Hydrogen Archives


February 27, 2015

Tesla Vs. Hydrogen

By Jeff Siegel

One of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's dreams may soon be coming to fruition.

During his time as governor, while singing the praises of renewable energy progress in the Golden State, the Terminator would often tell tree-hugging Californians about his dream of building a hydrogen highway that would enable hydrogen-powered vehicles to run from Mexico to Canada — via California.

Not only did Prius drivers and vegans applaud the governor's dream, but it even got a decent amount of support from former GM Chairman Bob Lutz and President George W. Bush.

Since that time, California has managed to build only 10 hydrogen fueling stations in Los Angeles and San Francisco. But we got word over the weekend that the California Energy Commission is about to spend $20 million to build about 50 new hydrogen fueling stations.

According to the LA Times...

Starting in October with a new fuel station in the city of Coalinga, near I-5 in the San Joaquin Valley, hydrogen cars will be able to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Such vehicles can go about 300 miles on a fill up.

Hydrogen is Silly

Those who believe hydrogen represents the future of personal transportation have been quick to applaud this news.

Certainly it represents a small but meaningful step in instigating some early growth in the hydrogen vehicle market.

But here's the problem...

No one really cares now that Elon Musk has shown the world a much better mousetrap... and in the process, has been quite vocal about why he actually thinks hydrogen is “silly.”

Sure, the guy's got plenty of reasons to criticize potential competitors. But hydrogen isn't really much of a competitor, as Musk pointed out recently:

Hydrogen is an energy storage mechanism. It is not a source of energy. So you have to get that hydrogen from somewhere. if you get that hydrogen from water, so you’re splitting H20, electrolysis is extremely inefficient as an energy process…. if you say took a solar panel and use the energy from that to just charge a battery pack directly, compared to try to split water, take the hydrogen, dump the oxygen, compress the hydrogen to an extremely high pressure (or liquefy it) and then put it in a car and run a fuel-cell, it is about half the efficiency, it’s terrible. Why would you do that? It makes no sense.

If you're going to pick an energy storage mechanism, hydrogen is an incredibly dumb one to pick. You should just use methane, that's much, much easier. Or propane. The best case hydrogen fuel cell doesn't win against the current case batteries, so then obviously it doesn't make sense. That will become apparent in the next few years.

Too Late

Although I agree with Musk, there's no doubt that plenty of automakers are still getting quite aggressive on hydrogen.

Hyundai, Toyota, Honda, and Volkswagen don't really seem to be too interested in what Musk has to say about the issue. Of course, they also weren't too interested back when he first came on the scene with a silly dream of mass-producing a quality electric car.

You know how that dream turned out...


In any event, while there will likely be a few more opportunities to profit in the fuel cell space with companies like Plug Power (NASDAQ: PLUG) and Hydrogenics Corp. (NASDAQ: HYGS), over the long term, I wouldn't put too much faith in hydrogen vehicles getting as much love as electric vehicles.

In terms of price, performance, ease-of-use, and infrastructure demands, by the time the few automakers pursuing hydrogen actually have a decent number of these cars in the showrooms, electric cars will be even further advanced. Prices will have fallen further, driving ranges will have doubled (if not tripled), and high-speed charging infrastructure will be nearly as common as the infrastructure in existence today for internal combustion vehicles.

In other words, it's too late for hydrogen, because no one can put the electric vehicle genie back in its bottle.

To a new way of life and a new generation of wealth...


Jeff Siegel is Editor of Energy and Capital, where this article was first published.

January 26, 2015

Making Hydrogen From Ethanol

by Debra Fiakas CFA

Cars powered by fuel cells or batteries are only as clean as the electricity used to produce the power source.  Proponents of hydrogen fuel cells argue that fuel cells have an edge over batteries, because hydrogen can ultimately be made cleaner with innovations in hydrogen production. 

Steam reforming of natural gas is the most common source of hydrogen and for the most part it is still the most cost-effective process for large-scale production of hydrogen.  Since ethanol is a renewable resource, the steam reforming of ethanol has been proposed by some as a promising alternative to reforming a fossil fuel like natural gas.  Until recently steam reforming ethanol for hydrogen was a topic discussed only in scientific papers.  Most have dismissed this alternative for renewable hydrogen as not commercially viable.

In November 2014, a group of researchers in Singapore at the A*Star Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences disclosed an important breakthrough in hydrogen production through steam reforming of ethanol.  They have developed a novel rhodium catalyst that enables hydrogen production with low temperatures and without producing a harmful carbon monoxide by-product.  The rhodium is iron-promoted and the iron oxide converts the carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide and hydrogen. 

A*Star is trying to develop an on-board hydrogen generator to fuel cell electric vehicles or FCEVs.  Engineers there are confident their catalyst innovation is the key to a low-cost, commercially viable device.  The catalyst has prove quite stable in testing and appears to have a long active life.  If these characteristics hold up under further testing, it suggests a very cost effective process with infrequent exchanges or downtime for the onboard device for catalyst regeneration.

There is no investment opportunity as yet in steam reforming of ethanol to produce hydrogen.  However, with wider availability of FCEVs there is bound to be increasing interest in more efficient hydrogen sources for automotive applications.  A*Star seems have made a good start in giving hydrogen a make-over.

Debra Fiakas is the Managing Director of
Crystal Equity Research, an alternative research resource on small capitalization companies in selected industries.

Neither the author of the Small Cap Strategist web log, Crystal Equity Research nor its affiliates have a beneficial interest in the companies mentioned herein.

January 06, 2015

Ballard Terminates Azure Hydrogen Licenses; Can It Find A Better China Partner?

by Debra Fiakas CFA

Before the open of the first trading day of 2015, fuel cell developer Ballard Power Systems (BLDP:  Nasdaq) announced the termination of technology licenses to Azure Hydrogen, which was to have been Ballard’s introduction to the China market. The license agreements covered the sale of Ballard’s bus power module and telecom backup power system.  Ballard has charged Azure with breaching the agreements and the two companies have apparently not been able to come to alternative terms. 

Azure had made sales in the China and not all of the equipment had been paid.  Termination of the relationship casts some doubt on outstanding accounts receivable totaling $4.5 million.  Apparently the skepticism was sufficient to cause Ballard’s accountants to write off the full $4.5 million. 

While waiting to see that bit of bad news in the year-end financial report, investors can mull over the other consequence of the divorce from Azure  -  reduced revenue expectations.  Management reduced guidance for the December 2014 quarter by $3.0 million, but deferred a discussion of the impact on 2015 until late February when they were already planning to provide guidance for the upcoming year.

Most likely this is a temporary hiccup.  There are plenty of other players in China that would be capable of penetrating that market with fuel cells for both transportation and stationary applications.  Ballard should have plenty of options to forge another relationship.  What will be challenging is finding a credit worthy counterpart.  Ballard had required a $1 million upfront payment from Azure at the signing of the first license agreement in May 2013.  Shareholders might have thought that would have been sufficient to secure Azure’s business integrity.

Some investors might think the bad news provides an opportunity to accumulate shares of Ballard at an economical price.  BLDP gapped down in the first hour of trading following the announcement, giving up some of the gains the stock had made in the previous week.  The stock had been on a steady decline over the past several months, but the supply seemed to have been turned off with the expiration of tax-loss sales opportunities.

Ballard has managed to build revenue up to $70.4 million in the most recently reported twelve months.  The consensus among the half dozen analysts who have published estimates for Ballard is suggests the company was expected to report $73.4 million for the year.  With the termination of the Azure relationship and the elimination of that business in the fourth quarter, it appears the company is poised to report about $70 million in sales for the year.  That would suggest flat results compared to the prior year, but Ballard also has the write-off of the uncollectible accounts receivable.  Thus 2014 could be a down year in terms of sales.

Investors can expect a significant net loss in the year.  The trailing twelve month loss was $13 million through the end of September 2014.  The consensus estimates suggest few if anyone expects the company to breakeven anytime soon.  Ballard has a $32.7 million cash hoard to tide the company over.  At the present cash usage rate Ballard has about two years to ‘fire it’s engines’.  That might offer some encouragement to value investors who see the recent dip in price to pick up shares.

The implications of the license agreement termination came on a day most investors were likely taking the day off for an extended recovery from the New Year celebrations.  It is likely that there will be further reaction registered in the stock price with the rest of investors return from holiday merry making.  Then the year-end 2014 report at the end of February could evoke even further reaction as investors can see the bad news in numbers.

Ballard stubbed its toe in the final days in 2014 and waited until the first day of the New Year to give investors the good news.  Putting out the press release one day after New Year’s Day is not likely to shield Ballard from the harsh realities of the equity market.  Even more compelling buying opportunities might be ahead.

