EAT's Si+ lightweight hydrogen powder: Your questions answered

EAT's Si+ lightweight hydrogen powder: Your questions answered
A silicon-based powder that generates hydrogen when mixed into water
A silicon-based powder that generates hydrogen when mixed into water
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A silicon-based powder that generates hydrogen when mixed into water
A silicon-based powder that generates hydrogen when mixed into water
No matter what the bag says, we don't recommend you eat Si+
No matter what the bag says, we don't recommend you eat Si+

Hydrogen transport and generation powder Si+ was revealed last week, causing quite a stir with its promise of making renewable energy incredibly cheap, convenient and safe to transport – in stark contrast to the expense, inefficiencies and difficulties involved in transporting hydrogen as a gas, a cryogenic liquid or embedded in ammonia.

Much of the world seems to be coalescing around green hydrogen as a clean way to store, transport and export renewable energy, but as we outlined in another piece last week about a hydrogen storage powder developed by scientists at Australia's Deakin University, the high costs involved in compressing and containing the gas, cryogenically cooling and storing the liquid, or converting it to ammonia could place a heavy thumb on the cost scales. The green energy transition can't happen if the costs are so high that economies can't bear their weight.

Enter the solid-state hydrogen powders. Whether it's Deakin's ball-milled boron nitride or EPRO Advance technology (EAT)'s porous silicon, these powders can effectively transport green energy using cheaper and much more conventional means. Fill a truck or a shipping container with either, send it on a regular cargo boat, and somebody at the other end can use it to release hydrogen, ready to go.

Deakin's solution requires heat for the hydrogen release, EAT's Si+ product requires water and sodium hydroxide. Both offer a zero-emissions pathway, and leave the user with by-products that are either recyclable or potentially useful. And both claim to be radically cheaper than pure hydrogen, particularly when transport and storage costs are factored in.

EAT's Si+ powder is claimed to offer a higher density of energy storage per weight than the Deakin powder, and once combined with alkaline water to produce its hydrogen, it leaves nothing behind but silica, which can be sold off to make concrete. So it's of particular interest.

Naturally, you had questions. We did too, so to follow up from our original piece, we contacted EAT Executive Director and CEO Albert Lau over email. We put the following questions to him, and present Lau's answers below, in an edited format.

No matter what the bag says, we don't recommend you eat Si+
No matter what the bag says, we don't recommend you eat Si+

1) What's the energy efficiency of creating the Si+ powder? How much energy goes in compared to what's released?

Round trip efficiency of Standard Si+ (using grid electricity starting from sand/quartz with a carbon source) amounts to around 48%. This includes the exothermic heat that is exerted during the hydrogen generation process as well. Forty-eight percent is lower than what electrolyzer systems give, but when there is transportation and storage required, Si+ wins.

2) Do you have a sense of what it'll cost, compared to gaseous hydrogen? Both in terms of the material itself and perhaps in an export shipping scenario?

Cost will depend heavily on where the hydrogen is produced and where it has to be transported to be used. Usually renewable energy resources are remote, which calls for transportation.

To provide some perspective on delivery cost of H2, the Kawasaki Heavy Industries liquid hydrogen ship costs US$362 million, and a round trip is expected to take around 60 days. The calculations are straightforward: let’s use 30 years depreciation, a $500 per ton scrap value on this 8,818-ton vessel, 60 days as the length of each round-trip shipment, and let’s assume there's zero boil-off during the 60 days of shipment, such that the ship actually delivers a full 88.5 T of hydrogen. Simple calculations will give us a depreciation cost alone of ~ 22.1 US$/kg H2, under the most generous assumptions, and not including any operating costs of the ship and/or profits to the companies involved, nor any land-based costs either!

Australia and Japan aren’t the only countries progressing with liquid hydrogen. Shell New Energies NL, ENGIE, Vopak and Anthony Veder have signed an agreement to study the feasibility of producing, liquifying and transporting green hydrogen from Portugal to the Netherlands as well!

