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Japanese Start-up Plans Hydrogen Fuel Cell For 2014

Unknown Lamer posted about a year ago | from the 1996-here-we-come dept.

Power 55

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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Doomed to failure (3, Insightful)

Guspaz (556486) | about a year ago | (#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).

Re:Doomed to failure (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#45014101)

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.

Re:Doomed to failure (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#45014619)

Disposable, but refillable.

Re:Doomed to failure (1)

Guspaz (556486) | about a year ago | (#45014705)

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).

Re:Doomed to failure (1)

kermidge (2221646) | about a year ago | (#45021753)

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:Doomed to failure (1, Interesting)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about a year ago | (#45014247)

I was thinking that mostly the name 'AquaFAIRY' was going to be their undoing myself...

Re:Doomed to failure (2)

NatasRevol (731260) | about a year ago | (#45014491)

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.

Great for Electrolisis... (1)

pollarda (632730) | about a year ago | (#45014753)

I was thinking these would be great to use for electrolisis to make hydrogen for my fuel cell. Oh, wait...

Re:Doomed to failure (1, Interesting)

moteyalpha (1228680) | about a year ago | (#45014785)

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 generation.
A recent change in design will allow the direct conversion of natural gas, or basically any type of fuel directly to electrical energy in real time with very high efficiency. It would also work for solar or geothermal, but solar it is not -really- portable, so any normal application must depend on chemical energy.
The site. [moteyways.com]
Our technology is not going to be patented or restricted in any way. The site is being continually updated as I generate the documentation and so it is a WIP. It is cheap to implement and we hope to deliver test units soon. Of course nothing is certain until it is pudding and can be tasted and that is what we are doing with the university. We will have published papers with all the documentation from university lab experiments available soon. This will also allow interested people to visit and see the technology first hand.

Re:Doomed to failure (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45016389)

Moderators: Visit the site. Total fakery. Mod down.

Re:Doomed to failure (1)

moteyalpha (1228680) | about a year ago | (#45016731)

AC:

Moderators: Visit the site. Total fakery. Mod down.

That -is- confusing, I can't use my mod points to mod myself down after I have posted :)
Boy, if I had ads on the site I woud post anoymously and second that to push traffic, but alas it is flash free, no ads, no blinking gifs, no cookies, no javascript and not even one pony.

Re:Doomed to failure (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45016547)

It's much simpler than that.

Any company with fairy in it's name is doomed to fail. Period.

Re:Doomed to failure (1)

aiadot (3055455) | about a year ago | (#45021387)

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.

Remember, first iterations of new technologies usually suck. Especially if they are target at the consumer market. The first consumer grade PCs sucked. The first EVs sucked. The first solar panels sucked. The first VR devices sucked(and still kind of suck). Look how great things are eventually turning up nowadays.

...Aisle 7, right next to the plutonium. (2, Interesting)

pla (258480) | about a year ago | (#45014107)

Right. Because 3000psi hydrogen gas makes a much more convenient storage medium than a plastic gallon jug of methanol or ethanol.

Re:...Aisle 7, right next to the plutonium. (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#45014127)

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.

Re:...Aisle 7, right next to the plutonium. (1)

0xG (712423) | about a year ago | (#45014219)

RTFA

Re:...Aisle 7, right next to the plutonium. (4, Informative)

necro81 (917438) | about a year ago | (#45014245)

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] .

Re:...Aisle 7, right next to the plutonium. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45016521)

Are you a stone or a sponge?

Re:...Aisle 7, right next to the plutonium. (1)

kermidge (2221646) | about a year ago | (#45021883)

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 vindicated.

Re:...Aisle 7, right next to the plutonium. (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about a year ago | (#45014529)

Less temptation to drink it though.

Re:...Aisle 7, right next to the plutonium. (1)

AlecC (512609) | about a year ago | (#45015301)

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.

lentils (1)

For a Free Internet (1594621) | about a year ago | (#45014111)

They are awesorme fuel, I am eating them now! JAPAN HAS NOTHING ON ME! Bring it.

Cheap Hydrogen (2)

foxalopex (522681) | about a year ago | (#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.

Re:Cheap Hydrogen (2)

taiwanjohn (103839) | about a year ago | (#45014263)

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.