Debra Fiakas is the Managing Director of
Crystal Equity Research, an alternative research resource on small capitalization companies in selected industries.

Neither the author of the Small Cap Strategist web log, Crystal Equity Research nor its affiliates have a beneficial interest in the companies mentioned herein.

April 10, 2014

Investors Push The Hydrogenics Reset Button

by Debra Fiakas CFA

Last week shares of Hydrogenics Corp. (HYGS:  Nasdaq) took a steep dip down.  Earlier in the week the company filed a shelf registration statement to raise up to $100 million in new capital over the next two years.  Then before the last day of trading began the company issued new guidance for the year 2014, suggesting weaker sales in the first quarter than previously expected but reaffirming expectations for the full year.

The statement replaced an earlier shelf registration statement for a $25 million capital raise.    The filing came as no surprise to investors, but the significant increase in the potential capital raise may have given a few some pause. What seems to have thrown a wrench in the chart is the disappointment over the first quarter sales guidance.

Hydrogenics has been developing fuel cell technologies.  The company’s expertise is in water electrolysis, a technology for making hydrogen from water.  Hydrogenics earns much of its revenue providing on-site industrial gas generation services, principally hydrogen.  The company also knows proton exchange membranes and produces fuel cells for energy storage solutions.  The company has managed to increase sales each year, but is still operating at a loss.  In the most recent twelve months Hydrogenics reported $42.4 million in total sales, but suffered a loss of $6.1 million.

It is understandable why shareholders might be sensitive to any whiff of a weak top-line.  However, in my view, the 10.6% sell-off on Friday following the new guidance announcement was an overreaction.  An investment in a developmental stage company should not hinge on the shift of revenue from one quarter to another unless there are implications that market potential has weakened or customers have been lost.  Management did suggest that realization of backlog will be mostly in the second half of the year.  Such announcements are often followed by additional delays.  However, management also provides encouragement that there its business pipeline is building, providing further support for sticking to its guidance for$50 million in total sales for the year and the possibility of finally reaching breakeven.

The stock has been reset, perhaps appropriately if profitability is not yet within the company’s grasp.  Yet Hydrogenics has made progress, establishing a credible foothold in its markets.  Even if you are skeptical about Hydrogenics’ guidance for 2014, the sell-off in HYGS might seem enticing to investors who are bullish on the company in the long-term.  Unfortunately, a review of recent trading patterns suggest there is now pronounced bearish sentiment has now been registered in the stock that might take some time to play out.  It might be better to wait for all selling to take its course before rebuilding positions.

Debra Fiakas is the Managing Director of
Crystal Equity Research, an alternative research resource on small capitalization companies in selected industries.

Neither the author of the Small Cap Strategist web log, Crystal Equity Research nor its affiliates have a beneficial interest in the companies mentioned herein.

December 22, 2013

Twelve Hydrogen And Fuel Cell Stocks

Tom Konrad CFA


While many people think first about hydrogen when they think of fuel cells, fuel cells are not limited to hydrogen.  They are a set of related technologies, many of which can generate electricity from a number of hydrocarbon fuels rather than hydrogen.  I limited my recent post on the rapid rise of hydrogen stocks to just US-listed companies involved in the production and use of hydrogen, leaving out foreign stocks and other fuel cell technologies for brevity.

In my research for that article, however, I came across fully ten publicly traded companies involved with either hydrogen or other types of fuel cells.  Here they are, along with descriptions of the technologies drawn from the Department of Energy and company websites.

PEM Fuel Cells

The most common type of fuel cell, and the one most people think if first, is the Polymer Electrolyte Membrane or Proton-Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell.  These cells run on hydrogen at fairly low temperatures around  80°C (176°F).  They have the advantage of quick start-up and good durability because of the low temperature operation.  Unfortunately, they require an expensive noble metal catalyst, usually platinum, which is particularly sensitive to impurities in the hydrogen fuel.

PEM fuel cells are primarily used for fuel cells in vehicles, but have also been used in stationary applications.  The most developed market is materials handling (i.e. forklifts used in warehouses.)  Their lack of harmful tailpipe emissions makes them suitable for indoor use, while quick fueling and longer run time make them more suitable for heavy duty cycles than similar electric vehicles.

PEM fuel cells for transportation are typically 60% efficient, although the less expensive versions typically used for stationary applications are only about 35% efficient.

Companies producing PEM fuel cells include Ballard Power (NASD:BLDP), Plug Power (NASD:PLUG), and Proton Power Systems (LSE:PPS), and ITM Power (LSE:ITM).  Ballard and Plug Power are commercial stage companies, although neither is expected to achieve profitability soon.  Ballard produces PEM fuel cells for a wide variety of markets ranging in size from 1.5kw up to 500 kW.  Plug Power has a range of fuel cell modules designed to fit in the battery compartment of existing materials handling equipment.

Proton Power is a demonstration stage company with a focus on hybrid electric-fuel cell drive trains for larger vehicles such as delivery trucks, buses.

Electrolyzers, Fueling, and Storage

Since pure hydrogen does not occur naturally, the hydrogen economy cannot run on fuel cells alone.  A number of companies are tackling the creation of hydrogen (usually by electrolysis, or using electricity to split water in to hydrogen and oxygen), as well as fueling and storage.

Hydrogenics (NASD:HYGS) is a commercial stage company that develops and sells electrolyzers for hydrogen generation.  This is often integrated with hydrogen storage and PEM fuel cells, as well as hydrogen fueling stations.  It sells into both stationary power and vehicular markets.  ITM Power (LSE:ITM) sells commercial electrolyzers for hydrogen generation in hydrogen fueling stations, for industrial use, or injection into natural gas pipelines.  Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide (NASD:QTWW) sells a number of alternative fuel vehicle drive-trains and parts including hydrogen fuel tanks, but most of its current sales come from natural gas vehicles.

One oddball company brought to my attention by a reader is HyperSolar, Inc (OTC:HYSR).  Hypersolar is a very early stage developer of a solar powered system to directly use solar power to produce hydrogen from water.  While cutting out the extra step of converting sunlight to electricity with photovoltaics before using electrolysis to split hydrogen from water may sound attractive, the company is at an extremely early development stage and does not have sufficient funding to advance its technology.  It’s also not clear if the technology is more efficient at converting sunlight to hydrogen than the combination of photovoltaics and electrolyzers would be, or what the capital costs are.   I can’t imagine any scenario where a long term stock market investor could make a profit on HyperSolar.

Fuel Cell Energy (NASD:FCEL), discussed below, is currently developing a fuel cell that can generate hydrogen as well as electricity from various hydrocarbon feedstocks.

Alkaline Fuel Cells

Alkaline Fuel Cells (AFCs) have a solution of potassium hydroxide in water as an electrolyte which allows the precious metal catalyst of PEM fuel cells to be replaced by a variety of non-precious metals.  AFCs are one of the most efficient types of fuel cell, and have demonstrated efficiency near 60% in space applications. Unfortunately, AFCs are very sensitive to exposure to carbon dioxide and require both the hydrogen and oxygen used by the cell to be purified beforehand, which is a very costly process.

AFC Energy (LSE:AFC) is a developer of alkaline fuel cells for use converting waste hydrogen from industrial processes into useful electricity.  This seems like an interesting niche market and may prove profitable if AFC’s fuel cells prove sufficiently durable.

Molten Carbonate Fuel Cells

Molten Carbonate fuel cells (MCFCs) use a high temperature salt mixture suspended in an inert ceramic matrix as an electrolyte.  The 650°C (roughly 1,200°F) at which they operate allows non-precious metals to be used as catalysts on both the anode and cathode, leading to significant cost reductions.

MCFCs are typically 45% to 50% efficient at converting fuel to electricity, but that efficiency can be increased significantly by capturing the high quality waste heat and using it to drive a turbine or in other combined heat and power (CHP) applications, where they can have efficiency as high as 85%.

The greatest advantage of MCFC’s is that they do not require an external reformer.  They can internally convert a wide range of hydrocarbons including natural gas, biogas, and propane into hydrogen for power generation.  Unlike PEMs and AFCs, they are also not vulnerable to “poisoning” by carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide.

The main downside of MCFCs is durability.   Their high operating temperatures and corrosive electrolytes can degrade components relatively rapidly.

The main public company commercializing MCFCs is Fuel Cell Energy (NASD:FCEL.)  It sells its fuel cells mostly into stationary power markets for distributed generation and CHP.  The company has sold hundreds of megawatts of its Direct FuelCell® power plants  and has a strong financial backer in Korean power producer POSCO Energy.