3) Would the Si+ powder react with moisture in the air? If so, how must it be stored and handled?

Yes, Si+ will react with moisture in the air! However, without sodium hydroxide (NaOH), that reaction cannot be sustained. The Si+ will form a passive oxide layer on the surface, which protects the inner core of the Si+ pellet from further reactions. Also, without the basic conditions, hydrogen generation reaction is extremely slow.

Si+ will be vacuum packed, or in some cases, purged with an inert gas such as nitrogen or argon.

4) How much water does it require? Say you're carrying 7.4 kg (16.3 lb) of Si+ powder to release 1 kg (2.2 lb) of hydrogen, how much water do you need to add? And how pure does the water need to be?

This is a complex question of chemistry and molecular dynamics. To simplify the response, 30 L of water can react with 7.4 kg of Si+ over the course of several hours. Water can be filtered surface water.

5) What sort of equipment and material inputs are needed to manufacture the Si+ powder? Is this something that could be easily rolled out at wind farms and solar arrays for instant downtime generation?

Si+ is produced via metallurgical means, meaning large foundry furnaces that operates at high temperatures. An Si+ foundry can definitely be set up to cope with these curtailed and under-utilized renewable energies!

6) How much heat does the release reaction release? Can it be managed or used?

Around 24 kWh of low grade heat (of up to 70 °C/158 °F) will be generated per kg of H2 generated. This heat energy can be recovered by heat exchangers, which can then be used for space heating, domestic or commercial water heating, etc. In some extreme cases, this heat can be converted back into electricity via thermo-electrics.

We thank Mr. Lau for his enlightening responses. Certainly, the weight of the water required and the heat energy released will be important considerations in how Si+ might be used. Moisture will clearly be a factor in transport, meaning that a lot of this powder may end up being packed in plastic.

As far as the efficiency, well, NEL Hydrogen claims its A series electrolyzer can produce a normal cubic meter (35.3 cu ft) of hydrogen (storing roughly 3 kWh of usable energy) using just 3.8 kWh of energy, representing an efficiency somewhere around 79% – but this obviously doesn't factor in the considerable energy costs associated with compressing that gas to 700-odd atmospheres or cooling it to a cryogenic 20 Kelvin (-253 °C / -424 °F) for storage and transport. So it may well come out significantly more efficient in the wash.

We look forward to seeing how these hydrogen powder innovations play out on the commercial stage.

Check out the Si+ launch video below.

EPRO Si+ • Green Hydrogen Breakthrough Announcement

Source: EAT Si+

Peter Forte
As a long-term proponent of hydrogen as a viable energy source, this is highly exciting! Leaving aside your disheartening reminder "...the green energy transition can’t happen if the costs are so high that economies can’t bear their weight.", it appears that many of the obstacles to the adoption of hydrogen are being removed. Now, if we could only overcome the inertia of habit.
Expanded Viewpoint
This concept of overcoming the inertia of habit, when compared to really moving towards cheaper and better, barely exists. But what truly is difficult to overcome, is the inertia of going in a different direction when the "new" one is clearly shown to be the wrong one. I.E. how much energy does it take to create these "green solutions" over what we're using now? So, it turns out that people are willing to spend $1.50, to earn a dollar, or even less. Just like the fallacy that charging up electric cars and trucks and trains is good for the environment! Where does the majority of that electricity come from? It comes from burning carbon based fuels, that's where. Where does all of this Hydrogen come from, if it's not from trees and vines?
S Redford
The emphasis on storing and transporting hydrogen in these articles appears to ignore the considerable body of work on methanation of hydrogen. Methane is the major component of natural gas (90~95%) which is widely used worldwide and is easy to handle. Methanation essentially ‘borrows’ CO2 and combines it with Hydrogen (from renewable sources) to produce methane. The CO2 released is only the same as that consumed – Carbon Neutral! If I’ve understood correctly, end-to-end conversion efficiency from H2 to recovered energy from the methane can be as high as 80% or if considered from renewable electricity (to make H2) through to end use of methane, is higher than 60%. These efficiencies and the use of existing processes and devices make this look attractive. See
Transport of a Hazardous Materials occur daily so protecting from intrusion of Moisture is not an issue in a closed system. The question is the conversion time and amount per metric ton to Hydrogen that can be utilized by power plants to generate usable utilities.

