U.S. DoE Launches $1 Million H2 Refuel H-Prize to Develop Home-Based Hydrogen Refuelling

Its supporters promise us that it’s the automotive fuel of tomorrow, today: cleaner than gasoline, quicker to refuel than a battery pack, and — when combined with photovoltaic-powered electrolysis stations — completely emissions free.

The U.S. DoE has launched a $1 million prize fund to find ways of generating hydrogen at home.

The U.S. DoE has launched a $1 million prize fund to find ways of generating hydrogen at home.

But while automaker like Toyota, Honda and Hyundai are eager to get us behind the wheel of a hydrogen fuel cell car in the near future, claiming FCV superiority over other low and zero emission solutions like plug-in battery electric vehicles, very few places in the world have a robust hydrogen filling station infrastructure.

Which is why the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fuel Cell Technologies Office (FCTO) and Hydrogen Education Foundation (HEF) have launched a $1 million prize fund called the H2 Refuel H-Prize, designed to develop and affordable small-scale hydrogen refilling systems for commercial and domestic use.

The goal? To develop a hydrogen refuelling system that can either produce hydrogen from natural gas or water electrolysis, enabling on-demand hydrogen generation and storage on a small, convenient, and cost-effective scale. Such a system would also help decentralize hydrogen generation and storage, negating the need for hydrogen to be transported across the nation in expensive pressurised trucks.

It would also dramatically reduce the costs associated with building a nationwide hydrogen refuelling infrastructure, considered by most to be the biggest challenge facing mass-adoption of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Hydrogen fuel cell cars currently have very limited refuelling infrastructure.

At the moment, the majority of the nine million tons of hydrogen produced every year in the U.S. is produced through an energy-intensive process called steam reforming or steam methane reforming (SMR) While the majority of hydrogen produced in the U.S. is used to industrially synthesise ammonia and other chemicals, some of the hydrogen produced through SMR is used to power hydrogen fuel cell cars, giving them a long, rather than no tailpipe emissions.

During SMR, methane is introduced to a super-heated steam at a temperature of between 700 and 1100 degrees Celsius in the presence of a metal-based catalyst (usually nickel). At these temperatures, the steam reacts with the methane to produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Then, by gas-shifting with the carbon monoxide and water at a lower temperature, additional hydrogen can be recovered, producing carbon dioxide and hydrogen. Overall, the process is approximately 65-75 percent efficient.

In addition to the high energy temperatures involved, SMR isn’t suitable in its current form for use in smaller-scale applications, like home-based refuelling systems. However, alternative methods of refining natural gas to produce hydrogen or electrolysing water might be, hence the DoE’s competition.

If successful, the competition could make hydrogen refuelling at home a reality -- in the long-term future.

If successful, the competition could make hydrogen refuelling at home a reality — in the long-term future.

Under the competition rules, the team will have two years to produce their competition entry. In year one, teams will be expected to register for the competition, find the necessary business and academic partners, find a site to install the system, and submit data and designs to the DoE’s panel of independent judges.

If selected as a finalist, the teams would then have seven months to build, install and test their systems before final assessment, with the winners being picked based on the successful demonstration that they can meet both technical and cost criteria as outlined in the H2 Refuel H-Prize guidelines.

Ultimately, the competition looks to find a way in the future in which people can refuel hydrogen fuel cell cars at home without having to visit a traditional gas station. But with the competition set to run for the next two years — and presumably any industrialisation of the technology taking many years beyond that — we think the dream of refuelling a hydrogen fuel cell car at home with the same ease an electric car can be refuelled is a long way from becoming reality.


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  • Espen Hugaas Andersen

    I would never want a hydrogen fueling station in my home. (Nor a large-scale hydrogen fueling station within a kilometer of my home.) The risk of explosion would be far above acceptable.nnAnd I can only imagine the regulatory hoops one would have to jump through to have an approved fueling station. Annual inspections, maybe? Biennial pressure tests, maybe? Even the 200-300 bar pressure tanks they use for paint ball needs biennial pressure tests, here in Norway. Maybe you’d need annual testing for 700 bar.

    • Ad van der Meer

      It makes perfect sense to demand annual certified inspections. A home installation may not see the same use as a hydrogen station, but as the consequences of an incident are so much higher, strict legislation should apply.nI for one would not want a 700 bar tank in my house/garage and I wouldn’t like the idea of one of my neighbors having one either.

  • CDspeed

    The thing that makes this easy for electric cars is that we already have electricity, and it’s about as dangerous as plugging-in your cell phone. Home fueling especially hydrogen, really isn’t a safe idea, having a flammable fuel pumped, and pressurized in a small space will inevitably lead to injury, or worse. Sure they’ll tell you it’s safe, and that accidents would be rare, but do we really need want to find out what a hydrogen accident is like the hard way?

    • vdiv

      We have as an example home natural gas compressors for fueling CNG vehicles. Based on my recollection they are large refrigerator-sized systems, need to work overnight while using substantial electric power and producing a lot of noise. Not many people have opted for these.nnPart of the “evolution” of transport is that we have moved beyond using combustible gases and liquids for propulsion. Not sure why Nikki insists on covering the hydrogen push, kind of getting tired of this.

      • Ad van der Meer

        There are many uninformed people who think hydrogen has all the green benefits of electric cars and all the range and refueling comforts of ICE powered cars. nThis is the place where this needs to be discusses. In national newspapers and auto magazines would be better, but these journalists are ignorant as well or have other motives to push hydrogen.

