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article imageQ&A: Hydrogen’s new path to cleaner energy Special

By Tim Sandle     Nov 19, 2020 in Environment
On November 12, 2020, the US Department of Energy released its “Hydrogen Program Plan,” in which it notes a global need for “Lower-cost and more-efficient technologies for producing hydrogen from water.” A leading expert looks into the issue.
According to Whitaker Irvin, Jr. (Whit), whose company, Q Hydrogen Commercialization, has developed a technology that generates hydrogen without using any fossil fuels, and without generating a carbon footprint, the news about the plan represents a step forward in terms of developing cleaner energy. Hydrogen is a versatile energy carrier and chemical feedstock, and it has many applications for energy production.
Digital Journal connected with Irvin to learn more about this new technology and what’s on the horizon for hydrogen energy.
Digital Journal: Can you give me an overview of hydrogen’s role in the renewable energy market today?
Whitaker Irvin Jr.: Hydrogen is a clean-burning fuel source – it emits only water or water vapor – but until now the same cannot be said about the process to produce it. As a fuel source, Hydrogen has not gone mainstream because it can be an energy-intensive and counterintuitively, environmentally “dirty” process to extract. The “H2” molecules bond very tightly to their counterparts in the most common compounds, methane (CH4) and water (H2O).
DJ: Isn’t “Green” hydrogen supposed to solve that problem?
Irvin: To help us understand the level of environmental impact, the industry has come up with a color scheme to categorize the three most common methods of hydrogen production: Grey, Blue and Green hydrogen. These monikers help categorize the carbon footprint of the process. Grey is the cheapest and is the worst for the environment, produced from natural gas or coal using carbon intensive processes. Blue hydrogen is produced the same way but allows the carbon being emitted to be trapped and stored. Green Hydrogen is currently the most sustainable method of producing the molecule – it uses electrolysis, an electrochemical process by which water is split into hydrogen and oxygen.
DJ: Why isn’t everyone using green hydrogen if it has the lowest carbon footprint?
Irvin: Price is everything. Green hydrogen is only truly “green” if it is produced using carbon-free methods, like solar or wind power. Producing the solar or wind energy to power a plant becomes extremely expensive when you factor in electricity, development and storage costs. These costs plus the fact that the green process produces far less hydrogen by volume, has led to just 0.1% production via green hydrogen in 2020. Right now, the feasibility of creating green hydrogen at scale is very slim at the rate it’s moving, with many experts suggesting it could take up to 40 years.
DJ: You say you’ve found a better way. What is that?
Irvin: The method we are testing is one that I believe will lead the industry due to our ability to produce more hydrogen at lower cost, in a smaller physical space, while emitting zero carbon. We’re calling it “clear hydrogen.”
DJ: How do you make clear hydrogen?
Irvin:Clear hydrogen is produced by extracting hydrogen from water, like green hydrogen, but rather than using electrolysis to “zap” the hydrogen away from the oxygen, a new technology does so using water that is subjected to external influences coupled with extremely rapid variations in pressure, temperature and motion. There is no heat, and more importantly, no carbon used or generated in the process. This allows for hydrogen production at reduced cost and without the carbon impact of conventional methods that utilize natural gas and other fossil fuel sources.
DJ: Are the environmental credentials proven?
Irvin: Rather than an improvement on any existing process, Q Hydrogen’s technology involves entirely new science that has been rigorously tested. Q Hydrogen’s operational test facility in Park City, Utah, has been testing this method since 2016. We’ve found it can be configured to produce between 10,000 and 50,000 kgs of hydrogen per day. At 15,000 kgs of hydrogen per day, it provides sufficient fuel to generate about 12.5 Megawatts of electricity. Our hydrogen is analyzed in real time via dual on-line gas process mass spectrometers. This fuel is then optimized through analysis of performance characteristics in the facility’s various engines and generators.
DJ: How does the technology work?
Irvin:Well, I can’t tell you that yet, because it’s all based on proprietary technology. What I can tell you is that our company has had 14 US Patents issued, 22 Foreign Patents issued, with many additional pending globally.
DJ: What is the next step?
Irvin: We’re opening another facility soon in New Hampshire where we will demonstrate the commercial viability of the technology, in a commercial implementation that will have many uses. It’s all hush-hush for now, but keep your eyes peeled for a big hydrogen splash coming out of New England in the near future!
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