My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: UTECH and Hydrogen as Cooking Gas – How Hydride Salts make Hydrogen Cooking Gas and Fuel Cells possible

Thursday, December 3, 2015

UTECH and Hydrogen as Cooking Gas – How Hydride Salts make Hydrogen Cooking Gas and Fuel Cells possible

Hydrogen Gas cylinders might be coming to a LPG Gas Retailer very soon.

UTECH (University of Technology) recently held a conference on the use of Hydrogen gas on Tuesday November 3rd 2015 as reported in the article “International Hydrogen Conference Opens at UTech”, published November 4, 2015 By Denise Dennis, The Jamaica Information Service.

The International conference, the first of its kind in Jamaica, was held over a two (2) day period and was themed “The Hydrogen Economy: A Sustainable Energy Diversification Option for the Caribbean”. It’s not a simple talk shop; members from Europe, North America and the Caribbean were also in the conference to hear UTECH progress on Hydrogen usage as a replacement for Cooking Gas.

It marked the three (3) years since UTECH had received some JA$59 million worth of funding back in 2012 to do research into Hydrogen to replace LPG used in Cooking Gas cylinders as reported in my blog article entitled “Why UTECH, GOJ and UWI developing Hydrogen Cooking Gas Cylinders for Hydrogen-Electron Economy”. 

Those funds had been given to UTech’s Faculty of Engineering and Computing Energy Unit Research Team (CSEII) by the European Union (EU) Caribbean and Pacific Research Programme for Sustainable Development.

It was jointly conducted with assistance from the UWI (University of the West Indies) along with BSJ (Bureau of Standards Jamaica) who focused on creating a regulatory guideline for its use in Jamaica with United Kingdom-based Brunel University lending a hand with their research facilities.

Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Phillip Paulwell, spoke of the research being done to develope a practical replacement for an essential dinner time ritual and save us on our Oil bill to boot, quote: “We now have pride of place among the scientists mostly from developed countries, with well-resourced research facilities and long traditions of scientific inventions. This motivation is reinforced by the prohibitive cost of imported oil and its deleterious impact on the environment…It is within this context that the potential of hydrogen as an alternative fuel source, must be recognised and appreciated”.

So what's new since 2012?

UTECH and Hydrogen as Cooking Gas – How Hydride Salts can make Hydrogen Cooking Gas possible

They’ve clearly made some progress, as at the two (2) day conference, they had displays showing Hydrogen being used to cook food.

We still don't have Hydrogen for use as a replacement for LPG in Cooking Gas or even as a fuel for motor vehicles. Granted, the use of hydrogen would lower emissions of greenhouse gasses. It would also reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels and allow us to achieve the National Energy Policy target of 30% renewables by 2030.

As a fuel, Hydrogen is sustainable, as it’s easily extracted via electrolysis’ of water. The Problem is the energy used to split those bonds is considerably more than the energy produced as Hydrogen, which has a boiling point of -252.9 C, will gradually boil away no matter what type of tank it is stored in, mainly for safety reasons.

This must have been reflected in the cost-benefit analysis for the use of hydrogen for domestic cooking. Creating the necessary legislation required for use as Cooking Gas as well as electricity generation will take a while, as a means need to be developed to liberate Hydrogen on site and solve the Energy Transportation problem associated with this volatile gas.

They use PEM (Polymer electrolyte membrane) a technology developed by GM (General Motors) back in the 60's powered by solar energy. Because of the High current density and the very thin membrane, it has a large surface are that is able to produce Hydrogen and oxygen gas separately once solar or Wind Energy is used as the power source.

This means that if UTECH and their researchers have solved the production problem, then the Storage of Hydrogen should be the next problem that they must tackle, as Hydrogen cannot be stored as a Gas. It leaks too easily out of any container and as it burns with a colorless flame, it can easily be aflame and go unnoticed, possibly resulting in a massive explosion.

Thus converting Hydrogen to another form, such as a hydride salt and then reacting it to get water, would make more sense, as this would make it more concentrated and easier to store at Room Temperature safely. Examples of such Hydride salts include:

1.      Sodium borohydride (NaBH4)
2.      Sodium silicate (Na2O3Si)
3.      Lithium hydride (LiH)
4.      Magnesium hydride (MgH2)

These storage forms, especially the hydrides, are very reactive to water and liberate Hydrogen gas. This Hydrogen gas can then be run through a PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) to produce electricity, as in the case of Apple's patent for a Hydrogen fuel cell to power their Laptops and smartphones as reported in my blog article entitled “Apple files patent for Hydrogen Fuel cell – Why Portable Hydrogen Fuel Cells needed to cut the Analog Power Cord”. 

A similar idea can be used for Cooking Gas Cylinders, with Ethyl Mercaptan (CH3CH2SH) being added to give it a distinct smell like Cooking Gas so as to avoid Hydrogen gas explosions. Gas stoves would have to be modified in order to burn Hydrogen, as well as the seals would have to be changed as it gas leaks easily through most valves.

Using these modifications both in Cooking Gas cylinders as well as in motor vehicles, we might soon be cooking with Hydrogen gas by 2020.

Here's the link:

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