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Follow-up Report: “Hydrogen Production Breakthrough

April 18, 2013

water-dropAs a matter of clarification, the technology under discussion generates hydrogen from water. It is not a fuel cell. For this reason, the title “Hydrogen Production Breakthrough” better reflects the technology. The original title “Hydrogen Fuel Cell Breakthrough,” was in error and not intended to mislead the public or misrepresent the technology.

The hydrogen gas produced from this process functions as a fuel in a combustion process to give off heat or as an energy carrier when injected into a fuel cell to generate electricity. As used by Dr. Phillips in many of his papers, the word “cell” refers to a reaction vessel to produce hydrogen rather than a fuel cell that consumes hydrogen.

Why discuss hydrogen in the first place? There are huge societal and environmental benefits from a hydrogen economy.  Hydrogen is a clean universal fuel that can power almost every vehicle on earth. It can provide heat and energy to every sector of the economy. It can generate electricity and replace all fossil fuels. Finally, no other energy source comes from water and produces only water.

The other great news, hydrogen can be produced from cheap and readily available sources including fossil fuels, biomass or water. Additionally, a variety of process technologies can be used, including chemical, biological, electrolytic, photolytic and thermo-chemical. Each technology is in a different stage of development, and each offers unique opportunities, benefits and challenges. Today, a thermal process using steam to produce hydrogen from natural gas or other light hydrocarbons is the most common.

So why is hydrogen energy in hiding? For the most part, technologies separating hydrogen from other chemical elements like carbon (in fossil fuels) and oxygen (from water) require more energy than the hydrogen so produced provides. Hydrogen was therefore not a viable energy source from an environmental or economic perspective.

The hydrogen energy pathway was further impacted by other challenges in the areas of safety, delivery (pipelines, trucks, barges and fueling stations), storage (tanks for both gases and liquids at ambient and high pressures), conversion (combustion turbines, reciprocating engines and fuel cells), and end-use energy applications (portable power devices, transportation systems, stationary energy generation systems including mission critical, emergency and combined heat and power applications).

If hydrogen is to be, a viable energy alternative of the future, efforts must focus on finding new ways to develop and use hydrogen energy. Now, from a remote area of Oklahoma, Phillips Company, an FDA-registered pharmaceutical manufacturing, product development and licensing company, may have some answers. This is the subject of this discussion.

On January 21, 2013, the Phillips Company sponsored a Catalytic-Carbon Hydrogen-on-Demand Equipment Design Conference (CC-HOD) to demonstrate their technology, which produces hydrogen from water at an unprecedented rate of 30 gallons per minute.  According to Dr. Howard Phillips[1], the developer of this purported breakthrough technology, this may be the first time water in combination with and a low cost metal and a proprietary carbon catalyst generates hydrogen at such a fast rate, see Reference [2].

On April 9, 2013, Dr. Howard Phillips held a second Hydrogen-for-fuel Catalytic-Carbon Hydrogen-on-Demand Equipment Design Conference (CC-HOD). The primary purpose of the conference was to bring together hardware designers and R&D product development professionals to learn about the process designed to generate hydrogen at commercially useful rates, see References [1] to [5].

The developer states the technology provides “a new economical method to generate hydrogen at commercially-useful rates and is the world’s first method that can produce more energy from the burning or combustion of hydrogen than the small amount of energy required to generate the hydrogen.”

According to the following equation, the reaction requires: water; a metallic oxidizing agent such as aluminum pellets to produce heat and hydrogen; a proprietary carbon catalyst (CC) to lower the activation energy and accelerate the rate of reaction; a thermal source to initiate the reaction; and a continuous source of low level DC voltage to reduce the formation of a reaction-inhibiting layer of aluminum hydroxide layer on the aluminum pellets.

2Al + 6[H2O] + CC = CC + 2[Al(OH)3] + 3H2

Reaction

catalytic Carbon (cropped)The critical and only proprietary part of the technology is the catalytic carbon. This catalyst lowers the activation energy for water splitting and accelerates the reaction rate and the production rate of hydrogen.

The critical and proprietary aspect of the technology is the catalytic carbon named by the developer as Catalytic Carbon (CC). To begin the reaction, an external source of heat is applied to the system. Once hydrogen production begins, the temperature of the system starts to rise. The Catalytic Carbon, which increases the rate of this reaction, simultaneously causes a rapid rise in the temperature of the system. This heat is sufficient to maintain the reaction without an external source of energy.

The catalytic carbon allows for a self-sustaining reaction and therefore eliminates the need for a continuous and costly external source of energy to produce hydrogen. The CC makes possible an energy efficient and potentially low cost method to produce hydrogen.

