October 6, 2008

Tuned power doubles solar hydrogen generation

Carefully match the electrical output from solar cells to the input of an electrolyzer and you can double the efficiency of the process that extracts hydrogen from water.

A test system at the General Motors R&D Center in Michigan achieved 12 percent efficiency by directly connecting a commercial solar electric generator to a commercial electrolyzer and tuning the devices' voltages to match each other.

Initial results at lower efficiencies produced enough hydrogen in a day to power a fuel-cell electric car for 30 miles, which is about the average distance an urban commuter travels a day.

Researchers are in the early stages of combining photovoltaics and electrolysis in a single device, but that technology is many years from being commercially viable. Improving the efficiency of existing technologies could help make hydrogen vehicles practical.

Research paper:
Optimization of Solar Powered Hydrogen Production Using Photovoltaic Electrolysis Devices
International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, published online September 26, 2008

Researchers' homepage:
Chemical and Environmental Sciences Laboratory, General Motors R&D Center

Related stories and briefs:
Cheap catalyst makes hydrogen from biofuel -- related development
Cheap catalyst boosts solar hydrogen prospects -- related development

Further info:
A Solar-Powered, High-Efficiency Hydrogen Fueling System Using High-Pressure Electrolysis of Water: Design and Initial Results -- slide presentation on initial results
Thermal optimization of a solar photovoltaic powered electrolyzer system -- patent application
Apparatus to reduce the cost of renewable hydrogen fuel generation by electrolysis using combined solar and grid power -- patent application

Back to ERN October 6/13, 2008



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