Serious development of hydrogen (H2) fuel cells began roughly 60 years ago, with the first important use for provision of power and water on manned US space flights. There are very real benefits of fuel cells, which create power (DC voltage) through an electrochemical reaction that requires H2 and oxygen, yielding water, CO2, and electricity. Over time, methanol has increasingly become a hydrogen source of choice for fuel cells, owing in good part to its relatively safe and easy transport. Additionally, given the ability of methanol to be made from renewable (aka “low carbon”) sources, prospects for extremely low carbon power sources are increasingly in focus.

The diagram below depicts the main steps in a cyclical process that requires “renewable” methanol and makes low carbon power:

Using renewable power solutions available today (wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal, tidal, etc.) with an electrolyzer and water, air, and a small amount of net CO2 uptake (CO2 needed to make methanol in the low carbon methanol reactor should largely offset CO2 produced by the methanol reformer and H2 fuel cell), renewable methanol can be made, reformed to H2, and sent to a H2 fuel cell making low carbon power. This power is being developed for stationary or vehicular power generation. Fuel cell and electrolyzer production is at a very advanced stage, and by some estimates over 15,000 fuel cell vehicles have been built. However, many of these installations need a practical source of H2 to be viable – which is the role methanol plays.

Global solutions to the steps in the process are increasingly available. Companies like Element 1 are licensing advanced methanol reformer process technology. Palcan is making methanol reformer/fuel cell systems. A strikingly beautiful application of Blue World Technologies’ reformer and fuel cell process is being incorporated in The Nathalie (pictured below), a Roland Gumpert creation which will be available in limited edition starting next year.

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