Torrent Electrolysers [development discontinued--see news page]
Q: How, this early in the hydrogen economy, could EStarFuture (TM) achieve such astonishingly low electrolyser prices? [others have now gone even lower, notably ITM Power and GE's Noryl system]
A: A blend of top-class technology, the mysterious workings of the Kiwi brain out here on the creative edge of the world, and low cost-structures. New Zealand's costs are low compared with other developed countries; E*Future's manufacturing and business model adds further cost-effectiveness; all our R&D expenditure has been accounted for; and we started early. But we never compromise on standards. On the contrary, we are fanatical about quality, safety and longevity.
('Kiwi', by the way, is the universal nickname for New Zealanders, after our national bird, the kiwi. We also named the kiwifruit after it, because it was popularised in New Zealand--it used to be called the Chinese Gooseberry.)
Q: What is electrolysis?
A: Generally, the process of decomposing a compound by passing electricity through it, but it is often used just to mean what the Torrent does--splitting ordinary water into hydrogen and oxygen.
Q: Tell me about electrolysis more fully, and tell me also about the basics of Torrent electrolysers.
A: It is a very simple electro-chemical reaction--a chemical reaction driven by electricity. If you pass direct current (DC) through water it splits into its constituents, pure hydrogen and oxygen. Two molecules of water gives you two molecules of hydrogen plus one of oxygen: 2H2O ----> 2H2 + O2. Just 1.23 volts is enough. So one torch battery could do it. You would not get much gas if that is all you had, but it would be enough. The higher the current (the more amps) the more gas is produced.
In a Torrent electrolyser, advanced power-supply electronics and catalysed chemistry create a far more powerful version of that basic principle, so you get large quantities of hydrogen and oxygen--
plug-in 'gushers'. Torrent's DC power is generated by the EStarPower Module, an advanced AC-to-
DC power-supply fully controlled by a microprocessor and the embedded EStarControlware, which can produce up to 300 amps. And to improve greatly the efficiency of the reaction, instead of straight water the Torrent uses a 30% solution of potassium hydroxide (the substance that boosts the cleaning power of toilet soap), which acts as a catalytic accelerator on the process (a catalyst boosts the speed and efficiency of a chemical reaction but is not consumed by it).
Making hydrogen by electrolysis is essentially an energy-storage process. We take H2O molecules, supply enough electrical energy to pull them apart, then when the hydrogen and oxygen are recombined in a fuel-cell, or via combustion, the energy is returned (minus of course the normal thermodynamic losses). In contrast to a battery there is no deterioration of energy-content, whatever the time elapsed. All that is needed are simple vessels in which to store the hydrogen. Today's typical vessels are bottles that look like aqualungs, but have a lining of polymer or nylon and aluminium alloy wrapped in layers of ultra-strong carbon-fibre. The same basic technology has been used for years in the breathing apparatus carried by firefighters, so its safety has been well tested in testing situations.
Q: How much hydrogen and oxygen is produced from a litre of water?
A: At standard pressure and temperature (sea level; 25 degrees Celsius), one litre of water makes 1093 litres of hydrogen and 547 litres of oxygen. That is .09824kg of hydrogen, or 38.6 standard cubic feet. Hydrogen weighs .08988kg per litre (standard pressure and temperature).
Q: Where were the photographs of a torrent taken that are used in your Website?
A: Mainly at the Huka Falls on the upper reaches of the Waikato River near the centre of New Zealand's North Island.
Q: Why is the water in those photos blue? Water in a torrent I once saw looked green.
A: Water is colourless. Its apparent colour depends on the light, the surroundings and the viewing angle. But using images of blue water makes an important hydrological point (see the next paragraph) that underlines the importance of clean drinking water, which is what the Torrent runs on. So it emphasises the fact that life is the bottom line and thus how vital it is to keep clean and healthy the planet sustains us.
