Over 90-percent of the hydrogen created in this country today is from steam reforming of natural gas. Natural gas (methane) and steam is heated to high temperatures between 1,400 and 1,800 F and put under high pressure. This requires a lot of energy typically pulled off the grid from coal-fired power plants.
Now, researchers at Manchester University in the UK as part of the SUPERGEN program are developing charged plasma particles that can produce hydrogen at much lower temperatures. At around 180 F, or 10 times cooler than the traditional process, plasma can help separate hydrogen from natural gas and steam.
This has already been used on a much smaller scale to remove pollutants from flue pipes. According to Manchester’s Professor Christopher Whitehead, this process can also be created off-grid using only renewable energy resources.
Whitehead foresees the plasma process one day being used in home hydrogen fueling stations and in commercial fueling stations to generate hydrogen on demand. By using the current natural gas infrastructure and creating hydrogen on demand and on location, much of the building of a vast H2 infrastructure that simulates the current gasoline infrastructure will not be necessary.
Since natural gas is being used as the energy feedstock (even if renewables are used in the process) this will not be as clean as generating hydrogen from water. But, it will be a much cleaner method of generating automobile fuel than using either current fossil fuels or electric autos gaining their energy from the coal-fired grid.
Home refueling of hydrogen autos using the current natural gas infrastructure is feasible transitional technology that can get hydrogen autos in the garages across America now. If, however, Honda would put a little more effort into getting their Home Energy Station ready for prime time, we’d all be in much better shape.