Hydrogen is a fantastic carrier of energy. One kilogram of this, the lightest of all elements, will drive a car more than 100 km. It is rocket fuel. And it burns with a clean blue flame, producing no other emissions than pure water. Commercializing the use of hydrogen is thought by many to be the ultimate solution to eliminating the use of fossil fuels. It simply is the best way to store and distribute a useful amount of energy that can be consumed efficiently, at low cost, and without polluting the environment. According to Norwegian investor Øystein Stray Spetalen, large scale conversion to hydrogen energy “might be the next industrial revolution”. He just bought the Danish hydrogen fuel company H2 Logic for 300 million NOK.

Remember your physics class at school, where you stick two metal rods in water, connect a battery, and see gas bubbling up? That’s how you produce hydrogen gas by electrolysis. Doing it on an industrial scale requires a lot of energy. It’s of course the same energy you release again when you burn the hydrogen.

So where can we get the energy? Burning oil to produce hydrogen obviously defeats the object. But now there is a fantastic opportunity: Renewable energy sources like wind and solar have a common problem – their energy output varies with the weather. Therefore, the energy needs to be stored, so it can be used when the market needs it. Producing hydrogen is a great way of doing this. We need to build large “factories” that efficiently produce hydrogen gas from wind and solar energy plants.

This is where Einar Vøllestad comes in. As a postdoc researcher at the University of Oslo, his mission is to make all this possible. Technically and economically. In his unique research project, he is optimizing the technologies for large-scale electrolysis. By heating the water first, possibly by utilising excess and essentially free sources of heat from renewable power plants, the process runs much more efficiently with less energy loss, and cheaper equipment. He is cooperating closely with the big industrial players in this field, to make sure his research addresses the things they care about in their business plans.

His goal by March 2017 is to build and test a 1 kWatt electrolysis module which can be used for building large scale plants. This will be a crucial proof of concept, demonstrating the viability of industrializing hydrogen production from renewable energy sources.

Einar Vøllestad (Photo: Universitetet i Oslo)

Watch the talk from Cutting Edge 2015 below.