditions under which steel can be produced economically from iron ore using hydrogen from renewable energy sources. Regarding costs, the end consumers should receive significant financial support till production costs fall, unless they are willing to pay a green premium. In less than a decade, hydrogen prices should not be an issue. “Electrolyser CAPEX alone, are expected to fall by around three-fourths compared to current levels – enough to enable renewable hydrogen production costs with low-cost renewable energy, to reach $1.50/kg by 2025,” wrote Hydrogen Europe in its “Steel from Solar Energy” study. With regard to scaling up, Hydrogen Europe wrote that the sector would need to access, alongside public support and both debt and equity finance to install the required additional renewable electricity generation. “Converting just a single steel plant with a capacity of 4 Mt of crude steel per year (EU average) would require: 1.2-1.3 GW of electrolysis running at full load, €3.3 billion of capital investment (including €1.2 billion for electrolysis) and between 10.2 to 21.7 ha of land for the electrolysis plant (and additional area for new renewable power deployment). … When using solar PV exclusively for hydrogen production, the required electrolysis power would grow to around 4.5-5 GW, driving up the required CAPEX to almost €7 billion for a single plant of average capacity,” Hydrogen Europe wrote. Multiple salt caverns could be necessary for storage capacity for a single steel plant, the trade association added. Hydrogen Europe launched the study during the Smarter E event in Munich.

In a new report, trade association RenewableUK calls for the creation of a green hydrogen roadmap in order to achieve the UK's 5 GW target, fully exempt electrolyzers from levies to reduce market distortions, and unlock strategic infrastructures. The report adds that high-skilled green jobs could provide ample opportunities for the UK to become an exporter of green hydrogen, especially to the EU. “The Scottish government has estimated that becoming an exporter of green hydrogen to Europe could create up to £25 billion of GVA [gross value add] and over 300,000 jobs in Scotland by 2045,” reported RenewableUK.

New Delhi-based Gail awarded a contract to set up one of the largest proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolysers in India. The project is to be installed at Gail’s Vijaipur Complex, in Madhya Pradesh's Guna District. “The project has been designed to produce around 4.3 metric tons of hydrogen per day (approx. 10 MW capacity) with a purity of about 99.999 volume percent. It is scheduled to be commissioned by November 2023. In line with the vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat, the project has been awarded to a vendor having domestic value addition of more than 50 percent,” Gail wrote on Thursday.

US-based heavy equipment and hydrogen technologies company Cummins is collaborating with heavy-duty truck manufacturer Daimler Truck North America (DTNA) to supply Freightliner Cascadia trucks with its Cummins hydrogen fuel cell powertrains for use in North America. “Freightliner will leverage Cummins’ fourth generation fuel cell powertrain, which provides improved power density, efficiency and durability,” wrote Cummins. Upon successful validation, the companies intend to have initial units available in 2024 for selected customers.

Meanwhile, Renault hopes to receive first orders for its hydrogen-powered minibuses and vans from the Netherlands and Germany soon, the head of the company's light commercial vehicles department told Reuters.

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