Regarding existing climate issues. IF we can develop a powder when combine with water creates Hydrogen, how much work would it take to develop new scrubbers and filters so we can utilize the hundreds of years of coal, Methane Specifically that bubbles from teh earth into atmoshere daily and petroleum that exist in throughout the world.

With 2 tax subsidies wind towers on leased land, one only has to check wind reports in Minnesota to determine how many times these wind towers had sufficient wind to generate electricity in comparison to the number of days with "no wind or the factor of to much wind" when these wind towers can not generate electricity!

No matter what these towers generate, my family cashes a check every year in excess of $12,000.00 to lease land for these two tax subsidized wind towers on less than 3 acres of land!
The article doesn't deal with the problem.
Making hydrogen from pelletized Silicon is easy and efficient.
It is the making of the Silicon is the problem!!!!!

I have seen one reference to 12KWh per kg. BUT, BUT, BUT.
I don't believe that!!!!
It does say that 27 KG of Carbon is needed and that 84KG of carbon dioxide is produced!!!!
So roughly 80 Kg of coal to make a KG of Silicon!!!!!
A Kg of coal is about 8,000 Mj /BTUs an so about 2 KWhs I think.
160 KWh per KG of Silicon! No??

All this out of my head.

Some clever bugger might find a way, with catalysts or something.
That is alot of water we don't have laying around to spare these days
Toby Newell
Apologies for any offence but this is ridiculous.

No you cannot mix it with pure water, the reaction is incredibly slow unless you heat it to high temperatures. Microcrystaline Silicon nanopowder only reacts with hydroxide ions, i.e. in alkaline solutions. Studies were done with alkaline solutions of caustic KOH, NaOH and Hydrazine.

These are all hazardous chemicals.

The reaction only works if the particles are incredibly small, in the 10nm range.

That takes a lot of energy to mill to that size, the width of four DNA molecules.

The reaction is exothermic and releases heat that needs to be controlled.

The byproducts include caustic Potassium Hydroxide solution and Si(OH)4 Orthosilicic acid amongst a clumped flour like substance.

This would need neutralising, washing and drying which involves extra energy and in way could be used as sand.

Fine Silica dust is carcinogenic and causes silicosis.

To use this finer than flour residue as sand you would need to develop a process to safely reamalgamate it to a larger silica aggregate.

Unless of course your country is happy filling childrens sand pits and beaches with carcinogens.

The energy involved means that this is likely a very environmentally poor method for transporting hydrogen.

Also, if the powder readily reacted with neutral water it is logical to assume it's transport would be very dangerous as any exposure to moisture in the air would result in spontaneous hydrogen production which in an enclosed vessel would be an explosion risk due to expansion, let alone ignition.

I haven't even mentioned that nanoparticles of silicon are likely incredibly flammable and explosive. The powder would need to be stabilised in glycerin or similar.

Ultimately this is all rather ridiculous. Bulk transport of hydrogen will always be via gas under pressure for transmission lines and via cryogenically cooled liquid for bulk transport.

Probably the smartest move ultimately will be to build small localised electrolysis stations at distribution hubs / filling stations. This would negate the entire tranmission / movement problem and concomitant associated losses.

Toby Newell

26,000 kgs of Silicon needed to produce 1kg of Hydrogen gas.

So thats five dumpster trucks per passenger car fill up.

Great moderation.

The truth TM.

It's out there.