Ceramic/Solid Oxide Fuel Cells

Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFCs) use a solid ceramic as the electrolyte.  They operate at even higher temperatures than MCFCs (approximately 1,000°C  or 1,830°F) which, as in MCFCs, allows the use of non-precious metals as catalysts and for internal reforming of fuel into hydrogen, both of which reduce costs.  SOFCs are extremely fuel-flexible.  Like MCFCs, they are not vulnerable to carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide, but they are also able to tolerate much higher concentrations of sulfur.  This flexibility allows SOFCs to use fuels made from coal, as well as cleaner hydrocarbons.
The very high operating temperatures can impair durability, and also require thermal shielding to retain heat and protect workers.  Newer, lower temperature variants which operate below 800°C for greater durability have been developed at the cost of lower power output. .

Two public companies commercializing SOFCs are Ceres Power (LSE:CWR and OTC:CPWHF) and Ceramic Fuel Cells (ASX:CFU and LSE:CFU).  Ceramic Fuel Cells markets small scale SOFC based combined heat and power units to commercial customers in Europe.  Its fuel cells have industry leading electrical efficiency of up to 60%, and the overall efficiency of the CHP units is naturally much higher. Ceres Power has developed a lower temperature SOFC which operates at 500 – 600°C, allowing the use of stainless steel components which increase durability and allow for quicker start times than other SOFCs.  Ceres is currently targeting South Korean and Japanese markets where it hopes to sell its CHP units to replace residential boilers to produce both heat and majority of a home’s electricity.


None of these companies is yet profitable, and their products are not yet cost effective except in niche markets or with significant subsidies.  That said, several have strong financial backers and have been growing revenues significantly over the last couple years.

Events such as Hurricane Sandy and Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster have increased public interest in the resilience of the electric grid.  With its small scale and low emissions, fuel cell technology is well suited to increasing local resilience with distributed installations.  Fuel cells’ high efficiency can also make them economical in countries dependent on expensive imported liquefied natural gas.

If these trends persist, or if fuel cell vehicles become more than a way for automakers to comply with environmental standards, some of these companies are likely to become profitable in just a few more years.  I personally would not bet on hydrogen outside of niche markets, but I think distributed combined heat and power with carbonate and solid oxide fuel cells has real potential.

Disclosure: No positions.

This article was first published on Forbes.com on December 11th.

DISCLAIMER: Past performance is not a guarantee or a reliable indicator of future results.  This article contains the current opinions of the author and such opinions are subject to change without notice.  This article has been distributed for informational purposes only. Forecasts, estimates, and certain information contained herein should not be considered as investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product.  Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but not guaranteed.

December 18, 2013

Hydrogen Stocks More Than Double In 2013: Why The Pros Missed The Ride

Tom Konrad CFA

Hydrogen Photo via BigStock

If you hadn’t noticed that hydrogen stocks are up an average of 131% so far this year, you’re not alone.

Both hydrogen fuel cell stocks and hydrogen fuel systems stocks are up strongly.  Plug Power (NASD:PLUG), a maker of hydrogen fuel cell systems for off-road vehicles is up 122% year to date.  Ballard Power Systems, Inc. (NASD:BLDP), which makes hydrogen fuel systems for a wide variety of applications is up 133% so far this year, and 149% from its mid-December 2012 low.  Hydrogenics Corporation (NASD:HYGS) makes hydrogen fuel cells, electrolysis, and storage solutions for stationary and portable power, and is up 122% year to date and 127% from its low a year ago.

Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide Inc. (NASD:QTWW) has risen 146% this year and is up 261% from its low in April.  Quantum provides fuel systems and drivetrain components for natural gas and electric vehicles as well as hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, so its rise probably has more to do with recent natural gas contract wins, but, with or without Quantum, the sector’s rise has been impressive.

H2 Stocks.png

Fuel Cell Vehicle Announcements 

If I had to explain the rise, my best guess would be the recent string of announcements of fuel cell vehicles from major auto manufacturers.

But a lack of fueling stations means that fuel cell vehicles are unlikely to even rival electric vehicles when it comes to sales for many years to come.  If hydrogen stocks are rising on hopes for futures sales of fuel cell vehicles, that rise will become a decent if those sales fail to emerge.

Why The Pros Don’t Like Hydrogen

Small investors have been the main buyers.  While institutional holders such as mutual funds have been buying, they have only been doing so in a small way.  During the third quarter, net institutional ownership increased from 15% to 16% of Ballard, from 3.4% to 3.8% of Plug Power, 5.7% to 6.3% of Hydrogenics and 2.3% to 2.8% of Quantum, according to Nasdaq data.  The changes amount to less than a single day’s trading in all four stocks.  Meanwhile, insiders have stayed entirely on the sidelines.

I recently asked my panel of green money managers if they’d been paying attention to hydrogen stocks, and those who responded gave a resounding “no.”  Their dislike of hydrogen stems from skepticism around the economics of the technology.

As Garvin Jabusch, co-manager of the Shelton Green Alpha  Fund (NEXTX) told me, “I’ve yet to be convinced… that there is a way to eke a profitable business model out of the space” because of the energy-intensive processes required to create hydrogen.  He thinks the recent roll out of fuel cell vehicles by Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai have a lot more to do with meeting California’s requirements for a minimum number of zero emission models than it does with expectations of selling a large number of cars.

Jan Schalkwijk, a portfolio manager with a focus on Green Economy investment strategies in Portland Oregon notes that recent history has taught us “ it does not pay to be too early” in green investing.  Although hydrogen technology is not new, but he thinks “its widespread adoption is not  in the cards” any time soon.

Rafael Coven, who manages the index (^CTIUS) which underlies the Powershares Cleantech ETF (NYSE:PZD), has always avoided hydrogen stocks and is “a LOT richer for it (i.e. not poor.)”  He says “Fuel cells require very, very deep pockets and a long path to profitability.  Big corporations have burned/burn through hundreds of millions of dollars in R&D and still have no profits on the horizon in this field.”

FCI chart
Wilderhill Fuel Cell Index. Source: The Wilder Foundation. Disclaimer: This material was for Internal Research only and was absolutely not an investable Index, nor presented for those purposes.
Hindenburg Stocks 

The last time hydrogen stocks caught investors’ attention was in the early 2000s.  Large automakers were launching fuel cell cars, just as they are now.  In another parallel to today, the launches at the time were due to promotion by the Bush administration and for compliance with emissions regulations in California.

Dr. Rob Wilder, who manages the index (^ECO) behind the PowerShares WilderHill Clean Energy ETF (NYSE:PBW) kindly allowed me to use the chart to the right of the Wilder-Hill Fuel Cell index, which his foundation maintained for internal research purposes from 2000 to 2007.  He notes that Ballard Power was included in the fuel cell index as well as ^ECO, which it remains in today.

As you can see from the chart, fuel cell stocks spiked rapidly, but then fell almost as quickly and never recovered.

Note that not all fuel cell stocks are hydrogen stocks.  Ballard, Plug, and Hydrogenics make hydrogen fuel cells, while companies like Fuel Cell Energy (NASD:FCEL) make carbonate or solid oxide fuel cells which run at much higher temperatures on natural gas (methane) and other hydrocarbons.  The high operating temperature of such fuel cells makes them excellent for stationary combined heat and power operations, but generally unsuitable for vehicular or portable markets.

It is worth noting that Fuel Cell Energy is developing a version of its fuel cells which can produce hydrogen as well as electricity.  If they can commercialize it and the economics work, this may become a viable way to expand the hydrogen fueling infrastructure.


Are the current buyers of hydrogen stocks headed for another wild ride to nowhere, like fuel cell investors in 2001? Or, has long disappointment made the pros too cynical, and likely to miss out on an explosive opportunity?

For myself, I’m going to be watching hydrogen stocks rise from a safe distance.  I agree with my panel that the lack of fueling infrastructure and the energy and expense involved in creating hydrogen are likely to continue to consign hydrogen fuel cells to small niche markets for years to come.

I would not be at all surprised if hydrogen stocks double again from here, but I’ll expect that rise, if it comes, to be followed by a Hindenburg-like explosion rather than a smooth ride to investing profits.  If there are any survivors, it will be players focused on profitable niches, like Plug Power.

Disclosure: No Positions.

This article was first published on Forbes.com on December 5th.

DISCLAIMER: Past performance is not a guarantee or a reliable indicator of future results.  This article contains the current opinions of the author and such opinions are subject to change without notice.  This article has been distributed for informational purposes only. Forecasts, estimates, and certain information contained herein should not be considered as investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product.  Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but not guaranteed.

April 02, 2013

The Hydrogen Problem

Jim Lane

Hydro-Man[1].jpeg HydroMan may do his hydrogen-shift thing via water, at will – but outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we have some hydrogen issues.

Psst! Like cutting out a fossil hydrogen dependency for many biofuels.

