Navigating the World with the Hydrogen-Powered Ship
Remember the ancient poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge from the 1834 poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner?
Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
It was a long poem about a sailor in stuck in a becalmed ship. You can only imagine how it feels to be surrounded by water, thirsty, and unable to drink it.
Today's post while not about water is about a composite of water- hydrogen. We can write a similar poem for hydrogen and it may go like this:
Hydrogen, hydrogen, everywhere.
Hard to be gotten alone, easy to be seen as water.
While the little poem may not win a Nobel for poetry any time soon, at least you get the idea. But if you did not, we would get to the bottom of it.
Hydrogen, while being the most abundant element in the world, mostly does not one exist as a naturally occurring element under the Earth's atmospheric conditions.
Hydrogen is the lightest element which exists on the periodic table. It is found in abundant quantities as water where it coexists as three atoms with another element: two hydrogen atoms and an atom of oxygen.
To use hydrogen as a fuel, there is the process of splitting the water molecule into two to separate the oxygen atom from the diatomic hydrogen gas.
But in order to get hydrogen, the three major production process include natural gas reforming, charcoal gasification, and thirdly, through the process of electrolysis.
The natural gas reforming is through the extraction of methane from water to yield two products- diatomic hydrogen gas and carbon dioxide.
CH4 + H20 ⇒ H2 (gas) + C02
The byproduct, carbon dioxide, contribute to the harmful greenhouse gas emission which goes against the decarbonization protocol of many countries which aims to reduce the carbon intensity in the power sector.
The second method is the carbon/coal gassification. The coal is heated up at high pressure at a temperature of more than 700-degree Celsius to yield hydrogen gas.
3C (coal) + O2 + H2O → H2 + 3CO
Again, the byproduct, carbon monoxide CO contains carbon.
Even when the hydrogen gas goes on a further refining process which is done by the addition of more water:
CO + H2O → CO2 + H2
We are still left with a byproduct of the same harmful carbon-compound (CO2) which was obtainable in the first production process.
The third production process, electrolysis, involves the use of electricity.
Here the water molecule is split into two through the use of electricity
2H20(l) → 2 H2(g) + O2(g)
It is the cleanest hydrogen production method since it produces zero carbon. The advantage comes at the cost of high electricity consumption. The production of 1 kg of hydrogen happens at an expense of 39.4 kilowatt-hours of electricity. This method quadrupled the amount of energy required for the other processes.
The quest for other sources of fuel for transportation continues, and a ship made in France is pioneering the shift from the use of hydrogen from road transportation to the seas. The ship, called The Energy Observer, will be powered by a combination of solar panels and hydrogen. The aptly named ship is a model to show to the world how hydrogen gas production can occur in a decarbonated way, one of the major problem militating against the use of hydrogen.
The ship will make use of hydrogen fuel cell, solar panels, and wind turbines to power the ship for the 6-year around the world voyage. During that time, it will pass through 50 countries and dock in 101 ports. So far the ship has visited 14 countries, made a total of 26 stopovers and covered 8407 nautical miles. As at the time of making this post, the ship is at Napoli in Italy, an information gleaned from the update of the real-time tracking website.
Hydrogen is the fuel of choice due to its light nature which makes it have to be up to 300% more efficient than the conventional fuel.
First, what makes The Energy Observer ship any different from other hydrogen-powered machines like some vehicles one may wonder?
It produces hydrogen from seawater through a process of demineralization, the process similar to desalination where the salt and ions present are removed, the pure water then passed through electricity (electrolysis) to separate the water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen gas obtained is stored in compressed tanks at a pressure range of 30-350 bar. The compression is necessary since, under normal atmospheric pressure, hydrogen will occupy an unnecessarily large volume, making storing it in small/limited space a nightmare. The ship weighs in at 28 metric ton and the 1400 square foot (130 square meters) of the top is covered by solar panels which maximum output capacity of 21KW. The lithium battery that it charges has an energy of 106KWh. There is also the hydrogen fuel cell with a capacity of 22KW.
The fuel cell reaction creates electricity and has a peak production of up to 45kilowatts which powers the 241KW motors of the ship in conjunction with the lithium battery's 106KWh capacity. So, whatever happens, the ship is guaranteed enough juice to move on due to multiple sources of energy; the sun, the wind and the batteries.
The ship is self-sustaining, but we already know that it takes energy (electricity) to create hydrogen. That is where the 1400 square foot of solar panels and two verticle wind turbines. Together, the two are capable of producing up to 23KW( the two turbines can produce a peak power of 1KW each) of electricity making sure that The Energy Observer continues creating hydrogen as it moves.
Is this the future of transportation? Can we replicate such features on land?
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