Eternium Aerospace has launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign as it shifts from the design testing phase of its electrolysis and liquefaction system, to building scaled prototypes of it to produce liquid hydrogen fuel. If successful, Eternium’s systems approach to generating liquid hydrogen as a fuel source could revolutionize a developing hydrogen economy.
“The problem with fuel cell vehicles in general is that the fueling infrastructure is lagging behind,” said Jared Semik, founder and president of Eternium Aerospace. “We have viable fuel cell technology, but we don’t have an actual good fueling system that doesn’t require steam-reformation of methane.”
According to Semik, 96% of liquid hydrogen fuel is created through a steam-reformation process in which methane is broken down into diatomic hydrogen and carbon dioxide. It’s a process that is almost entirely reliant on the use of fossil fuels.
The remaining 4% of liquid hydrogen is made through electrolysis, a process Eternium is seeking to transform.
“The cutting edge electrolysis system right now is ‘high-pressure alkaline water electrolysis,’ and it’s one of the more higher-efficiency means of electrolysis,” Semik said. “The problem with this, however, is that it requires a larger input of electrical energy for a lower amount of yield in hydrogen, compared to the predominant steam-reformation process. So to create liquid hydrogen fuel you have two options: you’re either still using fossil fuels through steam-reformation, or you’re running a net deficit in energy by using electrolysis.”
Electrolysis is a process in which electrical energy is applied to water to isolate its diatomic hydrogen molecules. In order to reach this point of isolation, which Semik refers to as the “enthalpy of dissociation of water,” a massive amount of electrical energy is required- energy that often comes from fossil fuel sources.
“In this case for electrolysis, it would defeat the purpose of using hydrogen because we’re still using fossil fuels from places like coal or natural gas powered plants for the electrical energy we need,” Semik said. “So Eternium decided from the beginning, that we need to develop not only aircraft that will run on hydrogen fuel cell technologies, but we’re also preceding all of this with our electrolysis and liquefaction system that will help build the hydrogen fuel infrastructure.”
Eternium has begun design and test of an innovative electrolysis process that would substantially reduce the amount of electrical energy needed to create liquid hydrogen fuel.
“With our technology, we use heat from solar concentration or geothermal sources to do all the heavy lifting in place of that high amount of electrical energy,” Semik said. “When you’re using concentrated solar thermal energy, you’re increasing the energy inside the water. So between the heat and pressure increases on alkaline hydroxide, basically the water and the hydroxide molecules in the system get very close to that enthalpy of dissociation, or the energy needed to dissociate those atoms. At that point, the electric current needed to put into the electrolysis system is less while the yield of hydrogen is 350% higher.”
By using solar or geothermal sources to apply heat, you reduce the demand for electricity in the system, while also using this heat to produce the remaining electrical energy to complete the process. This eliminates the requirement for any outside electrical energy from an often “non-green” source. Put simply, the entire system is self-contained.
From this, the gaseous hydrogen created can then pass through a multistage liquefaction system to make liquid hydrogen fuel.
“The way liquefaction of hydrogen fuel works, currently, is that they will put pre-pressurized gaseous hydrogen through a multi-stage system to pre-cool it with liquid nitrogen, to its inversion point,” Semik said. “It is then expanded, taking advantage of the Joule-Thomson effect, whereas expanding gasses lose their heat through expansion, lowering the temperature and thus creating a liquid form of what is typically a gas. Minus the cryogen pre-cooling, it’s essentially the same way your air conditioning works.”
Eternium’s system uses the heat from the electrolysis process to drive the pre-cooling and liquefaction process using a principle found in the space program, so they don’t require a source of liquid nitrogen or pressure pumps.
The key advantage to this electrolysis and liquefaction system is its non-reliance on electrical energy sourced from a grid or power plant, being energy self-reliant.
“As a society, we have to pay for electric current in both electrolysis and steam-reformation, in terms of mining fuels [fossil or fissile] and their resulting pollutants,” said Semik. “But if you can eliminate the amount of electric current that you’re putting into an electrolysis and liquefaction system, that means we don’t have losses on the grid because you’re generating all that energy locally [from solar or geothermal sources]. This way, you don’t have any of the environmental or infrastructure issues associated with natural gas, coal, or nuclear power plants.”
If successful, Eternium’s electrolysis and liquefaction system will not only create environmental advantages, but will carry significant economic and geopolitical implications as well.
“The advantage with our system is that all you need is a water source, a source for your hydroxides, and acreage for the solar concentration or geothermal heat source,” Semik said. “That’s the giant kicker and this is the one thing I really want everybody to know about the process: you can do this anywhere.”
A veteran with three overseas deployments, which included providing humanitarian aid in developing nations, Semik recognizes what energy independence could mean on the geopolitical landscape.
“When you can generate your own energy, it gives you geopolitical and economic independence,” Semik said. “With our process, you could do this anywhere that there’s sun, or geothermal sources, which is pretty much the entire planet. Anybody can invest in this technology to make hydrogen, a superior transportation fuel because it is more energy dense than all the fossil fuels, including jet fuel, by orders of magnitude.”
Consequently, Semik is relying on means such as the Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, to reinforce Eternium’s ambition to “democratize fuel.”
“The funding strategy for this element of our development as a company has been initially focusing on crowdfunding,” Semik said. “Then depending on the success of it getting us to the point where we can put all those resources into proving our electrolysis and liquefaction system on a scaled version, we could start producing liquid hydrogen with the system.”
To date, Eternium’s electrolysis and liquefaction system has been proven academically through research done with scientists from the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL). Now, Semik hopes crowdfunding campaigns through platforms such as Indiegogo will propel their system forward with a minimum viable product.
“The crowdfunding campaign is going to kick us across the finish line of development where we can start and show that this is an actual viable opportunity with concentrated thermal energy,” Semik said. “We’ll soon be able to say that we’ve gotten this increase in yield with this decrease in current, while creating this volume of liquefied hydrogen. At that point we will have created this entire dataset that then basically becomes global [intellectual property] IP, but obviously, we will own the IP for the process.”
For now, Eternium’s crowdfunding target is $250,000 that will go into the prototyping, the materials and processes to build a scaled version of its electrolysis and liquefaction system.
Their end goal, however, is much greater.
“The end goal is to make a plant the size of Crescent Dunes in Tonopah, Nevada, or Ivanpah in California and have a multi-megawatt solar concentration system that’s dedicated to hydrogen fuel production,” Semik said. “On a global scale, however, is recognizing that energy-independence can really start balancing economies around the globe.”
Scott King writes about science and the environment for the Sierra Nevada Ally. He has a Master’s degree in Media Innovation from the University of Nevada, Reno, and a Bachelor’s degree in Professional Writing with a minor in Marketing from Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. Scott served for two years as a literacy instructor with the Peace Corps in the community of Gouyave, Grenada. Support his work.
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