ECOtality’s On-Board Hydrogen Generation System

Why worry about transporting hydrogen when you could just produced it on-demand in your vehicle? That’s the idea of ECOtality‘s Hydratus technology. The system operates in conjunction with a hydrogen fuel cell, and produces hydrogen from a reaction between magnesium and water. Other companies are working on similar concepts, using boron, and aluminum. The company plans to implement the Hydratus system on fuel cell buses like the one pictured above. The Hydratus buses should have a $200,000 premium over their conventional counterparts, which sell for about $300,000. The half-million dollar vehicles will have a range of about 155miles, or 15 hours of travel, between refuelings.

“Hydrogen on-demand is going to be what catapults hydrogen from being a great concept to a great reality.”

Working together on the project, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and ECOtality are now reporting that they have doubled the mileage over their pervious version, but at the same weight and volume.

The Hydratus system overcomes many of the issues hydrogen faces today, namely transportation and storage, which are not needed with the on-demand H2 system:

“Compressed hydrogen is the least likely to be the prevailing system when the shakeout is done and over with. It’s expensive to produce, transport and store, and it’s inefficient in form to produce and store”

The only byproduct of the process other than hydrogen and water is a powdered form of magnesium oxide, which stays in the system until removed. Filling stations for the Hydratus vehicles would use a special pump than pumps in new magnesium pellets and water and pumps out the spent magnesium oxide. The entire re-fueling process should take three to five minutes.

Interestingly, the spent magnesium oxide powder is recyclable and can be made into usable magnesium pellets for the filling stations,

“Magnesium is the fourth most-common mineral in the world and could be extracted from the sea. It’s common and available in almost all countries. The magnesium, once it’s put into the system, is a contained system. So there is no need to continue mining”

Unsurprisingly, the technology isn’t cheap. The cost for fuel is about $4.80 per liter (about $17.50 per gallon), or $2.80 per liter if the filling station recycles its own spent magnesium.


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