In 1995 the Swedish hydrologist Malin Fallenmark made a revolutionary contribution to hydrologic studies by distinguishing between blue water, green water and brown water. Blue water is the precipitation that contributes to groundwater and runoff from streams, water readily available for our use. Green water is the precipitation then transpired by vegetation, or evaporated from the soil and the other surfaces on which it falls. Less than 40% of all the water that falls on the earth every year is blue; more than 60% is green. Brown water is blue water contaminated by human use and returned to the surface-water system. The Torrent uses blue water; when the gases it produces are recombined in use they go back to being blue water.
In using blue-water images we are also emphasising the point that the only safe way of making hydrogen is by electrolysis, because only then are we using precipitated water that will return to the sky--from blue, and back to blue. Making the gas any other way threatens the percentage of oxygen we have in the air, so it threatens the live-giving quality of the sky. The dark blue colour of the Torrent cabinets, although in the first instance chosen for its beauty and dramatic appeal, can also be seen as making the same points.
There is also a very practical reason for using blue images. It is the most stable colour. Colour photos, for instance, fade, but blues last longest. That also speaks of the fact that the Torrent is built to last.
Q: Can Torrent electrolysers run off solar-cells, wind-generators or pico hydro-generators?
A: Yes, Torrents can be used on such power sources, because they are unfazed by varying voltage and current. They can run off solar-cells or wind generators wired for 12-24V output connected directly to the electrolyser cells. Any current up to 300A will produce hydrogen and oxygen, so long as the voltage is above 12V (below that, production falls off because there is not enough energy to drive the electrochemistry). The volume of hydrogen and oxygen produced is always directly proportional to current. The process works at the speed of light: as soon as the current and voltage hit the minimum needed, gas is produced.
Q: How do I work out how much power I can get off solar-cells?
A: Look up the value on the world insolation map for the amount of energy in kWh falling from the sun where you are, and multiply it by the percentage efficiency of your solar-cells, divided by 100. So if the solar-cells were 17% efficient, multiply the kWh figure by 17/100 to calculate how much power you would get on the shortest day of the year, the worst day for generating solar power (the 'optimum tilt' is determined by your latitude--if you were at latitude 45 degrees, the best angle for your solar panels would be 45 degrees, if you were at 23 degrees it would be 23 degrees, etc).
Q: Do I have to use distilled or de-ionised water in a Torrent? Can I use seawater?
A: Although de-ionised water is always ideal in an electrolyser, Torrent electrolysers run on good-
quality drinking water (any impurities collect in a sludge-chamber that can easily be drained every few months). Electrolysing seawater produces chlorine gas, so cannot be used for making hydrogen.
Q: Why the name,'Torrent'?
A: The machines run on the clean water that you would expect in a torrent, they produce torrents of hydrogen and oxygen, and the word evokes the clean environment that we should be living in. There is also a link to the notion of gas under pressure, because a 'torr' is an SI unit used in the measurement of pressure, named after Evangelista Torricelli (1608-47), an Italian mathemetician and physicist. He invented the mercury barometer, with which he showed that the atmosphere exerts sufficent pressure to support a column of mercury in an inverted, enclosed tube. He was also the first person to produce a sustained vacuum. 1 torr is 1mm of mercury, 133.32 pascals, 133.32 N/m², 0.0013332 bar, 0.01934psi, or 0.03937 inches of mercury. 760 torr is standard atmospheric pressure--1.01325 bar, 14.7psi, or 29.92 inches of mercury. The Torrent therefore produces hydrogen and oxygen at ~17,250 torr (23bar; 333.6psi)
Q: If EStarPower (TM), the Torrent's power-supply is so light, at about 15kg, the rest of the machine seems very heavy. The K5, for example, weighs 185kg, the K10 280kg, and the K20 520kg. Why?