But, new pathways ensure that the status hydroquo may not last for long.

A numbers of readers responding to “Biofuels from a raging fireball” (on research work with the raging fireball, Pyrococchus furiosus, to make biofuels and renewable chemicals from hydrogen gas and CO2) raised the question, where is all the hydrogen going to come from?

As many know, hydrogen is not found in a free state in nature in much quantity — and we supply most of our hydrogen needs through steam reformation of natural gas, or cracking fossil petroleum. In other words, renewable fuels made using external hydrogen may well have a hidden fossil fuel dependency.

It all comes down to cost. There are alternative ways to make hydrogen gas, and renewable pathways for sure — if society is not using them, it is generally due to cost issues. In there, to some extent because the costs associated with renewable hydrogen are generally internalized in the process, while many of the social costs of fossil fuels are externalized — e.g. the venting of sequestered CO2.

The hydrogen dependency

Hydrogen gas is a dependency in a number of processes that make renewable fuels — most notably, those that have a hydrotreating step to remove excess oxygen. That includes the upgrade of pyrolysis oils, and even the production of aviation biofuels from renewable oils (the HEFA pathway that is currently powering most of the current flight activity).

Those beyond H2.

Now, hydrogen gas is not a required production element. Fermentation of biomass to produce an alcohol fuel does not require it. The production of diesel and jet fuels fuels using the processes pioneered by Amyris (AMRS) and LS9 do not. Neither does Joule’s process, not Cool Planet’s drop-in fuels (we think). We’ll get to the interesting case of LanzaTech shortly. Upgrading alcohol fuels to hydrocarbons can be accomplished without hydrogen gas — ORNL has developed such a process.

But some of the most promising companies are using hydrogen — Coskata, Sundrop Fuels, Primus Green Energy being three examples of companies that have begun to source fossil natural gas to get affordable feedstock. But processes such as Honeywell's (HON) UOP’s hydrotreating, used to make drop-in fuels with the Envergent process, or HEFA aviation biofuels in partnership with the likes of Dynamic Fuels and Solazyme (SZYM) — well, they need hydrogen.

So, what about hydrogen gas — can it be made renewably, and where and how?

The technical answer is, you bet. Affordably? Another question entirely. Let’s review the state of play with the two main pathways – and two outliers.


The process? Hydrogen can be produced from water, and routinely is, using an electrolytic process that you can demonstrate in a high school lab.

The problem? The process will chew up some 35-50 kilowatt hours of electricity per kilo of hydrogen. There being roughly a kilo of hydrogen in a gallon of hydrocarbon fuel — at $0.10 for lowest cost renewable electricity (e.g. wind), there’s $1.70-$2.50 cost per gallon just to provide the hydrogen feedstock, and you still have to pay for the process and whatever cost of aggregating CO2.

Solution? Advocates routinely talk about producing hydrogen using excess (and thereby, nominally priced) renewable power — at times when the grid is loaded, rather than shunting biomass steam energy to cooling towers (as opposed to the turbines) or using large scale battery storage of the type that Duke Energy put in place at its Notrees wind farm in North Carolina.

Another solution. ORNL has developed a low-cost process – yet to be demonstrated at scale. More on that here.

Anaerobic digesters.

The process? Here, microbes chew waste materials and produce biogas, rich in methane.

The problem? Costs have been the issue. But systems have been getting bigger, and options for producing hydrogen from them are there, using essentially the same processes by which hydrogen is produced from natural gas.

Solution? As an example of progression in system size, Western Plains Energy announced plans to build a $40 million anaerobic digester to produce enough biogas to replace 90% of the fossil fuel used in the manufacturing process at the company’s 50-million-gallon Oakley ethanol plant. When completed, the digester is expected to provide 15 jobs converting manure, grain dust and food waste to power. The project received a $5 million grant in April from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, and $15.9 million one year ago when Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback redirected unspent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding to the project.

Steam reformation or other catalytic processes from biogas or biooil

The process? Cracking hydrogen from biomass using heat and catalysis.

The problem? Cost, again. Steam reformation itself has struggled with high costs associated with the high temperatures at which the system operates. But it has been a technology worth chasing, for in the development of F-T plants it eliminates both the need for expensive oxygen plants and larger footprints needed to deal with nitrogen dilution from air, lowering capex and space requirements.

Solution? In 2010, we reported on a team from East China University of Science and Technology and Guangxi University  has conducted a study of hydrogen production via catalytic steam reforming of bio-oil in a fluidized-bed reactor. They note that “hydrogen production from renewable biomass is particularly adapted to sustainable development concerns. Biomass, a kind of renewable resource that adsorbs CO2 during its growth, contributes net zero carbon emissions when used to produce hydrogen.”

A system that has been attracting the most attention in this area is the ClearFuels gasifier, the star gasifier at Rentech’s (RTK) Product Demonstration Unit in Colorado. Unlike other gasifiers or pyrolysis processes, ClearFuels HEHTR is a one-step rapid steam reforming process that converts all the biomass to syngas with no char, no liquid intermediates, no ash slagging/fouling and low tar content.

The technology has operational controls for a tunable hydrogen to syngas ratio of 1:1 up to 3.5 to 1, while also interchangeably running on syngas, tailgas, biogas or natural gas.

A first outlier. Syngas as a source of hydrogen — and renewable fuels, all at once.

You may recall that LanzaTech can use hydrogen-free gases for the production of ethanol. That is because their proprietary microbe can produce hydrogen from carbon and water as required.

Which, of course, raises the possibility of combining a LanzaTech-type process with a process that needs hydrogen — and obtaining both feedstocks at the same time from synthesis gas (a combination of hydrogen and carbon monoxide), produced by gasifying biomass. Just a matter of membrane separation of the hydrogen gas. Voila, renewable hydrogen, ready to be fed to a second system that uses CO2 and hydrogen to make fuels.

A second outlier – mimicking photosynthesis.

As you might have reflected during your reading this morning, what can plants teach us? Clearly they are obtaining hydrogen to make their own biomass, from water — presumably affordably, since trees are not filing for bankruptcies.

In California last week, HyperSolar announced its plan to build renewable hydrogen generators for commercial use. Named the H2Generator, the company’s first commercial product is expected to sell at a substantially lower price than other renewable hydrogen systems that rely on expensive and energy intensive electrolyzers to split water.

By optimizing the science of water electrolysis, the low cost device mimics photosynthesis to efficiently use sunlight to separate hydrogen from water, to produce environmentally friendly renewable hydrogen.

Tim Young, CEO of HyperSolar commented, “We believe that our intensive R&D efforts will finally pay off in the form of a go to market commercial product. One key discovery was an efficient and low cost polymer protective coating that will allow us to protect solar devices against photocorrosion. Using this coating to treat traditional silicon solar cells, we are able to eliminate the expensive electrolyzer by integrating the electrolysis function directly into a solar cell immersed in water.

“We have given our tech team the green light to complete the product design required to build the first demonstration system,” Young continued. “With a demonstration system in hand, we can then move to the manufacturing phase of the business.”

The HyperSolar H2Generator will be designed to be a linearly scalable and self-contained renewable hydrogen production system. As a result, it is intended to be installed almost anywhere to produce hydrogen fuel for local use. This distributed model of hydrogen production will address one of the greatest challenges of using clean hydrogen fuel on a large scale – the need to transport hydrogen in large quantities.

The bottom line.

Digesterati, take faith. There are multiple paths to renewable hydrogen — all a matter of cost. Our take: look for symbiotic systems, of the LanzaTech type we discussed above, where hydrogen or electricity becomes available as a residue from another process. In terms of bolting on to a second technology, there’s no better way to be capital light, and get closer, faster, to parity costs with fossil pathways to hydrogen.

Disclosure: None.

Jim Lane is editor and publisher  of Biofuels Digest and BioInvest Digest where this article was originally published. Biofuels Digest is the most widely read Biofuels daily read by 14,000+ organizations. Subscribe here.

April 24, 2012

Enbridge, Hydrogenics partner for utility-scale energy storage for renewables

Tyler Hamilton

Oil and gas pipeline giant Enbridge Inc.(ENB)  has invested $5 million in Mississauga, Ont.-based Hydrogenics (HYGS), a leading maker of proton-exchange membrane fuel cells and electrolysis systems for producing hydrogen gas from water.

