Aqueous fuel to revolutionize hydrogen transport and refuelling

Aqueous fuel to revolutionize hydrogen transport and refuelling

Interviews |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

Sharing an impressive video of the catalyst in action, furiously bubbling hydrogen by simply dipping a catalyst tip inside a glass containing the so-called Electriq~Fuel, Electriq~Global’ CEO Guy N. Michrowski detailed the company’s roadmap and go-to-market strategy to eeNews Europe.

“What we’ve developed is the technology for safe H2 storage using a liquid carrier, a mixture of water and boron hydride (BH4) which can store a good quantity of hydrogen but which is also safe, non-explosive, non-toxic, and can be handled at ambient pressure and temperature”, said Michrowski as an introduction.

“This makes storing hydrogen very cost competitive. In our case, the whole infrastructure of H2 transport is simple and cost competitive with gasoline. But we also designed a method of generating H2 from the fuel, on demand thanks to a catalyst, to feed fuel cells” continued the CEO.

The technology was invented by Dr. Alex Silberman, an electro-chemical expert with a strong background in developing fuel cells and hydrogen-based energy solutions and currently CTO and Co-Founder of Electriq~Global.

Replacing the compressed hydrogen stack with an
Electriq~Fuel tank and the catalyst-based Electriq-System.

“As he realized that a lot of good companies were creating cost competitive fuel cells, he decided to focus on the missing component, how to make H2 easily accessible. The target price for hydrogen to become cost competitive with gasoline is $6/kg at the filling station. Our aim is to go even below that” said Michrowski.

“But in fact, we are not competing with gasoline, we are enabling the switch to electric vehicles. Very soon, by 2025 in Holland, by 2030 in Germany and by 2040 in France, regulations will be limiting the use of internal combustion engines. So we are only replacing the compressed hydrogen stack”.

“Today, at H2 filling stations, we see a 50% potential cost reduction in infrastructure. It is extremely expensive to build an H2 filling station to receive hydrogen, with special containers and compressors, and it takes a lot of energy to compress hydrogen at 700 bars.

Gasoline and Electriq~Fuel’s distribution
chains side by side.

An additional cost contributor for H2, 35% comes from the need to compress it, requiring special truck trailers which are expensive and limited to 200 bars in pressure. In our case, we only need a regular truck with plastic containers to transport our water-based fuel”.

Another cost-cutter described by Michrowski is that half of the hydrogen generated from the Electriq~Fuel comes from H2O in the mixture, and the other half from BH4. This means that in order to produce the fuel, the company only needs to pay for half of the hydrogen it will deliver in its fuel, the other half, water, being virtually free.

“And we have a fuel regenerating process. When you sum up all these cost-cutting measures, you could go under $6/kg for the end consumer at the filling station” explained the CEO.

After the Electriq~Fuel has released its hydrogen in contact with the catalyst (branded as Electriq~Switch) the spent fuel is captured and taken back to a plant where it is replenished with hydrogen and water for re-use.

In the company’s literature, the Electriq~Fuel is described as being composed of 60% water and 40% of a chemical mix consisting primarily of the BH4 salt chemical. The solution is inorganic, and when put into contact with the catalyst, hydrolysis provides 50% of the hydrogen while the decomposition of boron hydride provides another 50%. The spent fuel consists of water and BO2.

The only outputs are hydrogen and heat and if it were to use renewable energy to recycle its fuel, the company could boast a zero emission footprint for its technology, only drawing low purity industrial H2 to replenish the spent fuel.

On its slide deck, Electriq~Global makes the bold claim that its solution offers electric vehicles twice the range for half the cost of gasoline. It also claims the aqueous fuel supports an energy density up to 15 times that of electric batteries currently used in EVs.

Twice the range for half the cost of gasoline with

“Today, our fuel has a density that allows the same driving distance as current EVs, but looking at our roadmap, our second generation fuel will have double the density”, Michrowski clarified “our 2nd generation fuel is still a boron hydride-based mixture, in a higher concentration”.

“Currently, our focus is on larger vehicles such as buses, long-haul trucks and logistic vans that could run with light batteries. The batteries are only needed to boost the drive system in peak demands”.

Electriq~Global says it has several projects going on with partners to build pilot systems. The technology will first reach the market in two ways according to the CEO. One will be on-board generators, for buses to extend their range. The other will be to help companies avoid the challenges associated with the compressed H2 infrastructure.

“We are going to accelerate the adoption of H2-based vehicles, reducing their price while increasing their reliability. Once our technology becomes available and mature, we’ll start showing the technology in vehicles, the barrier to adoption will be lower. There is a push for electrification but batteries are not enough for all applications”, commented the CEO.

“There are about 500 logistic barges in Europe, they need a lot of power, batteries won’t work for them”.

Michrowski gave us another example, comparing different use cases for the same EV. “If you are using a Tesla to commute to work, to the gym, back home, then to the office, you can always find time to recharge it. If you are an Uber driver, you won’t be able to recharge often enough”.

Now, what about the catalyst and its lifetime? Will it need replacement? eeNews Europe asked.

“The catalyst needs to be changed every 10,000 working hours or about once or twice a year depending on mileage. It is a bit like changing your oil filter today. The cost will be within the boundaries of today’s automotive maintenance costs” answered Michrowski.

“We will produce the catalyst and tier one OEMs will design and manufacture the system on-board the vehicle. The catalyst compound is made of simple elements, no rare materials or noble metals”.

The CEO said it is still not clear if it will make economic sense to recycle the catalyst although all options are on the table. It may be a matter or cleaning or renewing the catalyst part.

Discussing overall fuel energy efficiency, Michrowski said that from taking the spent fuel, transporting it to a recycling centre, recycling it by adding hydrogen, transporting it back to the filling station, then using it in a car to generate energy, the fuel was 45% efficient (not including the heat generated at the fuel cell), arguing that this could go up to 70% if energy was harvested from the heat too.

Talking about the commercialization of its technology, Michrowski says the company’s first products to market will likely be portable generators, within two years from now. The second market inroad will be with technology for the transport of hydrogen to filling stations. “We are active in some projects where we build a demonstrator, we show the technical and economic feasibility of H2 transport from the chemical plants to the filling stations” the CEO said.

The company hopes to have its first truck-compatible prototype by the end of this year or early 2020 but it may take three to five years before it hits its biggest markets, the automotive and maritime sectors.

Electriq~Global has announced a partnership with Dutch startup Eleqtec to launch its water-based fuel technology in the Netherlands, including Electriq~Fuel’s recycling plants and mobility applications for trucks, barges and mobile generators.

Electriq~Global –

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