Final Report: Conversion of Wind Power to Hydrogen Fuel: Design of an Alternative Energy System for an Injection Molding Facility

EPA Grant Number: SU831888
Title: Conversion of Wind Power to Hydrogen Fuel: Design of an Alternative Energy System for an Injection Molding Facility
Investigators: Thorn, Brian , Braymiller, Sarah , Carrano, Andres , Griffin, Patrick , Miller, Michael , Ngo, Quoc Khahn , Raymond, Stephen , Szratter, Justin
Institution: Rochester Institute of Technology
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: I
Project Period: September 1, 2004 through May 31, 2005
Project Amount: $10,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2004) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Nanotechnology , P3 Challenge Area - Energy , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Awards , Sustainability


The Phase I study was conducted at Harbec Plastics, an injection molding facility that is equipped with a 250 kW wind turbine. The objective of the Phase I study was to explore the technical, financial, and environmental implications of using wind generated electricity to manufacture hydrogen when the facility is consuming less power than the wind turbine generates. The hydrogen produced during these periods could be stored onsite and used in a number of different ways. For instance, the hydrogen could be used to power fuel cells which would generate electricity and heat for the facility, or it could be mixed with natural gas and used to fuel onsite microturbines that also generate electricity and heat for the facility.

The output from the Phase I study is a series of reports and presentations detailing

  • technical challenges and the solutions associated with the conversion of electricity to hydrogen, and back to electricity again
  • financial and environmental justification for this conversion
  • a technical roadmap and program schedule for realizing this conversion
  • a facilities analysis demonstrating potential implementation of the conversion

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

Broadly stated, the conclusions from the Phase I study are as follows:

Technical Feasibility: The equipment needed to support the conversion of wind energy to hydrogen and convert the stored hydrogen to electricity via fuel cells exists, however, such systems have not currently met the capacity requirements or the level of robustness needed for routine industrial applications. The websites and literature from potential fuel cell suppliers suggest that the development of these devices is much more progressed than it appears to actually be. Suppliers are often reluctant to offer firm quotes on devices for this application, and the availability of appropriate industrial grade fuel cells and necessary supporting equipment appears to be somewhat limited.

Financial Feasibility: This study showed that harvesting excess wind energy, storing it as hydrogen, and reclaiming the energy via fuel cell or via combustion as hythane (a blend of natural gas and hydrogen), is not financially feasible given Harbec‘s current operating conditions, current energy prices, and current equipment prices. Harbec Plastics currently operates three 8 hour shifts for 5 days per week. During those periods all wind generated electricity is consumed by the facility. The only excess power available is the power generated during weekends. If more wind energy were available for conversion, if energy prices rise dramatically, or if the cost of the capital equipment needed were to drop, the payback period for the conversion equipment would be reduced and the hydrogen conversion system would be more financially attractive.

Environmental Implications: Phase I examined two types of approaches for using the wind generated hydrogen. One approach involved mixing the hydrogen with the natural gas that is used to drive the plant’s microturbines, the other approach relied on hydrogen fuel cells to generate electricity for the plant. Because the current microturbines used at Harbec can accommodate a blend of hydrogen and natural gas with a maximum hydrogen content of 5%, there is little environmental benefit associated with combusting the hydrogen in the microturbine generators. However, major environmental benefits can accrue from the generation of energy via fuel cells due to the avoidance of greenhouse gas emissions and other combustion byproducts. In Harbec’s case, the apparent benefits are much reduced because Harbec generates most of it’s own power using natural gas (a relatively clean fossil fuel). Additionally, the local grid that supplies Harbec (in the event that they draw power from the grid) generates power via a resource mix that includes 69% nuclear, 4% hydroelectric, and 27% fossil fuel. There are no greenhouse gas emissions or combustion byproducts associated with nuclear or hydroelectric power, so, even when Harbec draws power from the grid, it is drawing power from a relatively clean grid (of course, there are other environmental issues associated with nuclear and hydroelectric power). This helps to disguise the potential environmental benefit associated with hydrogen fuel cell power generation. If Harbec were drawing power from a more conventional grid that relies more heavily on fossil fuels, the environmental benefits associated with providing electricity via hydrogen fuel cells would be much greater.


Currently, using hydrogen as a storage medium for wind generated electricity can not be justified on financial grounds. The technology needed to perform this conversion is currently available, but the required equipment is still very expensive and has not been widely deployed.

Long term reliance on non renewable fossil fuels is not a viable option, and there are substantial environmental and social benefits that can be realized using renewable energy sources, coupled with storage mechanisms to make that power dispatchable. The wind powered hydrogen fuel cell system under discussion here is an example of such a renewable dispatchable power system. Before such systems can be widely accepted and deployed, they must be evaluated and refined in beta test settings such as the one being proposed here. Demonstration and evaluation of a renewable dispatchable energy system in an industrial setting will be a key step in the evolution of such systems and in promoting their use in developed and developing nations.

Proposed Phase II Objectives and Strategies:

Phase II proposes to extend this work and design, install, and monitor a demonstration scale, wind powered, hydrogen manufacturing/storage/power generation system at Harbec. Implementation and study of such a system will enable the researchers to more fully understand the short term acquisition and installation issues as well as the longer term integration, operation, efficiency. and maintenance issues. Demonstration of this concept and more complete understanding of the issues, barriers, and opportunities that it offers will have important implications in both the developed and the developing worlds.

Phase II proposes

  • the identification/selection of equipment appropriate for a demonstration scale, wind powered, hydrogen manufacturing/storage/power generation system
  • installation and integration of the hydrogen fuel cell system into 1-larbec’s current power provision and climate control system
  • collection and dissemination of data describing the system’s operation

The output of the Phase II study will be a series of reports and presentations detailing

  • the technical and financial challenges that arise during the integration of the hydrogen fuel cell system and the means by which the challenges were resolved
  • the technical and financial performance characteristics of the operational system
    • uptime/availability
    • operational and maintenance costs
    • amount of hydrogen generated from available wind energy
    • amount of electricity generated from available hydrogen
    • overall electrical yield/efficiency of system
    • recommendations for future systems

Journal Articles:

No journal articles submitted with this report: View all 3 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

Wind Power, Hydrogen Generation, Fuel Cell,, RFA, Sustainable Industry/Business, POLLUTION PREVENTION, Sustainable Environment, Energy, Technology for Sustainable Environment, energy conservation, environmentally friendly fuel cell power system, green design, environmental sustainability, ecological design, hydrogen fuels, injection molding facility, energy efficiency, engineering, energy technology, alternative energy source, wind energy

Relevant Websites:

Relevant Website: Exit