A: In a word, strength. Industrial strength. First, the chassis is strong, built to take punishment, even in a factory setting, because Torrent is for both industrial and domestic use (if you want even more toughness in the cabinet, such as in a marine environment, you can have stainless-steel--the Torrent SK Series). Second, the stainless-steel pressure vessels in which electrolysis takes place--the cylindrical containers where hydrogen and oxygen are generated under pressure--have walls 10mm thick and ends 25mm thick, which gives them great solidity, strength and longevity but also makes them rather weighty.
But the EStarPower Module (TM) does make a comparatively lightweight machine. A traditional power-supply would weigh many times the weight of a Torrent. A crane would be needed to move it.
EStarPower Modules (TM)
Q: What power-range can E*Power be made in?
A: E*Power Modules have been built from 400watts to 40kW.
Fuel-cells and FCVs
Q: What is a fuel-cell?
A: A device in which hydrogen and oxygen are chemically joined, which produces electricity and water. It can be thought of as a gas battery, a battery that runs on hydrogen and oxygen. As long gas is flowing through it, power is produced. The process is the opposite of the electrolysis of water, which is how it was originally discovered by Sir William Grove in London in 1839, because he correctly reasoned that if 1.23 volts of electricity could split water, perhaps recombining the hydrogen and oxygen could be made to produce electricity (click here for more details).
Q: Why don't you put the prices of your fuel-cells on the Website, as you do with your Torrent Electrolysers (TM) and your EStarPower Modules (TM)?
A: 1) Because we are only the agents, not, as we are with Torrent and E*Power, the manufacturers;
2) Fuel-cells have yet to become commodities so are made to order;
3) Different applications and power-requirements can require very different solutions, so we need to look at your needs and give you a tailormade quotation;
4) But at the moment you are unlikely to get below $NZ4000 a kilowatt on a volume order, unless you put in a very large one, in which case that would be drastically reduced by as much as an order of magnitude.
Science/education micro energy-systems
Q: What sort of water should be used in the electrolysers and reversible fuel-cells when the supply of distilled water that comes with them runs out?
A: Definitely NOT tap-water, regardless of where it came from. It must be distilled or de-ionised. Nothing else. The distilled water we use, which should be at your NZ supermarket, is the Pure Dew brand of 'ultra-distilled' bottled water. Alternatively, you can ask your chemist for distilled water, or if you have the equipment and the expertise, set up a steam-distiller. Steam distillers may also be available from Innovations at 0800 100 001 (NZ), which sometimes has had them in its catalogue.
Click here for the Pure Dew website.
Q: How long should these micro fuel-cells last?
A: The German manufacturer has been making them for eight years (as at mid 2005), and apart from cases where users tried destructive liquids in them there have been no failures. They are quality products, built round platinum, so if you stick to the instructions in the manual, and use nothing but distilled or de-ionised water, you can expect a satisfactorily long life from your purchases.
A useful hint: If you have a micro FCV (fuel-cell vehicle) such as a HyRunner or HySpeedster, you may find that the little black caps on the projecting water-inlets can become hard to remove after a while, and if you use too much force you might break a projection off. They can be repaired, by gluing them back, carefully, with Araldite, but it is better not to risk a breakage. So put a very light smear of Vaseline on the outside of the projections, taking care not to get any on the end of the inlet, because it might then get into the water-flow and the fuel-cell.
Q: Why don't you import everything in the PDF catalogue?
A: We exclude direct-methanol fuel-cells, the DMFCs, because we do not think that technology is good for the environment. At micro scale they are pretty harmless, but carbon-dioxide is a by-
product, so the full-sized ones should not be encouraged. Therefore we avoid their tiny siblings.
Q: What does that E&OE mean on your homepage?
A: It is an abbreviation for Errors & Omissions Excepted. It means that we know we are human, and that therefore we might in good faith have made a mistake on our website or left something out, so we put that to make sure we cannot be hanged, drawn and quartered just for being normal by some eagle-eyed vandal with vulpine lawyers on his payroll and greedy malice in his soul.