Furthermore, this reaction is not restricted to expensive high purity water, but rather, uses readily available and lower cost water supplies, including tap water, ocean water, brackish water or dirty water.

The developer further indicates this simple, straightforward hydrogen-generation approach may be the only method, worldwide, that:
• shows a positive energy balance between energy consumed during hydrogen generation and energy produced when combusted;
• uses only low cost and friendly materials (carbon, scrap aluminum and water);
• may possibly eliminate the need for hydrogen storage tanks for some applications;
• can generate hydrogen, directly from the cell, at any pressure, limited only by the hardware design;
• produces only two products (hydrogen and aluminum hydroxide);
• after harvesting the hydrogen, the environmentally safe aluminum hydroxide by-product can be either discarded or recycled;
• hydrogen can be produced with no critical parameter control, leading to a hydrogen manufacturing process that is said, by manufacturing engineers, to have a wide process latitude, which leads to easy control and therefore low cost for hardware used to produce the hydrogen;
• scale up the production of hydrogen to provide any hydrogen flow rate (liters per minute), limited only by the hardware design.

Phillips Protype reactorA succession of prototype hydrogen generators and more than a dozen samples of aluminum pellets of various particle sizes were on display. A 2004 Buick test vehicle retrofitted with a compact test bed attached to the car’s front bumper was onsite for inspection.  Hydrogen produced by the test bed flowed into the car’s air intake duct, mixed with air and blended with gasoline prior to combustion.

During the walk-around tour (yard, museum of past cell prototypes, porch with the aluminum samples), both assembled and disassembled cells fabricated by Dr. Phillips for development of stationary and mobile systems were also available for inspection. Catalytic Carbon samples were provided for inspection and take home.  The other cell, similar in design to the first, was loaded with Catalytic Carbon. It was ready for mounting on the test vehicle after the addition of water.  Apparently, the developer intended to demonstrate the reaction but was overrule by other attendees more interested in continuing the Hydrogen generation unit in cartechnical discussions.

Dr. Phillips asked the conference attendees to vote on whether they wanted to see a demonstration of the test vehicle and/or the fixed-location prototype cell for higher-volume production of hydrogen at higher rates (gallons per minute). While the author voted yes, majority ruled and neither the prototypes nor the car operated during the conference.

For the most part, the conference included discussions of the chemical, material, process and performance aspects of the technology. Phillips Company also identified and published other sources of aluminum; see Reference [1].

According to Dr. Phillips, “it makes sense to use hydrogen generated from this presumably low-cost process as a fuel for electricity power generation plants where water is plentiful and cheap as well as to fuel ships and power coastal regions because the process works well for producing hydrogen from sea water.”

Hydrogen generator protytpePrototype generators having a maximum water capacity of 5 gallons:
• produced hydrogen at flow rates up to 30 gallons per minute (113.5 lpm);
• produced a gaseous mixture containing 93 percent hydrogen and what is believed to be 7 percent water vapor/air;
• operated efficiency through the use of Phillips’ proprietary carbon catalyst and 30 micron aluminum pellets (high surface to volume ratio);
• produced aluminum hydroxide as the only reaction byproduct;
• produced hydrogen from untreated tap and sea water; neither distilled water nor other forms of high quality water were required;
• approached peak efficiency at ~180 degree F (~82 degree C), in water, at 1 ATM;
• operated with a continuous low-level electricity input between 3 – 12 Volts DC to impede the formation of aluminum hydroxide coating on the underlying aluminum pellets, which inhibits the chemical reaction and hydrogen production (Note; according to the developer, mechanical burnishing can also be used to remove the aluminum hydroxide layer from the aluminum pellets);
• scalable and independent of input energy.

The last factor is important, in comparison to other hydrogen production processes such as thermoforming and electrolysis. Electrolysis and thermoforming require the input power to vary with production rate. Electrolysis can produce hydrogen from water; to double the hydrogen production rate the input electrical power must also double.

General Process and Performance characteristics:
• The proprietary carbon catalyst is introduced into a vessel containing a mixture of water and aluminum pellets.
• The reaction between aluminum and water is exothermic but requires an external heat source to initiate the reaction and bring it to ~180 degree F.
• Once the reaction reaches ~180 degree F, the external source of heat used to reach that temperate is no longer required.
• The process works at temperatures higher or slightly lower than the optimum temperature of ~180 degree F (in general, the higher the reaction temperature, the higher the production rate of hydrogen);
• Aluminum hydroxide is a relatively safe material and only slightly hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant), eye contact (irritant), ingestion, or inhalation;
• Aluminum pellets as large as 200 microns produce hydrogen but at a much slower rate than the 30-micron aluminum, i.e., this process of hydrogen generation relies on surface interactions, which is facilitated by smaller particles that have higher surface-to-volume ratios than larger particles;
• The technology lends itself to a batch rather than continuous process of hydrogen generation. However, one attendee described plans to build a continuous-feed process that introduces aluminum and water, into the reaction cell, in response to the demand for hydrogen.

