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Solar Powered Hydrogen Filling Station
Solar powered hydrogen refueling station in Freiburg.

Freiburg, Germany — The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy CF Systems inaugurated a solar hydrogen filling station in Freiburg on March 2. Sponsored by the Ministry of the Environment Baden-Wuerttemberg, the publicly accessible filling station serves not only as a demonstration platform but also represents a milestone in the development of a network of hydrogen filling stations being set up in the State of Baden-Wuerttemberg.

The argument for years against H2 filling stations has been the shortsighted idea of using grid-supplied electric power to generate the hydrogen by the electrolysis of water. The argument said, quite correctly, that this simply moved the carbon emission somewhere else — the electric power generating station. But with solar energy providing all of the electricity for the electrolysis process, and to operate the lights and pumps, hydrogen-powered automobiles can actually be classified as solar-powered. There is no carbon footprint at all, anywhere.

Renewable Energy Sources
Today's push for expanded renewable energy sources makes this solar-powered hydrogen fueling station a landmark effort; it not only provides hydrogen for cars, it also stores energy in the form of liquefied H2. This can be a major boost not only for the solar energy market, but also for wind turbines, since stored hydrogen can provide huge amounts of electric power when used with stationary fuel cell power stations — supplanting batteries that are so limited in their storage capacity.

According to Fraunhofer, a fuel-cell powered car can fill up with the liquid hydrogen in about 3 minutes, providing a travel range of about 400 kilometers (250 miles).

According to a government official, the State of Baden-Wuerttemberg is actively promoting expansion of the hydrogen infrastructure, thereby also supporting the nation's automobile industry. The vision is to achieve a sustainable, future-proof mobility using sustainable energy sources — both solar and wind power. The new solar hydrogen filling station in Freiburg is viewed as a research platform linking renewable energy and electric mobility, using "green" hydrogen. The Freiburg filling station is one of a handful of stations that demonstrate what Fraunhofer calls the entire value chain — starting from electricity generated from renewable energy, through electrolysis and ultimately to refueling the vehicle with hydrogen.

Since its founding, Fraunhofer ISE has been working on electrolysis technology, hydrogen for use in fuel cells and on hydrogen as electrical energy storage for renewable power sources. The hydrogen filling station serves as a reference project for researchers in their quest to develop emission-free mobility for the future.

Flexible Electrical Loads
The electrolyzers that are used here operate as flexible loads for the solar panels, serving to stabilize the intermittent nature of electricity from solar panels and/or wind turbines.

"The transformation of our energy supply system to one hundred percent renewable energy is one of the challenges for our society in the coming years," states Prof. Eicke R. Weber, director of Fraunhofer ISE. He adds: "With hydrogen, surplus electricity can be stored in any given amount and be delivered upon demand to the mobility sector."

The researchers at Fraunhofer emphasize that a total conversion of our automotive system to all-electric power is essential, if we are to have sustainable mobility. And a number of European automobile manufacturers have climbed aboard with promises to have fuel cell vehicles in volume production by 2015. Even the electric and gas utilities in Germany are getting their acts together, promising a hydrogen infrastructure nationwide in Germany by 2017. Leading oil companies and electric utilities there have formed the joint initiative "H2 Mobility".

Principal components in the hydrogen fueling station in Freiburg include a 30 bar pressure electrolyzer, a mechanical compressor for compressing hydrogen to 700 bar for storage, puffer storage at two different pressure levels, and pumps for dispensing the hydrogen. Energy is supplied by photovoltaic arrays on the filling station rooftop and on a neighboring building. The amount of energy is recorded automatically and excess power is fed to the grid through an inverter.

Among the cars at the opening was a Mercedes Benz F-CELL World Drive that has already been driven once around the world. At the opening day ceremony, guests were given a guided tour of the newly constructed Fuel Cell Test Lab located at Fraunhofer ISE.

Above the Arctic Circle
In another development, H2 Logic, a Danish hydrogen fuel company, has opened a new hydrogen refueling station inside the Arctic Circle. While it may seem contra-intuitive to build a fueling station in this part of the world, the station will serve as a vital fuel point for many automakers testing hydrogen-powered vehicles. Car makers have begun testing their new vehicles in extreme weather to determine whether they are fit for different climates. The station will be located at the Arctic Driving Center in Finland. H2 Logic's new station is part of an experiment to see how fueling stations work in severe climates. Some have assumed that the cold weather of the Arctic Circle would slow down fueling of vehicles. Thus far, the weather has had no effect on the speed of fueling. In fact, vehicles running on hydrogen fuel can fill up faster at the new station than any other in the world.

The company has plans to build fuel stations in other parts of the world, especially where automakers are testing new vehicles. These stations will be able to serve any vehicle coming from any automaker because of the universal nozzle design of the pumps. As more hydrogen-powered vehicles make their way to the consumer market, H2 Logic plans to introduce their quick-fueling technology to more stations around the world.


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