Powering a RPi with Hydrogen


Looking for a new way to power your Raspberry Pi? The raspberryHy project aims to develop a small fuel cell designed for powering the credit card sized computer. It adds a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell, a battery, and custom control electronics to the Pi.

The system takes hydrogen in from a compressed hydrogen cartridge and feeds it through a regulator. This passes the hydrogen into the PEM fuel cell at the correct pressure, and creates a potential. The control electronics boost that voltage up to the 5 V required on the Pi’s USB port. There’s also an electronically controlled purge valve which periodically exhausts the fuel cell.

There’s a few reasons you might want to run your Pi with hydrogen. Run time of the fuel cell is limited only by the amount of hydrogen you can store. In theory, you could connect a large cylinder for very long run times. Combined with a battery, this could be quite useful for running Pis in remote locations, or for long-term backup power. The raspberryHy will be presented at Hannover Fair 2014 this month.

23 thoughts on “Powering a RPi with Hydrogen

  1. That’s a kinda neat idea. Hydrogen fuel cells are pretty cool.

    I was recently given a pair of units H-Power built in ~2000 to demo at a local science center. Ever since I’ve been trying to think of something cool to do with them. They output 12v via a standard cigarette lighter socket.

    I can’t help but think that batteries are probably a lot easier and cheaper in the real world though.

  2. This system contains a battery. I would think a combination of photovoltaic, and wind turbine along with micro/pico hydro where available would more practical. Having said that I do think this far out (in a good way) path of experimentation.

  3. I have been hearing about this for years now. Hoover was talking about a backpack vac that would run on one. My biggest concern is, a proprietary cartridge and layered on price. I heard about one that would just fill-up on alcohol. Cheers!

  4. Safety considerations aside, fuel cells could probably become cheaper in the future, but what about hydrogen? Should it become a controlled market with fixed prices like gasoline I certainly would never want to depend on it for energy.

    1. Gasoline is a controlled market in only a few set countries in the world. It’s fungible and the only thing most governments do is vary the amount of tax applied. Your fuel isn’t any cheaper in the USA than in Europe, you’re just paying less tax on it.

      As for hydrogen, it’s a by-product of many industrial processes including oil refining. Most refineries will burn it off if they can’t find a use for it because it’s nice and clean so no one cares.

      1. Let’s not forget that gasoline once was a by-product of oil/kerosene refining and was burned, dumped in rivers (or used to dilute the final product by unscrupulous vendors, with disasterous consequences) until a large market grew around it.

      2. Pretty much the only place you get hydrogen as byproduct in large quantities is oil refinining.

        Nearly all hydrogen is used to produce fertilizers, where it is first turned into ammonia and then into potassium nitrate. For that purpose, hydrogen is extracted by breaking down natural gas.

        There is no abundant source of hydrogen. If it was to be used for energy, we would have to start making it out of other energy sources.

        1. Yeah, few people realise exactly how much we depend on oil.

          As you say, all of hydrogen comes from these (as it way cheaper than electrolysis), and from that fertilisers, but half of all oil production goes to make plastics.

          Your 3D printer is going to be useless when the oil runs out.

          1. except the most common 3d prin ting plastic, PLA, is made from organic sources, not oil. to quote wikipedia:

            “Poly(lactic acid) or polylactide (PLA) is a thermoplastic aliphatic polyester derived from renewable resources, such as corn starch (in the United States), tapioca roots, chips or starch (mostly in Asia), or sugarcane (in the rest of the world).”

          2. But corn in the agro-industry is an unstustainable crop. It destroys the fields it grows in even when we dump fertilizer on it. The majority of which are derived from petroleum products.

          3. Perhaps I should have said useful plastics are made from oil.

            Plant -based plastics will get there one day, and if we can figure out how to grow crops without using oil that will be good too.

  5. Funny enough I just tested an aerial photography platform with a hydrogen powered Pi. We used hydrogen for the lift and then a pipe from the balloon to the fuelcell. I know there’s cheaper/smaller/easier ways of doing it – this is for an educational project.


    The fuel cell and controller I used are here http://arcolaenergy.com/collections/education/products/1-5w_inventor (disclaimer: I did the engineering on the control boards).

  6. I really love alternative power systems like this, but it is not practical. if you have a “remote location” a solar panel plus battery will out last the hydrogen by a factor of 500 to 1.

    I do hope that the complexity of fuel cells like this come down so they are easier to deal with. or find a low pressure liquid fuel source instead of an incredibly high pressure gas source.

