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GE has demonstrated the technology in a prototype, and is now building a larger production module – one that can produce 1 kilogram of hydrogen per hour – for testing in its labs later this year. A machine of that scale could be attached to small electricity sources to produce hydrogen on the side. The technology also has the potential to be massively scaled up to create a hydrogen gas station.

GE’s new electrolyzer could be ready for production in a few years. “You can talk about transitioning to a hydrogen economy, but really these things don’t move unless the economics are there,” Bourgeois says. “This takes enough capital cost out of the whole electrolyzer system, so when you buy this and amortize it over so many years, you compete with gasoline.”

Paul Bakke, an electrical engineer and program manager at the U.S. Department of Energy in Golden, CO, says a cheap electrolyzer could be a key component of the future hydrogen economy. “As far as I know, GE is the only one who has tried to tackle this problem,” he says. “Assuming GE is successful in being able to produce these things with a high level of reliability and low cost, it will break through the barrier that has traditionally been there for electrolyzers – namely, the capital cost barrier.”

Bakke adds: “I would say it’s an important piece; it may not be the only way to make hydrogen, but it’s an important piece. Natural-gas reforming may be a near-term bridge, but in order to get away from the environmental concerns, we will have to go to electrolysis, derived from wind turbines and solar panels and so forth.”

Home page image courtesy of GE. GE’s bench-top electrolyzer prototype for hydrogen production

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