The rate of consumption of aluminum depends on the rate of hydrogen generation. This is an important consideration when scaling-up to produce larger quantities of hydrogen. The consumption of aluminum and water and the production of hydrogen and aluminum hydroxide (AH) are as follows:

Howard data

The meeting did not touch upon the economics of the technology. Further process and system studies will enable investigators to make reliable cost estimates in terms of dollars per mcf (thousand cubic feet) of hydrogen gas.

In closing, the technology is a method to produce hydrogen only and is not a method to produce electricity.  It is therefore not a fuel cell. The hydrogen could however be fed into a hydrogen fuel cell to produce electricity. At this time, the developer has not conducted any such tests with a fuel cell.

The technology is still in the research stage. Taking the technology to the next step is outside the scope of the developer who is interested in licensing the rights to purchase, use and/or manufacture, the carbon catalyst. The developer has filed several provisional and patent applications involving the carbon catalyst with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). At this time, No patents have been issued by the USPTO.

Whether the technology is the Holy Grail of cheap hydrogen remains unanswered. The lack of a hydrogen infrastructure and reliable low-cost fuel cells presents additional challenges to broad market acceptance. Running the transportation sector on hydrogen in lieu of environmentally unfriendly fossil fuels is a great vision but somewhat impractical today.

Should the technology prove out, stationary applications that use combustible fuels might make the most sense in the near future? Paradigm shifts are difficult.

Disclaimer: Claims and statements made by the developer indicated in this report do not necessarily reflect the views and opinion of the author.

References:
[1] Dr. Howard Phillips is Owner and General Manager of Phillips Company, a pharmaceutical development and manufacturing company, Millerton, Oklahoma  http://www.phillipscompany.4t.com
[2] H2 = 30 GPM & Cell design:  www.PhillipsCompany.4T.com/CD.pdf
[3] CC-HOD #1:  www.PhillipsCompany.4T.com/PatHHO.pps
[4] CC-HOD #2:  www.PhillipsCompany.4T.com/GabeHHO.pps
[5] H2 = 45 liters/minute:  www.PhillipsCompany.4T.com/45LPM.mp4

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Jessee McBroom permalink
    April 20, 2013 11:18 AM

    Thanks for the post Barry.

  2. Peter Thomson permalink
    April 20, 2013 7:33 PM

    Thanks Barry, sounds like it was an interesting day. I was kind of suspecting snake oil here, which would have been the case had Dr. Phillips tried to claim he was solving the energy problem. He doesn’t say this however, so no worries.

    One comment on the text before I go on; in para 3 you say, “Finally, no other energy source comes from water and produces only water”. I remind you that hydrogen is an energy carrier, not an energy source. The energy sources are renewables, nuclear and fossil fuels; energy must be supplied from one of these to produce H2 fuel.

    Dr. Phillips method appears to be a potentially useful way to generate H2 when an energy source is not readily available. Being able to generate good quality H2 straight from salty or contaminated water is also a useful property, saving the energy needed to desalinate and purify water. Being able to generate at high pressure is also interesting, if it can be proven.

    We generally think of aluminium as a construction material, but it’s also a fuel – rocket fuel! Powdered aluminium is highly energetic and is the fuel used in many solid rocket engines. Dr. Philips’ process uses this energy stored in aluminium to oxidize water and produce hydrogen fuel on demand (hence the ‘Hydrogen On Demand’ name of his process). This aluminium fuel is produced from bauxite by electrolysis of a molten aluminium salt in the Hall–Héroult process. This is the lowest-cost method of producing Al today, and is thus the common industrial process. So comparing two post-fossil fuel H2 production processes:

    CC-HOD:
    Bauxite mining -> ore transport -> Al2O3 preparation (Bayer process) -> molten electrolysis (Hall–Héroult process)-> Al -> 30um powder preparation -> CC-HOD -> wet h2 -> drying -> pure H2

    Seawater Electrolysis:
    Desalination -> deionisation -> electrolysis -> wet H2 -> drying -> compressing -> pure H2

    I left out the compression step for CC-HOD, as this is an in-principle advantage for the process. Each of the steps in these processes consumes energy. In each case ‘electrolysis’ is the point where an energy source is applied to store energy in the system. I have not done the comparative system energy efficiency analysis (just no time, sorry!) but I suspect they are not so different.

