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Hydrogen Energy Stations: Poly-Production of Electricity, Hydrogen, and Thermal Energy


Research Report

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Suggested Citation:
Lipman, Timothy E. and Cameron Brooks (2006) Hydrogen Energy Stations: Poly-Production of Electricity, Hydrogen, and Thermal Energy. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Research Report UCD-ITS-RR-06-07

The "hydrogen energy station" is one method of hydrogen production at small and medium scales. Unlike more conventional hydrogen station designs where hydrogen is simply delivered or produced on-site with a fuel "reformer" or water electrolyzer and then compressed and dispensed, energy stations would provide multiple functions in the same facility. They would integrate systems for production of electricity for 1) local uses and/or the utility grid, 2) re-use of thermal energy "waste heat" for building heating/cooling needs, and 3) purified hydrogen for refueling vehicles.

Hydrogen energy stations can be of various types and configurations. Most designs to date are based around some type of fuel cell power plant for electricity production, with coproduction of hydrogen either by splitting the stream of hydrogen from a fuel reformer or electrolyzer (to power the fuel cell and provide electricity with one stream and to refuel vehicles with the other) or by using excess hydrogen from the fuel side of the fuel cell system to provide vehicle fuel.

A few hydrogen energy station demonstration projects have been conducted in the past few years, and additional projects are anticipated as part of the California Hydrogen Highway Network initiative and other regional distributed power and hydrogen fuel efforts. We suggest that the interest in hydrogen as a transportation fuel offers opportunities for the development of additional hydrogen energy station projects, as we are beginning to see in California. Promoting new projects such as these will allow for the more complete exploration of the varying potential of different designs, configurations, and locations/settings for the energy station concept.

Clean Energy Group (CEG) commissioned this report in order to support the Public Fuel Cell Alliance project (PFCA) and to more fully explore the potential for hydrogen energy stations to play an important role in advancing the development of clean and efficient technologies for both stationary and transportation applications.

The following are several recommendations for consideration by key stakeholders that have an interest in developing strategies for promoting these new technologies and projects. These recommendations are intended initially for consideration by state clean energy funds. While it is clear that there is no simple, one-size-fits-all program for state action, these are intended to serve as a starting point for in-depth discussions that can lead to state-specific action plans and stakeholder engagement processes.

Specific recommendations include:
  • Integrate Energy Stations Into State Hydrogen Plans: Many states have completed or are undertaking to develop hydrogen "roadmaps." These state-specific plans, which have been completed in California, Ohio, New York and Florida, provide recommendations to capture new economic development opportunities related to hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. Other states, such as Massachusetts and Connecticut, are embarking on similar planning exercises. The energy station concept should be integrated into these existing and emerging hydrogen plans. California, for example, is emphasizing the inclusion of energy station projects in early hydrogen stations for its Hydrogen Highway effort. We believe this is a strategy that can be replicated in other states.
  • Explore Fleet-Based Opportunities to Deploy Energy Stations: In many settings, there likely exist opportunities for states to deploy energy stations in conjunction with a specific, clustered vehicle fleet. Fleet-based opportunities reduce the need to develop regional networks of refueling stations as envisioned in many "hydrogen highway" proposals and could be implemented in partnership with military, industrial and delivery organizations. In these settings, a single energy station could support the refueling demands of a significant vehicle fleet. Initially, in order to advance these opportunities, state clean energy funds and economic development offices could support and conduct opportunity assessment studies that identify specific fleets, partners and electricity demands.
  • Foster Public-Private Partnership Development: Energy stations, in order to be successful, require significant partnerships with technology providers and host facilities. These partnerships can be fostered through public support from state clean energy funds, economic development offices and other key players. In particular, funding and support of coalition-building processes can have cross-cutting benefits for other hydrogen-related priorities in specific states.
  • Proactively Address Regulatory Incentives: Advanced energy technologies require advanced regulatory policies. Many states have implemented regulatory preferences and incentives (such as standby charge exemptions and net metering policies) that recognize and accommodate the public preference for and benefits from fuel cell, hydrogen and clean energy technologies. The regulatory strategies used by these early leaders can be replicated in other states. This kind of support is especially important for energy stations where a key component of the project is providing distributed electricity for the electric grid. Currently, many regulatory barriers prevent the wide-scale adoption of clean distributed generation and limit the ability to quickly site energy stations. State clean energy funds and others can assist by facilitating information-sharing about the best model regulations that can overcome barriers to distributed generation facilities.
  • Develop Compelling Communications Strategies: The concept of using hydrogen in consumer settings has been plagued with public misperceptions and lack of awareness of the significant potential benefits and remaining challenges. In recent years, many states have conducted sophisticated consumer and stakeholder research that has resulted in new communications campaigns to increase public understanding and support for clean energy technologies. Many states, for example, recently joined together to develop and fund a "Clean Energy: It's Real, It's Here, It's Working. Let's Make More" branding campaign. This kind of proactive communications strategy would yield tremendous results for the hydrogen sector, helping to organize currently disparate enthusiasm for hydrogen with a single, compelling message while also helping to manage expectations regarding the types and timing of hydrogen technologies that are likely to be introduced.