Gotta say, I wasn’t expecting this announcement. I know Enbridge has invested in fuel-cell technology before, and I know it has purchased hundreds of megawatts of solar capacity, operates wind farms and is dabbling in geopower. And yes, it has invested some money into Toronto-based Morgan Solar. What surprises me about this announcement isn’t so much the investment itself, but how Enbridge plans to strategically collaborate with Hydrogenics to bring utility-scale energy storage to renewables in Ontario. You’d think this was about using renewables to generate hydrogen during off-peak hours, storing it, and then putting it through a fuel cell to generate electricity during peak hours. And perhaps this is the longer-term vision. But the way Enbridge describes this collaboration, it has little interest in fuel cells. Instead, it wants to generate hydrogen and inject it into its natural gas pipeline assets, “proportionally increasing the renewable energy content in natural gas pipelines.” In other words — the way I read it from the press release — it wants to reduce the carbon intensity of the natural gas in its pipelines by mixing it with hydrogen. That cleaner natural gas will then be burned in natural gas-fired plants, people’s home furnaces, etc…

Perhaps I’m missing something. If there’s someone from Enbridge reading this, please correct me if I’m wrong.  (I’m right).

Here’s how the two companies describe their “Power-to-Gas” strategy in their press release:

With ‘Power-to-Gas’, the hydrogen produced during periods of excess renewable generation will be injected into the existing natural gas pipeline network, proportionally increasing the renewable energy content in natural gas pipelines for essentially the operating cost of the electrolyzer. Small quantities of hydrogen can be manageable in existing natural gas pipeline networks. With the significant scale of the natural gas pipeline network, these same quantities of hydrogen have a very meaningful impact on electricity energy storage potential.  The natural gas pipeline network represents a vast energy storage system which already exists. The utility scale energy storage leverages existing natural gas pipeline and storage assets to enable improved operability for the electrical system. Furthermore, the economics are further improved by leveraging existing gas generators to bring this renewable energy back to the electrical grid where, and when, it is needed most.

The companies said they will initially focus on Ontario. And Hydrogenics will have the opportunity to participate in up to 50 per cent ownership in a build-own-operate model for energy storage services. I have no clue how the economics will work. I mean, if the hydrogen is being blended with natural gas how can Enbridge capture that value when it sells that gas? How will this work with Ontario’s feed-in-tariff program, which doesn’t have any rules or tiered (peak, off-peak) FIT rates to encourage energy storage services? I’m very curious to learn more about this (and will over the coming days).

What’s clear is that there is momentum building for energy storage solutions in Ontario. Hydro One is testing out Temporal Power flywheels to relieve congestion on its transmission lines. Toronto Hydro is piloting bulk lithium-ion battery storage and testing underwater compressed-air storage in Lake Ontario. Annette Verschuren, former chief executive of Home Depot Canada, is heading up a new venture called NRStor that wants to bring an energy storage park to Ontario. And word has it that the Ontario Ministry of Energy — or the Ontario Power Authority — is sitting on a large draft policy paper related to energy storage that will be released later this year. Perhaps we’ll get some clarity around energy storage after all. There seems to be enough activity in the province to suggest that something is going on behind the scenes to stimulate strong interest in energy storage.

We’ll see.

NOTE: Just got my hands on a backgrounder Q&A from Hydrogenics that explains the above in more detail. A few interesting points, according to this backgrounder:

Injecting only small amounts of hydrogen into the gas grid (less than 5% by volume) offers significant potential. In large markets, like Ontario, the energy storage potential could provide power for over 160,000 homes. This is the equivalent of the new Niagara Tunnel hydro power project in Niagara Falls.


Every GJ of hydrogen produced by a Power-to-Gas application converting surplus renewable generation will displace one GJ of natural gas consumption with a commensurate reduction of 56kg of CO2 equivalent. The estimated annual GHG reduction from a 100MW Power-to-Gas project would be 25 CO2 equivalent kilotonnes.


The first stage will be to develop a 1 MW Power-to-Gas pilot project in Ontario to test the integrated system, develop gas network interconnections and work with the IESO and Canadian Gas Association to design the operating standards and market protocols to run a Power-to-Gas application. After developing commercial scale electrolyzer capability, Hydrogenics will have the opportunity to participate in up to 50% ownership in a build own operate model for energy storage projects with Enbridge.

Tyler Hamilton is editor-in-chief of Corporate Knights magazine a business columnist for the Toronto Star, and author of Mad Like Tesla.  In addition to the Clean Break blog, where this article first appeared, Tyler writes a weekly column of the same name that discusses trends, happenings and innovators in the clean technology and green energy market.

November 09, 2010

Hydrogenics Corp: Splitting Water

by Debra Fiakas, CFA

Most investors, if they have heard of Hydrogenics Corporation (HYGS: Nasdaq) at all, consider them a fuel cell producer. However, about two-thirds of the company’s revenue comes from the design and manufacture of hydrogen generation products based on water electrolysis technology - a somewhat unique, but valuable electrochemical technology that could make important contributions to the world’s future energy base.

Electrolysis or the splitting of water molecules using an electric current produces hydrogen and oxygen - two elements that have market potential in a variety of industrial and power markets. It stands in high contrast to other producers of hydrogen that begin with natural gas and rely on the so-called steam reforming process to produce hydrogen from the natural gas components.

Hydrogenics expanded its production of hydrogen and oxygen gases with the acquisition of Stuart Energy Systems in January 2005. The company now manufactures the HyStat Electrolyser for on-site or on-demand hydrogen and oxygen supplies. Hydrogenics claims they “know hydrogen and know it well,” a talent that puts them in a good competitive position in the renewable energy field.

The company is applying that considerable knowledge to the production of fuel cells which convert hydrogen and oxygen back into water to produce energy. In 2009, power products and services accounted for about a third of the company’s revenue. We expect that portion to shift higher over time as Hydrogenics’ fuel cell products penetrate the market. So far Hydrogenics has focused on the forklift, commercial fleet and urban transit bus markets with its fuel cells.

Why all the fuss about hydrogen? First of all hydrogen is estimated to hold almost three times as much energy as natural gas per pound. Second, its only emission is pure water.

Why all the foot dragging about hydrogen? It is not really a fuel. It is just a way of storing or transporting energy and it has to be concocted in the first place, if not by braking down natural gas then the electrolysis method that Hydrogenics uses. (There are also thermolysis or photoelectrolysis technologies, but we will save those for science lessons another day.) Electrolysis has a theoretical maximum efficiency of about 80% to 94%, but practically speaking actual production can fall short of such efficiency.

Even excluding the production questions, hydrogen is a bit volatile and presents all sorts of technical challenges to transport. That is why Hydrogenics’ hydrogen generation solutions are located on customer sites.

In my view, Hydrogenics management has demonstrated strong execution skills that might be missed by some investors who do not look past the net losses over the past several years. The shift from fossil fuels puts a spotlight on their hydrogen-from-water technology. Furthermore, the use of water, which can be sourced anywhere facilitates on-site hydrogen production, removing transport challenges as an obstacle to customer adoption of hydrogen alternatives.

Debra Fiakas, CFA is the Managing Member of Crystal Equity Research, LLC, an alternative research resource on small-capitalization companies. Ms. Fiakas is a seasoned investment professional with a diversified and successful track record as a research analyst and as an investment banker. Her career includes solid experience in all aspects of the equity capital markets with particular emphasis on emerging growth companies.

DISCLOSURE: Neither the author of the Small Cap Strategist web log, Crystal Equity Research nor its affiliates have a beneficial interest in the companies mentioned herein. HYGS is included in Crystal Equity Research’s The Atomics Index in the Hydrogen Electrolysis group.

October 17, 2009

Hydrogen Fuel Is Not Dead

John Lounsbury

With the furor over the potential for hybrid, plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars recently, one might think the hydrogen car was dead. Nothing could be further from the truth. Feasibility at an affordable price appears to be established and market availability of hydrogen powered cars may come sooner than you think.

Many issues remain to be addressed and this article will try to cover them. The problems to be overcome are not insurmountable, but are also not trivial. These problems include the economics of hydrogen production, transportation, distribution and storage systems, as well as safety issues for cars involved in collisions.

Alan Ohnsman, writing for Bloomberg, reports that GM (MTLQQ), Toyota (TM), Daimler AG (DAI) and other car makers want to start supplying car fueled by hydrogen as soon as six years from now. Quoting from the article:

"The advances that have been made by the automobile manufacturers are remarkable,” said Scott Samuelsen, director of the National Fuel Cell Research Center at the University of California, Irvine. “Infrastructure is the Achilles’ heel.”

The fuel cell center opened in 1998 and is funded mainly by the U.S. government and California Energy Commission. It has also received grants from Toyota and Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s hydrogen unit, said Kathy Haq, a spokeswoman for the center.”

Here is a picture of a Royal Dutch Shell (RDS-B) hydrogen fueling station in New York City, discussed in a Seeking Alpha Instablog in August


According to the Ohnsman article, the economic factors are starting to line up for hydrogen. He quotes a Toyota objective of a $3,600 price premium for a hydrogen fuel cell powered car. This compares to the current price premium for the Synergy Hybrid Drive system from Toyota, currently averaging around $4,000 for the Camry. This is quite a change from the $1,000,000 price tag estimated to build one of these vehicles just a few years ago.