    Production of Al2O3 from bauxite by the Bayer process also generates a highly toxic byproduct called ‘red mud’ this is a bad industrial pollutant, with no safe or easy disposal method. It is currently stored in large ponds, which sometimes leads to leakage, contamination, severe environmental damage and human deaths. This is something to be considered if aluminium is to be used on a large scale as part of an energy infrastructure.

    Dr. Phillips talks about the process using scrap aluminium, however this is spurious. ‘Scrap’ just means ‘aluminium that has been used once for structural purposes’. It is only cheaper than new refined Al because the cost of new Al pegs the price, and it needs less energy for recycling back to ingot. Any use of ‘scrap’ for fuel on a large scale would rapidly exhaust the supply, and the Al fuel industry would quickly rely on new refined output.

    The market price of Al today is US$1.87/kg. According to the table, CC-HOD consumes 1,380 g of Al to make 155 g H2, so for 1 kg H2 we need 8.9 kg of Al. Ignoring other costs, the cost of Al fuel to generate H2 by CC-HOD is thus US$16.65/kg H2. This site http://www.h2carblog.com/?p=461 estimates costs of H2 production by various methods. Their most expensive estimate is for H2 from solar at US$10-12/kg, including $1.25 for taxes. So CC-HOD does not appear to be particularly cost-effective at today’s Al prices.

    I also note you need to transport 8.9 kg of Al to make 1 kg H2 – comparing the cost of transporting compressed H2 in cylinders would be interesting. And you also have 25.7 kg of aluminium hydroxide per kg H2 to deal with. I would suggest you would really want to recycle this rather than just dump it, ‘environmentally friendly’ or not.

    This is very much a surface analysis due to lack of time, so perhaps I’m missing something here (like an order of magnitude or two!), but I’m not seeing many holy grails.

  3. April 29, 2013 3:56 PM

    Excellent analysis by Peter Thomson. He worked out in detail what I sensed intuitively.

    As Thomson explains, the Phillips system is in effect ‘burning’ the copious electrical energy bound in metallic aluminum to generate hydrogen gas. It’s not clear why that is not more cumbersome and less efficient than simply generating the hydrogen directly.

    Hydrogen remains not a “fuel” but merely an energy transport medium.

  4. April 29, 2013 4:59 PM

    I trust all read the unabridged version of the report. If not, please go to: http://tinyurl.com/BarryOnEnergy022

    The problem with Phillip’s technology lies in the incomplete and sophomoric testing methodology. There was little analytical data to understand the reaction. Not even a dry weight analysis of the residual sludge.

    In high school chemistry, students learn that any metal that oxidizes, such as steel or aluminum will react vigorously when placed in water to produce hydrogen and heat. It was work originally funded by MER in the early 90’s as a hydrogen production and storage mechanism.

    Phillips’ carbon catalyst only acts to slow the reaction down so you don’t lose more than you can collect.

  5. sooraj permalink
    September 18, 2013 2:17 PM

    Hey i am a student studying at AVS Engg College in INDIA i just got into this site with the curiosity to know about the production of h2 and i am interested to know more . Is this CC molybdenum please let me know bcoz i am doing a project on this .

  6. Stephen Lakios permalink
    June 28, 2014 12:21 AM

    Alright, I would like to see the cost analysis of the total production-extraction of crude oil to gasoline. And all its environmental toxins. Dr. Phillips method sounds much better to me. I’m an ordinary guy, a retired Mechanic with a B.S. degree and worked in oil exploration, I can tell you of all kinds of disasters, coverups and deaths in the oil industry.
    To be truthful oil and nuclear are also transporters, as energy cannot be destroyed; only transformed.

  7. July 22, 2014 1:46 PM

    Hi Stephen,

    At the time, Phillip’s technology hadly met proof of concept standards. Not sure what has progresssed since the meeting.

    If there is anything I can do for you, please call me at 817-465-2228 (CDT) or send me an E-mail at barry@tbdamericainc.com .

    To learn more about TBD America, please visit: http://tbdamericainc.com
    ec
    Have a great day!

    Best regards,
    Barry
    Barry Stevens PhD
    President
    TBD America, Inc.

    http://www.tbdamericainc.com | barry@tbdamericainc.com
    LinkedIn Profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/bsteve2
    P. 817.465.2228 | M. 817.366.4537 | Skype: barrystevens58

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