    1. Given the correct storage method Hydrogen fuel cells greatly exceed the power density of current battery technology though. It’s just a matter of which industry improves quicker.
      Hydride storage methods greatly reduce the pressure required to store a given amount of hydrogen. Similar to how Acetone is used in acetylene tanks.

      1. in the long run hydrogen fuel cell are little more stop gaps. direct energy storage will win out in the end.

  7. >In theory, you could connect a large cylinder for very long run times.

    No, you couldn’t. The platinum in the proton exchange membrane degrades over time due to very small (<10ppm) carbon monoxide and dioxide contaminants in basically every commercially available hydrogen cartridge. The average lifespan for it is two to five years. They list several available cartridge sizes but give absolutely no indication of runtime for any of them. This is a publicity stunt, pure and simple.

    1. And its not a very well thought out system anyhow. The purge valve for example lets out some of the hydrogen, which is a strong greenhouse gas on its own. If similiar systems were to be used on the large scale, the leakage of hydrogen would be an environmental disaster.

    2. I’d wager consumers consider 2 years of continuous power ‘very long run times’.
      One of the goals of the project is to reduce catalyst poisoning and improve process efficiency. The hydrogen consumption rate would be a nice figure to have but a very, very, rough estimate isn’t hard to get. If they sized the fuel cell for the power consumption of the raspi(5v at 1A, 5W): using the energy density of hydrogen(33.3 kWh/kg) even the smallest cylinder(100g, 0.1kg) has 3.3kWh stored in it. Throw in some fudge factors for inefficient energy conversion(PEM: 30%, SMPS:70%) and you’re getting ~700Wh equating to ~140 hours of operation.

      Whether this proves to be vaporware is another topic entirely.

      Hydrogen is light and quickly rises away from most biology before eventually leaving earth or getting fixed. The residence time for hydrogen is 4-7* years. Not really that threatening

      * http://tellusa.net/index.php/tellusa/article/view/9739

  8. It’s nice and everything, but isn’t this just a commercial fuel cell wired up to a Raspi? The Raspi could be a light bulb and the fuel cell could be a battery, and it would still fundamentally be the same thing. Using a power source to power something is not really all that hacky. As a proof of principle, it’s a principle we all knew about anyway.

  9. I am still much more impressed by the DAlH2Orean http://www.dalh2orean.com/ Pretty sure it was featured here a few years back. Also, Stan Meyer’s work, where you could skip buying the hydrogen and maybe just run your back up generator off a water hose or a well, or a stream, or rainwater, or whatever. just don’t go to cracker barrel with NATO officials.

    1. The DeloreanH2Oripoff (that’s how I’m spelling it, fucked if I’m going to put numbers in the middle of words) claims to run on hydrogen generated by aluminium and sodium hydroxide. It’s claiming the aluminium is the “fuel”.

      I know aluminium takes a shit-tonne of electricity to make, making it far too valuable to waste like this, but even so, what’s the chemistry like here? Is there a source of NaOH cheaply anywhere? Is there an easy way of getting the aluminium back out again, or does it take way way more energy that it produces?

      This “car” seems to be an interesting ‘sploit of all the hydrogen hot-air the oil companies were trying to bullshit us with a few years ago. In this case the hydrogen is made in-situ. It still pretty much stinks of scam, but has the Alu / Soda “battery” got any use for storing energy at all?

      Cheers, Jedi, for pointing out what looks like a scam I’ve never heard of before.

      As ever, Meyer’s “work” mostly involves extracting money from people who didn’t pay attention in high-school physics. It’s a shame there aren’t any honest ways of making tonnes of money through ignorance of science. I’d like lots of money, but unfortunately science was one of the lessons I paid attention to.

      Actually that’s not true. I mostly learned from reading the textbook out of boredom with the teacher. Sometimes I had the good luck to be thrown out of class, shut into an old storage room full of New Scientist back issues! Fantastic boon that was, I did much better with those.

      1. >Is there a source of NaOH cheaply anywhere?
        Many common drain cleaners are NaOH. It’s also sold as lye for soap making, fabric dying, and laundry purposes. Realistically most strong bases when combine with aluminum chips/flakes/powder will generate Hydrogen gas.
        Reclaiming the aluminum is possible, but it’s just as intensive as starting from aluminum ore. You’re basically reversing the refinement process. Typical ore is aluminum hydroxides and you’re creating aluminum hydroxide.

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