Advantages of Hydrogen Fuel Cells over Batteries

To understand the significance of this topic, one must first recognize how the hydrogen fuel cell powers a vehicle. Hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles are electric vehicles. Hydrogen is not burned like a hydrocarbon fuel. Hydrocarbons are storage media for thermal energy which is released for power in an internal combustion engine. The hydrogen fuel cell is a storage medium for electrical energy, which is released when hydrogen and oxygen are combined electrochemically to release electricity. The hydrogen fuel cell is conceptually a battery, providing electricity to power an electric car. Unlike other battery powered cars, the fuel cell uses an onboard source of energy (hydrogen “fuel”) to generate electricity and does not have to stop to be recharged. The advantage of hydrogen powered cars is basically a long driving range, requiring only a fuel refill like internal combustion cars do today.

The hydrogen powered car has advantages for long trips. For daily commutes under 100 miles round trip, the operational convenience of battery and fuel cell energy storage is similar. In fact, it could be argued that the convenience of plugging in within your own garage to recharge batteries is more convenient than finding a refueling station every few hundred miles. The ultimate decision for most commuters will be which power source is cheaper.

Fuel Cost

The most convenient metric to compare fuel costs across the ICE (internal combustion engine) – electric drive interface is the fuel cost per mile. Miles per gallon (mpg) becomes an awkward measurement. Consumers will be required to start thinking in cost per mile terms, because that will become the comparative price on the new car sticker. According to http://www.costpermile.org/, the electricity “fuel” cost per mile (CPM) for electric cars will be between $0.01 and $0.05. Currently electric utility charges per kWh (kilowatt hour) run between $0.10 an $0.15 in most of the U.S., so most of this large range in costs must be associated with the difference in engineering technology and size of the vehicle.

Since I like a larger car, my example will compare to a mid-size Toyota Camry Hybrid. The assumed cpm for an equivalent electric car will be $0.05. (Disclosure: I own a Camry hybrid.) At $2.50 per gallon (near the national average price as this is written), the Camry has a cpm of $0.07 at $3.50 per gallon, the cpm is $0.10. I have used 35 mpg for the Camry hybrid. This is 3% higher than the sticker and 10% lower than my actual experience.

For the standard Camry the cpm would be $0.08 and $0.11 (highway and city, respectively) at $2.50 per gallon and $0.11 and $0.16 at $3.50 per gallon. The sticker mileage numbers have been used for the ICE Camry. These fuel costs are summarized in the following table.

Estimated Cost per Mile (CPM)


Gas at $2.50 per gallon

Gas at $3.50 per gallon






Camry ICE





Camry Hybrid





"Camry"* Electric





*An electric car equivalent to the Toyota Camry.

Electricity cost assumption for Camry equivalent is $0.05 cpm

If the range available with an all electric car is sufficient, then customer acceptance will require that purchase costs (and maintenance costs, which will be ignored here) to be such that the purchase price difference is more than recovered in, say, 100,000 miles. The cost savings for city driving at $2.50 per gallon for gasoline is $6,000 per 100,000 miles of driving, compared to an ICE car. At $3.50 per gallon the cost savings would be $11,000. If two cars are available for our commuter and the electric car purchase cost difference is less than $5,000 more, there will be a big market. If the purchase price is $12,000 more, the market will be limited until the cost of gasoline exceeds $3.50-$4.00 per gallon.

In an August 6 press release, Toyota reported the results of a one-time driving test comparing a Toyota Hybrid Highlander with a new 4th generation fuel cell equipped Highlander Hybrid. In that test, the cpm for the production hybrid was more than double the cost for the fuel cell equipped model. I am taking this test result with a grain of salt because it was a one time test.

The remaining comparison to be made is hydrogen fuel cells to plug-in electric vehicles. Hydrogen requires power for production by electrolysis of water. If the same power is used that is available at the residential power plug, all the added costs of handling, storing, transporting and distributing hydrogen are added to the costs that one has at his own power plug. Hydrogen is very uncompetitive on a cost basis with other sources of power in this scenario. If the cost of gasoline goes much higher than the $3.50 we have in our examples, then hydrogen might compete there. But hydrogen can never compete with electricity for local driving (right now under 100 miles per day) if the same electricity source is used for both battery recharging and fuel cell operation.

Never forget that a hydrogen fuel cell is nothing more than another form of battery, wherein a chemical reaction produces electrical current. A hydrogen fuel cell car is an electric car.

Can Hydrogen be Produced with Cheap Power?

Do sources of electrical power exist that are cheaper than what we produce (or can produce in the future) for domestic consumption? The short answer is: Yes. (Well, maybe.)

One possible source of cheap electrical energy is from ocean currents that have a large temperature differential between the surface currents and those at depths of 1000 feet or so. This process is called OTEC, Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion.


The above graphic, from The World Energy Council 2007 Survey of World Energy Resources, shows that most of the areas with the largest thermal differentials occur in areas that are too far from populated shorelines to make feasible electricity generation for transmission into a power grid. Temperature differentials of 20o C or more are necessary for efficient power generation.

The cost estimates for power from OTEC are somewhat problematic. The World Energy Council estimates that a single 10MW demonstration plant would produce electricity at a cost somewhere between $0.14 and $0.21 per kWh, depending on factors such as recovery of potable water and marketable chemicals such as ammonia and various salts. The existence of carbon tax credits could lower the costs further by as much as $0.03.

It is only with the building of multiple plants of the same design that costs may come down below $0.12, the reference cost for existing electricity generation. For example, eight 10 MW plants could produce electricity at a cost between $0.098 and $0.119.

There is potential here, but the costs have to come down more to bring electricity from OTEC to a price to make hydrogen production economically attractive. Remember, we need to transport this hydrogen from the point of generation by ocean going tanker and distribute it by truck or rail tanker (or pipeline) to retail points.

Another potential source of electricity for hydrogen production is wave and tidal motion. To supply electricity for a power grid, the waves and tides must be close to populated shore lines. Wave motion can be used anywhere for hydrogen production, not just where is occurs close to populated shore lines. The same is true for tidal action in remote regions of the planet. The picture below, from New Scientist, shows a SeaGen tidal electricity generator, made by Sea Generation Ltd, in the tidal currents at Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland. Sea Generation is a division of privately held Marine Current Turbine Ltd.


Generation costs for electricity from capital costs alone will be about $0.07 per kWh for a 25 year depreciation. There will be additional unspecified maintenance and operation costs.

Wave action can also be used to generate electricity. The picture below (from New Scientist) shows a wave operated electrical power generator in a generation farm off the north coast of Portugal.


These generators are made by privately held Pelamis Wave Power Ltd. Each generator is a 150-meter-long steel jointed structure, which flexes to drive hydraulic generators and produce 750 kilowatts of power. The company claims electricity generation a competitive costs, but provides no specifics.

The reasons I selected these examples as potential hydrogen generation power sources are:

1. Potential for a lower electricity price point;

2. Electricity generated with plentiful raw material (water) present to produce hydrogen; and

3. With OTEC, the potential for additional revenue from side products.

Battery Costs vs. Fuel Cell Costs

The implications from currently available information are that the costs and durability will be similar. The current objective for Toyota is to have a price premium for hybrids less than the current price premium for a hybrid. The latest generation fuel cell engine is about the same size as a typical 4-cylinder ICE engine and contains about 30 grams of platinum. This is down from the previous generation fuel cell stack which was more than twice the size and contained 80 grams of platinum. The costs just for the platinum alone have been reduced from more than $4,000 in the previous generation to less than $1,500 in the current one. The final fuel cell structure is expected to use only 10 grams of platinum, the same amount as a typical catalytic converter today.

The dramatic change from the previous generation hydrogen fuel cell stack power system to the current generation is seen in the following picture from AutoBlogGreen.com, showing the latest fuel cell drive system on the left next to the drive system used in the past few years in the Chevy Equinox test vehicles that have been driven by volunteers in California, Washington, DC and New York. The power, range and performance of the two systems are the same. The horsepower rating is the equivalent of a current four-cylinder ICE.


Transportation of Fuel and Wholesale Distribution

The technology for distribution by tanker truck and railway car exists today. You can not spend a few hours on any interstate highway near a population center without seeing several pressurized gas tank transports sharing the roadway with you. Pipeline distribution for pressurized hydrogen gas may require different features than currently use for natural gas, but there is no reason to believe that the engineering and construction would present any more challenges or costs. Currently, there is no data reflecting transportation and wholesale distribution impediments to scaling up the use of hydrogen to higher volumes.

