PORTLAND, Ore. Green energy initiatives are striving to replace fossil fuels with renewable resources like hydrogen and photosynthesis.
The U.S. Energy Department (DoE) is funding university research on near-term applications for hydrogen power in order to demonstrate its feasibility while drumming up public support for the technology. Meanwhile, medium-term applications for commercial fuel cell technology are still gearing up.
For the long-term, the European Science Foundation (ESF) is developing artificial photosynthesis technologies to harness solar energy to produce cheap fuels, including hydrogen, alcohol and even the hydrocarbons from natural gas and oil.
"We are investigating early market applications of hydrogen for the Department of Energy," said professor Scott Grasman of the Missouri University of Science and Technology (Rolla), where hydrogen is already powering campus shuttle buses using converted internal combustion engines. "We are identifying applications where the cost and technology curve are such that we can get fuel cells into the hands of users now."
According to Grasman, short-term applications for fuel cells should be implemented now. Not only will early applications demonstrate the feasibility of hydrogen technologies, they will also educate the public about painful, but needed, infrastructure changes such as hydrogen refueling stations.
"Fuel cell vehicles and power generation in residential settings are further down the road, so we are looking are near-term applications such as materials handling equipment . . . as well as near-term consumer electronics applications," said Grasman.
As is often the case with fledgling technologies, Grasman expects the U.S. military to fund many early applications.
"The military is especially interested in materials handling equipment as an early adopter for fuel cell technology," said Grasman. "Hydrogen will help with the military's battlefield readiness, because it avoids the big logistical issues of getting gasoline onto the battlefield."
The Missouri school has built hydrogen refueling stations on campus. The university has also completed a pilot study on how hydrogen power can be used at airports, not only to save energy with renewable resources but also to educate the public about the coming hydrogen economy (see video below).