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Invention slashes hydrogen electrolyser costs

Hydrogen electrolysers could become over 90 per cent cheaper to build, the inventors of a new device claim

Surrey-based RE Hydrogen has developed a 1KW version of its electrolyser, which uses electricity to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen, and this month received £25,000 from the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) to produce a bigger unit.

The dramatic cost-cutting was achieved by eliminating mechanical parts not related to the electrolysis reaction using a different manufacturing process, RE director Dr Amitava Roy told The Engineer.

‘Our manufacturing cost is 93 per cent lower than the current state of the art, based on what we have already done. Mass production could save another 25-50 per cent,’ he said.

So far RE has developed 50W, 150W and 1KW versions of the device for use in laboratories and for the bottled hydrogen market. A 5KW model is on the way thanks to the TSB, but the firm also intends to build 100KW units that can be used for industrial hydrogen production and energy harvesting.

Roy hopes the device’s low costs would make it useful for the energy industry to capture and store intermittent sources of electricity such as wind, as well as aiding power management for the national grid and for individual smart home systems.

Although it would be up to the customer to decide what source of electricity they used to produce the hydrogen, one advantage of RE’s device is its ability to capture relatively low energy output from unpredictable sources such as small wind turbines.

According to Roy’s calculations, a year’s worth of electricity from a 1.5KW wind turbine would be worth £670 under the current feed-in tariff rate, but the hydrogen that electricity could create with RE’s electrolyser would be worth around £4,000.

Electrolysers work by passing an electric current through water, effectively breaking it down and causing hydrogen and oxygen to form at the cathode and anode, respectively.

RE’s device is also designed to prevent the potassium hydroxide (KOH) used as an electrolyte from leaking. The KOH is much cheaper than alternative technology such as proton exchange membranes, which require costly platinum electrodes.

‘A common problem in the industry is leaks and KOH is quite nasty because it’s corrosive,’ said Roy. ’But we are all carrying it in our pockets in mobile phone batteries and it is not a problem. So we’re taking the kind of approach the battery industry has taken to seal in the KOH.’

Readers' comments (10)

  • RE has slashed the cost of machinery for making hydrogen by a huge amount - a tremendous achievement.

    However the energy required to make hydrogen from water still remains the same - whereas your headline suggests a massive reduction.

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  • This is great -- if confusing -- news.

    Suddenly we can all have home energy units, powered by wind, solar.

    As Mr. Jewitt notes, the actual energy input does not change, however, in the case of local solar, or wind, who's all free and renewable!

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  • Tremendous news. Though I'm confused by the percentages: when they say, "Mass production could save another 25-50 per cent" do they mean 25-50% of the remaining 7%? Thus, a total reduction in cost of 95-97%.

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  • Interstesting but not new. We've been producing 200W to 2KW systems from over 3 years, not such support in Australia though.

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  • Fair dinkum cobber, not much requirement for heat in the desert.....

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  • Very deceptive report.

    Most commercial hydrogen is produced by reforming natural gas. If you would chase the electrolyzer hydrogen back to the actual production, the cost will be many times more expensive than present methods.

    If you think the electriciy to drive this system is free, than ask Germany what the feed in tariff rate is for solar or wind. That is what should be used for financial comparisons.

    And if you think of it for storing electricity, than you need to look at the round trip of electric to hydrogen to electric. You will find it lucky to acheive 60%, which can be topped by many other methods.

    This makes sense for small production of local hydrogen production needs, but the economics of making hydrogen using electrolyzers needs to be carefully reviewed by unbiased people before being encouraged.

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  • Following some reader feedback, the headline and introduction to this article have been amended to better reflect the fact that reductions were made in the device’s manufacturing costs not its operating costs.

  • This is fine: let's also have some ingenuity identifying uses where an intermittent power supply can be tolerated.

    For example, reverse osmosis for fresh water supply from salt water. Accumulate the product and store it when the power - tide, solar, etc, is available.

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  • I have been working on this for around 30 years, having produced some real Heath Robinson units, this guy is lucky he can get finance I have had to use only my own cash, I have a unit in two cars at present, one going from 38 mpg to 66 mpg, the other going from 27 mpg to 48 mpg using a hydrogen-on-demand procedure, I am making a unit for a large trucking company, hoping to increase the milage by double or more, hoping the company will give me cash backing to
    produce more for their fleet, I,ll let you know.

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  • I thought that hydrogen leaked out of anything you put it in, making storage impractical. I can understand 'make some when you need it', but 'make lots for later' doesn't seem like a good idea.

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  • It is well known the cost of hydrogen sold in the market is a combined effect of the following factors by conventional electrolysers up to 25kW in size.

    - Amortised Capital cost =70%
    - Operating cost (i.e. electricity cost)= 20%
    - Maintenance and servicing cost, manpower = 10%

    Therefore if you have free electricity, the cost of hydrogen will be only 20% cheaper for conventional electrolysers.

    But RE Hydrogen has reduced he capital cost of their electrolyser by 90% therefore the you get a significant reduction in the selling cost of hydrogen.

    The current hydrogen cylinders cost from £12- £100/ kg hydrogen on the market. RE Hydrogen's claim of £5/kg H2 can enable a lot of market sectors (transportation, energy storage etc).

    Therefore I think the title of this articles should be original one i.e. " Invention slashes the cost of hydrogen".

    With due respect to the Editor I think he/she should have consulted the original writer of this articles and RE Hydrogen Ltd by giving them an opportunity to express their views before making a change of the title.

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