Retail Distribution

The cost to build a new gasoline station has been estimated to be in the $250,000 to $450,000, with the largest variable being land cost, using estimates obtained from national average costs at RS Means Cost Works. Obviously, where land costs are extremely dear, near the center of major cities, for example, the cost to build a gasoline station could be much higher, up to $1,000,000 or more.

The cost of building the first 32 hydrogen refueling stations in Southern California has been quoted as $32 million. As high as this cost projection is, it is less than the current cost for a hydrogen refueling pump in Los Angeles, according to Phil Baxley, President of Shell Hydrogen, quoted in the Ohnsman article. He said currently the cost is from $1 million to $5 million per pump, depending on capacity. Even the lower quoted cost, averaging $1 million each for 32 stations, seems to be more costly than all but the most expensive gasoline stations. However, there are three factors related to hydrogen refueling stations that mean this apparent current cost difference may decrease or even be reversed. These are:

1. externality cost exposures for gas stations;

2. lower costs for hydrogen stations in the future through economies of scale; and

3. lower costs to add hydrogen to existing gas stations than to build new.

There are major externality exposures for petroleum based fueling stations. The biggest exposure pertains to future liabilities for soil and ground water contamination by petroleum products and fuel additives. When these externalities are realized, they can be more than the original construction cost (even adjusted for inflation) and occasionally are many millions of dollars. Hydrogen refueling stations do not have these environmental cost exposures.

When the initial costs and the externalities are considered, the refueling stations for hydrogen have an original construction cost of the same order as petroleum fuel stations. Hydrogen refueling stations may decrease in construction costs from the estimates for the first 32 stations in Southern California when many hundreds are constructed per year. If hydrogen were to become ubiquitous, there might be a few thousand new stations per year for a couple of years. A more likely progression would be the modification of existing gas stations to also offer hydrogen refueling facilities at a fraction of the cost of building new stations.

Other countries have more advanced plans for infrastructure development.Both Japan and Germany are working to build large scale distribution networks, with over 1,000 stations on line for each county in five years.


To start with, we must recognize that hydrogen would not be replacing something that did not have an extremely high fire and explosion hazard. We have managed to live with the risks of gasoline for more than a century, with the material being stored in thin walled tanks that can easily rupture.

Hydrogen, a pressurized gas, would be stored in thick walled, virtually indestructible tanks. Pressurized gases are handled in such containers in a variety of industrial environments today and have been for most of the past 100 years. There are few examples of these tanks being breached. The risks have been associated with the pressure reduction valves (regulating the controlled release of the gas) being broken by impact damage. The major risk associated with using hydrogen will be the exposure to the fuel lines being damaged and allowing the tanks to lose pressure rapidly, turning them into jet propelled missiles.

The pressurized gas tank as a missile is the major safety hazard. It is not insignificant, but should not be an insurmountable problem.


There are still a lot of questions to be answered. But one thing is clear: hydrogen powered cars are not dead. In congested metropolitan areas where electrical costs are high, hydrogen may become widely utilized. The further advantage of much longer travel ranges may also give hydrogen an additional edge over plug in alternatives.

It is too early to make investment decisions trying to select eventual winners. It is not wise to assume there will not be a viable hydrogen car and hydrogen distribution systems during the next decade.

John Lounsbury, CFP, PhD is a financial planner in Clayton, NC. He has extensive experience in computer technology research and development both as an engineer/scientist and in corporate management with academic degrees in physical science. He is a regular contributor to Real Money at TheStreet.com and to Seeking Alpha. Dr. Lounsbury also has his own professional blog, PiedmontHudson. His articles are widely circulated on the internet.

February 22, 2007

Interview: Ted Hollinger of Hydrogen Engine Center

The following is an interview with Ted Hollinger, President of Hydrogen Engine Center.

In a nutshell, what is Hydrogen Engine Center’s (HEC) main technology and what are its principal applications?

Development of proprietary electronic controls and other technologies to allow for the use of hydrogen and other gaseous fuels for the generation of power. These technologies have applications in many areas, including but not limited to the distributed power industry, airport ground support, co-generation with certain manufacturing processes, buses, marine engines and agricultural irrigation pump systems.

One of the main drivers you identify as necessary for strong uptake of your products is the high cost of gasoline and other fossil fuels. In the event that the energy bears are correct and that we are due for a major correction in the price of oil, how would this affect your growth prospects? Overall, how closely is demand for your products linked to the price of oil?

The main driver is air quality. We believe that the increasing interest in, and control over, air quality and emissions on the part of the EPA, Kyoto, state regulators and other regulatory bodies and sources of influence will have a material, positive and long-term effect on interest in our products. High gas prices help, but are a secondary effect.

You also mention growing worries about climate change as creating interest for your products. Have you been able to observe this, for instance in jurisdictions like California where greenhouse gases will soon be regulated?

Yes, there are tighter emission laws today than ever before. In the next few years they’ll get even tighter. Under our agreement with Sawtelle & Rosprim, Inc we expect to work with that company to design and build the world’s first ammonia-fueled irrigation pump system for the purpose of meeting California’s new emissions requirements scheduled to go into effect in 2010. Plans include integrating the Company’s ammonia-powered engines with Sawtelle’s pump technologies and expertise to complete a prototype system for testing and evaluation. We expect that the prototype system will be tested in California during the 2007 irrigation season.

In your latest Form 10-QSB, you cite a shortage of capital and problems with suppliers as reasons behind a change in your short-term focus away from developing the Oxx Power engines toward efforts to generate revenue through the sale of open power units and more conventional generator systems. When do you foresee a return to your primary strategic focus, and how will you seek to solve your capitalization and supplier

Although we cannot provide a schedule, HEC expects to get the next round of financing in the near future. Although HEC expects to be able to pursue its primary focus more aggressively after the financing is completed, it is important to note that, regardless of the status of the financing, the long-term vision of the Company has not changed

For the 9 months ended September 30, 2006, net cash /used/ in operating activities grew by about 1,400% when compared to the same period in 2005. When can investors expect positive operating cash flows?

Although we have an internal projection, we believe it is too early in our operations to share that information publicly.

Investors hear a lot about the promises of hydrogen, especially for the transportation sector. Most firms currently working on hydrogen-related technologies are, however, development-stage companies with negative earnings. What makes HEC stand out from the crowd from an investment viewpoint?

HEC has products in the field and hopes to be the first hydrogen company to reach break even. HEC’s engines and generator systems are cost effective and durable as well as easily serviced almost anywhere in the world.

I’d like to give you this opportunity to make a final comment.

HEC is leading the way in the use of hydrogen in industrial engine applications and distributed power generation. The Natural Resources Canada wind-to-hydrogen project is one of the first of its kind. We believe that airport vehicles, buses and marine engine applications are next.

DISCLOSURE: We do not have any positions in Hydrogen Engine Center.

October 31, 2006

Hydrogen is a long-term story... and that's exactly why I like QuestAir Tech

Ballard Power Systems (NASDAQ:BLDP or TSE:BLD) was arguably the first high-profile alternative energy story to hit North American markets since the oil shock of the 1970s, at a time when investors knew much less about the promises and pitfalls of fuel cells and the so-called “hydrogen economy? than they do today. It was also an era of general euphoria about anything tech and Ballard got caught into it all. But today I will not focus on Ballard - I’m only giving this example to highlight the fact that the idea of hydrogen powering our whole economy cleanly and renewably has been with us for some time now. Ballard’s rapid rise, especially on the Toronto Exchange, followed by its equally rapid fall and its complete lack of a recovery since, is a sobering reminder that a full-scale hydrogen-powered economy is still years away, at best.

The Hydrogen Economy Will Happen... Slowly
Last week, someone sent me an article titled The Truth About Hydrogen which was published in the November issue of Popular Mechanics, but I sat on the article for a while. I shouldn’t have. It’s a nice and concise, no-nonsense piece about what hydrogen can and can’t do (yet) for our energy-hungry economy. It confirms what most experts think – that while there will be (and has already been) good progress made on overcoming the wealth of barriers, technical and otherwise, that stand in the way of widespread adoption of hydrogen as a primary fuel source for a number of applications, we still have a long way to go before Jeremy Rifkin’s hydrogen economy vision comes to be. Nevertheless, there is a lot of interest in hydrogen from the tech community, policy-makers, investors, and, increasingly, the public at large, and hydrogen undoubtedly holds great promises in the long run.

Seek out the bridge technologies
My view, and that of many of our readers, is that the economy will eventually shift into clean mode, driven in part by a push for greater efficiency, tightening regulations, and changing customer demand. That won't, however, happen overnight, especially with the much touted "hydrogen revolution". That's why I'm a big believer in transition, or bridge, technologies. Companies that position themselves to make money along the whole spectrum of phases that will take us from where we are today to a cleaner economy will be the big winners, and so will their shareholders.