Re:Cheap Hydrogen (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about a year ago | (#45014561)

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 to make carbon-based fuels from solar energy, water, and CO2.

Re:Cheap Hydrogen (1)

TFloore (27278) | about a year ago | (#45017833)

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 rooftop solar panels is the installation, not the panels. Double the number of panels, installation cost doesn't change that much, use the extra energy to split water into hydrogen, store the hydrogen and use it at night to power the house when the sun doesn't shine. Keep the electric utility connection (and, reasonably, pay some kind of "connection fee" even if I don't use any electricity, probably even if I net provide power instead of consume it) and I have self-sufficient home electrical power for a one-time payment. I can probably tax deduct the interest if I pay for it with a home improvement loan, too.

Now, is it really economically feasible to do that? The rooftop solar panels and DC-AC converters, yeah, they tend to have an okay ROI now, less than 15 years for a system that should last 25-30 years.

Add in a water electrolysis system, hydrogen storage, and a hydrogen fuel cell? Okay, that's harder to make the numbers work out right. I'm still hopeful for 10 years from now, though.

It's hard to convince myself this won't become standard in the southern US in 20 years, if the engineering can get worked out.

Re:Cheap Hydrogen (2)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about a year ago | (#45014571)

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 (4, Informative)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about a year ago | (#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.

Re:Cheap Hydrogen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45018499)

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

That is literally how our internal combustion engines were developed. They were run on extremely inefficient-to-produce fuels when they were invented, such as pressed peanuts.

Low Power (1)

Nkwe (604125) | about a year ago | (#45014121)

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.

Re:Low Power (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#45014179)

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.

Re:Low Power (1)

firex726 (1188453) | about a year ago | (#45014285)

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

Re:Low Power (1)

iggymanz (596061) | about a year ago | (#45014395)

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.

Re:Low Power (1)

gewalker (57809) | about a year ago | (#45015787)

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.

Re:Low Power (1)

iggymanz (596061) | about a year ago | (#45016875)

used to work at nuke plant, ramp up was given in percent rated power per minute

Re:Low Power (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45014511)

20-40 mega watts per hour?

You sure about that?

Re:Low Power (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a year ago | (#45014335)

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.

Re:Low Power (2)

Nidi62 (1525137) | about a year ago | (#45014615)

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.

Re:Low Power (2)

cusco (717999) | about a year ago | (#45014773)

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 . . .

Re:Low Power (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45014611)

And I would like a pony.

I want a unicorn too.

Re:Low Power (1)

necro81 (917438) | about a year ago | (#45014357)

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:Low Power (2, Informative)

mlts (1038732) | about a year ago | (#45015621)

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 require electricity for the vent fans for the heat exchanger.

There is also the EFOY cell that uses methanol that is starting to be used in RVs in the US (Roadtrek E-treks), but it is still quite expensive. If it starts selling for a bit less, it will go a long way to keeping batteries maintained when a rig is stored or when boondocking.

With all the disadvantages of hydrogen (3600 PSI, while a propane tank will vent at 200 PSI), I'd give this a good start, but still needs work before it would have a real niche here in the US.

Bloom Energy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45014411)

So what ever happened to the pie-in-the-sky solution that Bloom Energy was pushing. After the 60 minutes spot, I thought it was the next big thing.

Aquaman's sidekick (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45014459)

/got nothin

Hi, drogen! (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#45014555)

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.

Re:Hi, drogen! (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#45014669)

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! (3, Informative)

LoRdTAW (99712) | about a year ago | (#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.

Re:Hi, drogen! (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about a year ago | (#45015461)

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.

Its a start (1)

madcat_sun (2812213) | about a year ago | (#45014689)

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

Aquafairy? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45015089)

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

Nothing new here (2)

Joey Vegetables (686525) | about a year ago | (#45015327)

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.

I'll believe it when I can actually buy one (1)

Tony Isaac (1301187) | about a year ago | (#45016357)

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 startups come and go already!

Aquafairy, a.k.a. ... (1)

FridayBob (619244) | about a year ago | (#45016365)

... a watery tart.

Would LOVE to See This Become Practical! (1)

Ferretman (224859) | about a year ago | (#45022707)

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
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