consider long-term needs for the application in question, as a centralized
system would benefit an expanding operation. It’s all about economies of
scale, so for a decision like this, foresight and a good grasp of the numbers
is always the best tool for weighing the options.”
Another major selling point for Proton Onsite is safety. By producing gas
at the point of use, facilities circumvent the potential hassle of handling gas-
filled cylinders on a regular basis. These cylinders, which are heavy and, in the
case of hydrogen, contain highly flammable gas at 2,200 psi, are frequently
viewed as one of the more risk-prone features of a typical laboratory.
“With a gas generator, there is no need to employ people to continuously handle cumbersome and dangerous cylinders, and there are few
safety codes to adhere to. I would say the best reason to choose an on-site
source of gas is precisely because there is no need for extraordinary design
or installation measures,” says Wolff.
However, hydrogen generation is not without risk factors. According to
Wolff, air-exchange rates are a major factor in the safe implementation of
Proton Onsite’s equipment in the laboratory environment. In the case of a
hydrogen leak, he says, it is imperative that the amount of hydrogen-to-air
in the mix remains low to help avoid levels that could cause ignition.
Proton Onsite’s generators are also affected by safety protocols, specifically NFPA, which specifies where and how hydrogen generators are installed.
The introduction of NFPA 2, says Wolff, has allowed customers to more easily justify the use of hydrogen generators in the laboratory space.
“The NFPA 2 standard has a more complex approach to hydrogen-
storage spacing and placement that depends on three factors, not just
one: the amount of gaseous hydrogen stored, the storage pressure of the
hydrogen, and the internal diameter of the pipe or tube on the hydrogen-
storage vessel(s) that connect to the storage. The implementation of an
on-site hydrogen generator provides facility managers with a much sim-
pler and less costly hydrogen supply method,” he says.
In the past year, Proton Onsite has made two significant announcements
that signaled the growing importance of PEM electrolyzers.
Last May, Proton Onsite said that a joint effort with the U.S. Department of Energy to engineer a PEM electrolyzer that can fuel a vehicle was
successful. The new stack, they reported, safely generates hydrogen gas
at 5,000 psi without the need for a compressor, and releases the outgoing
oxygen gas at atmospheric pressure. This is enough pressure to power passenger vehicles equipped with fuel cells that burn hydrogen.
Then, in April of this year, Proton Onsite announced plans to develop
a 1-MW hydrogen electrolyzer for the renewable energy storage market.
After generation, the gas is stored and used as a fuel or other energy need.
The company’s development efforts reduced the number of parts and the
amount of precious metals used in the catalyst for its PEM electrolyzers,
decreasing production costs by 40% over the past five years. It plans to
make the new generator available to the commercial market in 2014.
The company’s goal, according to Mark Schiller, Proton Onsite’s vice
president of business development, is nothing less than the creation of a
technological foundation for an affordable and reliable hydrogen refueling
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