There are a number of hydrogen and fuel-cell players out there that, while undeniably sitting on promising ideas, really have no way to generate positive cash flow until their core technology is fully commercialized. That is, in principle, how most firms start out, but the caveat here is that some companies are at best a few years away from generating sustainable and healthy profits (Ballard, anyone?). This is exactly why I like QuestAir Technologies (TSE:QAR or LSE:QAR). QuestAir’s main technology is used to purify gases, mostly hydrogen, utilizing a process known as pressure swing adsorption (PSA). What I like about QuestAir is that the company’s technology has some very real applications in a range of existing industrial processes, chief among them oil refining. But what is also interesting is that it is positioning itself for the eventual setting up "hydrogen highways", or routes along which gas stations would offer hydrogen fuelling facilities. The company is also in a partnership with a leading fuel cell developer and recently got exposure to the US coal-to-liquids market through the sale of one of its units to a leading player in that space.

QuestAir finished 102nd on Deloitte's 2006 Technology Fast 500, which ranks the fastest-growing North American tech companies based on percentage revenue growth over a five-year period. The company's revenue growth over that period of time was around 2,085%.

Now the usual caveats apply here: (a) it's an emerging company that is heavily reliant on one large strategic partner for sales growth, (b) it's got negative EBITDA that exceed revenues, and (c) I only gave you a very brief snapshot of the firm, so you should definitely do your homework if I've poked your interest.

DISCLOSURE: The author is long Questair Tech.

May 09, 2006

Hydrogenics Receives $3.3 Million Order for On-site Hydrogen Generation Plant from Major Energy Company

hygs_logo.gifHydrogenics Corp (HYGS) announced it was awarded a contract, valued at approximately $3.3 million, to supply a HySTAT(TM)-A Hydrogen Plant to a major North American oil and gas refinery for installation in 2007. The high purity hydrogen generated by the HySTAT-A Hydrogen Plant will be used by the refinery to reduce the sulfur content in diesel fuel in compliance with EPA regulations. [ more ]

March 22, 2006

Hydrogenics Awarded Contract to Supply Hydrogen Generators to China's Largest Energy Companies

hygs_logo.gifHydrogenics Corp (HYGS) announced that it has received orders to supply electrolysis-based hydrogen generator plants to two of China's largest energy companies.

China Electric Power Energy Group and China National Power have each purchased a HySTAT-A Hydrogen Plant, capable of producing 10 Nm3/h of high purity hydrogen at a pressure of 25 bar. In both cases, the hydrogen produced will be used to cool the generators in a coal-fired power plant. Delivery of both orders is expected to take place in 2006. [ more ]

March 16, 2006

Equitex Completes Acquisition of Hydrogen Power, Inc.

Equitex, Inc. (EQTX) announced today that it has completed the acquisition of Hydrogen Power, Inc. ("HPI") through a newly formed Equitex subsidiary which will be the surviving entity and renamed Hydrogen Power, Inc. HPI is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Equitex which controls all of HPI's licensed intellectual property rights to patented hydrogen generation technology in the United States, South America, Mexico and Canada. [ more ]

February 03, 2006

Hydrogenics Delivers US$ 1.5 million HySTAT Hydrogen Generator to North American Nuclear Power Plant

hygs_logo.gifHydrogenics Corp (HYGS) announced today that it delivered a HySTAT(TM) Hydrogen Plant in December to a North American nuclear plant. The high-purity hydrogen generated is being used to prevent corrosion and extend the life of stainless steel tubes in the nuclear reactor as part of an upgrade for the purpose of renewing the plant's operating permit.

The hydrogen generator in this application consists of two HySTAT-A electrolyzer modules, each capable of producing 33Nm3/hr of hydrogen further demonstrating the scalability of Hydrogenics line of hydrogen generation products. [ more ]

February 02, 2006

Westport and Ford Announce Hydrogen Engine Technology Development

Westport Innovations (WPT.TO) and Ford Motor Company today announced a project to develop and demonstrate an advanced direct injection fuel system for vehicles powered by high-efficiency, high performance engines operating on pure hydrogen.

The two-year development program will be divided into two phases. Phase one will define advanced fuel system requirements including the design of fuel injectors. Phase two will incorporate the design and manufacture of new prototype fuel systems. The Government of Canada has contributed $250,000 during phase one. [ more ]

February 01, 2006

Bush's State of the Union

"America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world"

Thanks to Mr. Bush's state of the union address last night, we should see some nice gains across the board in the Alternative Energy sector.

Some of the big winners may be the Ethanol companies like Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Pacific Ethanol, Inc. (PEIX).

The EnergyStockBlog.com has a nice write up on the potential for ADM. [ more ]

GreenCarCongress.com has a nice summary of the important parts of the speech.

In his State of the Union 2006 address, President Bush announced the Advanced Energy Initiative�a 22% increase in clean-energy research at the Department of Energy (DOE).

The Initiative is intended to focus on providing breakthroughs in two areas: power for homes and businesses; and transportation. [ more ]

Update: Well the market is now open and shares of ADM and PEIX are trading down. But shares of Fuel Cells and Solar companies are up.

January 31, 2006

Hydrogenics Awarded Contract by Gas Natural to Deliver Hydrogen Station to Spanish Wind Farm

hygs_logo.gifHydrogenics Corp (HYGS) announced that they have been awarded a contract for over EUR 500,000 to deliver a hydrogen station to Gas Natural SDG, a Spanish-based energy services multinational with approximately ten million customers in Spain, Latin America, Italy and France (www.gasnatural.com).

Gas Natural will use a Hydrogenics' HySTAT(TM)-A Hydrogen Station at the Sotavento Galicia wind farm to produce up to 60 Nm3/hr of hydrogen. The hydrogen will be used to fuel an internal combustion engine generator, which in turn will supply electricity to the electric grid. [ more ]

January 26, 2006

Maxwell Technologies Provides Ultracapacitors for General Hydrogen

Maxwell Technologies (MXWL) announced that General Hydrogen Corporation, a leading developer of hydrogen fuel cell-based power systems for electric forklifts, has placed a 200,000 unit, three-year, purchase order for BOOSTCAP® ultracapacitors to enhance performance and energy management in its Hydricity® Pack technology.

The purchase order is part of a strategic supply agreement through which General Hydrogen will source ultracapacitors exclusively from Maxwell and receive strategic pricing if volume thresholds specified in the purchase order are reached. [ more ]

Quantum Delivers First Vehicles of Hydrogen Hybrid Fleet to Santa Ana

qtww_logo.gifQuantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide Inc (QTWW) announced the delivery of five hydrogen-fueled Toyota Prius hybrid vehicles to the City of Santa Ana, California. This is part of a larger South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) program to develop and demonstrate 30 hydrogen hybrid vehicles to fleets in Southern California. The formal delivery took place during a ceremony held today at the City of Santa Ana's vehicle fleet yard.

In March 2004, the AQMD awarded Quantum a contract to engineer a state-of-the-art OEM caliber hydrogen fuel system, perform accelerated long-term durability testing, including crash testing. The complete hydrogen internal combustion engine fuel system, including both the injection system and hydrogen storage system, was developed by Quantum at its Advanced Vehicle Concept Center in Lake Forest, CA. [ more ]

January 25, 2006

Penn State Titania Nanotube Arrays Harness Solar Energy

Penn State researchers are finding new ways to harness the power of the sun using highly-ordered arrays of titania nanotubes for hydrogen production and increased solar cell efficiency. [ more ]


January 20, 2006

Hydrogenics Supplies Hydrogen Generator to Russian Utility

hygs_logo.gifHydrogenics Corp (HYGS) announced that the company has supplied an onsite electrolysis-based HySTAT-A Hydrogen Plant to OAO NSCHK, a state-owned utility in Novorsibirsk, Russia. The high-purity hydrogen produced by the 240Nm3/hr hydrogen generator will be used in the chemical processes used in this nuclear power plant. Installation and commissioning is scheduled for Spring, 2006. [ more ]

July 01, 2004

How the Hydrogen Economy Works

One of the major movers in the Alternative Energy sector are stocks that pertain to Hydrogen production and conversion into energy. You can learn more about the Hydrogen economy at the excellent How Stuff Works website using the following link: How the Hydrogen Economy Works.

Site Sponsors

Oil and Gas

Search This Site

Share Us

Subscribe to this Blog

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Subscribe by RSS Feed


Certifications and Site Mentions

New York Times

Wall Street Journal

USA Today


The Scientist

USA Today

Seeking Alpha Certified

Twitter Updates