  • Thank you Nikki for covering all types of transportation technology.nnPersonally I don’t see the logic in “develop a hydrogen refuelling system that can produce hydrogen from water electrolysis”. Just think about it for a coupe minutes u2026 How many litters (gallons) of water are needed to create a 1 kg of hydrogen at 3000-5000 kPa? What is the cost of a liter of water? Don’t forget about 500-700 W of electricity per mile are needed make hydrogen. Oh, don’t forget California is under the worst drought in recorded history with water rationing!nnH2 “supporters promise us that itu2019s the automotive fuel of tomorrow, today: cleaner than gasoline, quicker to refuel than a battery pack”. So many myths in one statement.n1. “to refuel than a battery pack” u2013 When a battery is charged, no matter is added or removed. (weight and volume of BEV pack is constant) Within the battery a reversabe chemical reaction captures energy that is later released to drive a vehicle. A hydrogen adds matter when fueled and releases matter as energy is released. While hydrogen can be derived from reversible chemical reactions they require much higher energy thresholds, and equipment that can not yet be integrated into a vehicle. (size and weight restrictions) BEV battery technology has already been miniaturized to the point that both forward/reverse chemical reactions are self contained in a single package.nn2. “quicker to refuel” u2013 While FCV will soon use twice the capacity tanks and twice the pressure of the 2006-2008 Clarity FCX; a Model S can charge a similar 150 miles in ~15 min. Give it another 3-5 years and BEVs will be charging 300 mies (today’s FCV range) in under 15 min. In reality, a Model S will start each day with 300+ miles range from taking 30 seconds to plug in the night before. Question becomes how many days do drivers need to drive more than 300 miles per day?nMost drivers cover an average under 35 mies per day u2026 so 150 mile BEV would cover over 95% of almost all driving needs.nn3. “cleaner than gasoline” u2013 this has been question by many. Clearly hydrogen FCVs will be cleaner where they are operating, but the displaced generation of hydrogen does have unclean emissions and by products. At best hydrogen production is on par with natural gas in terms of impact over a FCVs life cycle.nnBTW:nWaiting to hear about a competition to create a under $3500 20kW DC Wall Charger u2026 if there was a $1 million prize, I’d expect we’d see DCFC Wall units in production with in 2-3 years! Without the contest, it may take 3-5 years before we see 10-20 kW home charging. :)n

    • Ad van der Meer

      Theoretically it takes about 4,4 liters of water to produce 1 kg of hydrogen in SMR.nnnFor electrolysis it is 8,9 liters.nn9 liters is about the water you use flush your toilet once.

    • Ad van der Meer

      The best Iu00b4ve seen is 55 kWh/kg for electrolysis. Assuming the Toyota can do 70mi/kg (which I doubt) that’s 785 Wh/mi.

    • Ad van der Meer

      As EV’s will become cheaper, more EV buyers will not be able to charge at home. Fast charging at higher power than today will be necessairy for these people. Hydrogen has the edge there, today. However, before hydrogen cars will be affordable for those same people fast charging might have caught up.

      • DCFC is here today and s demonstrating a large number of BEVs can be charged quickly in a public setting. nnFreemont (CA) is an active Supercharger location and recent daa shows charging of 114 BEVs in 24 hour period. Each stall averaged 9.5 hours charging time at 40 minutes per session delivering 36 kWh per Model S.nhttp://twitter.com/Teslarati/status/529390314708946944/photo/1nnThere is no reason a station with multiple CHAdeMO/CCS chargers could be built to provide similar access to quick charging. With over 110,000 PEVs already on California roads the density of BEVs is high enough to deploy sustainable DCFC stations in a similar configuration as Tesla has demonstrated.nnIn a coupe years almost every manufacture will have a 120-200 mile capable BEV. With properly deployed DC infrastructure, BEVs will be able to meet daily driving needs for a majority of drivers.

  • lad76

    Hydrogen cars are bombs waiting to blow; anytime you carry around a tank with compressed hydrogen gas in it at 10,000 PSI, brother, you got a bomb. All fuel cell cars should be required to carry visible signage stating: ” Danger, Hydrogen Under Pressure, Keep Back 500 feet.”

    • Ben Helton

      And what about gasoline cars? Or those Pesky CNG vehicles? Do we need bomb warnings for those too?nnnShit…. now that I think about it, I need some of these warning flags in my kitchen. I let me wife use highly explosive NG on a daily basis, IN OUR HOUSE!

  • I have been reading about all the comments here and There are a lot of safety concerns and input to output discussion.nHere is my reasoning.n Most people have propane or methane gas flowing through their houses for cooking and water heating and although there are accidents it is accepted as normal or a calculated risk. It is just the paranoid few that are complaining about the possibility of explosion. (Thinking about it, the hydrogen generator and storage tanks can be placed at a certain depth under ground which would nullify explotions because of storage capacity constraints and blowout technology)nnnTo the people that complained about input vs output. Here is my reasoning.nnnIf you think about the input of cash we give to the oil companies, the output is very much less.nHydrogen could be free if paired with solar technology. I know when I say FREE that the cost involved in creating and installing such a Hydrogen home fuel station would be high but after that it should only require minimal maintenance and in the long run there would be much less cash thrown at the big oil companies to make our vehicles move.