Hydrogen is the optimal fuel in terms of the cleanliness of its burn reaction. It burns cleanly; producing only water, unlike carbon based fossil fuels which also produce CO2 and other hydrocarbon derivatives. However, hydrogen has suffered from two key problems; one problem is storage; the other problem is production. Traditional production of hydrogen via electrolysis (applying an electrical current to water) is not very efficient as you are expending energy to apply the electricity. It also requires the use of fossil fuels or some other alternative energy structure to produce this power for the production infrastructure. However, research Bruce Logan and his colleagues at Penn State aim to toss traditional production out the window and revolutionize the way hydrogen is produced. Their approach -- let special bacteria break down plant matter and byproducts producing hydrogen -- with almost no human produced the necessary power. The process is highly efficient and could be easily scalable to mass production. The researchers had previously had good success with their waste water cell that used these bacteria process organic waste. Now the researchers, funded by a National Science Foundation grant, have made modifications to their cell design which improve the living conditions for the bacteria, and they add a small jolt of electricity at the start of the process to excite them (note this is a trivial energy expense when compared to electrolysis). The end result is that their microbes are churning out hydrogen at record efficiency. They call their new cell the Microbial Electrolysis Cell (MEC). "We achieved the highest hydrogen yields ever obtained with this approach from different sources of organic matter, such as yields of 91percent using vinegar (acetic acid) and 68 percent using cellulose," said Logan. Wait... the cell is using crops right, didn't DailyTech just run a piece pointing out the downsides of ethanol and biofuel production? Well the key thing to notice here and why this technology is so promising is that it has 68 percent efficiency in releasing hydrogen from cellulose. This means that the process can run on waste materials, including, but not limited to -- crop husks and stalks, lawn waste, field grass, and tree clippings and waste. Traditional ethanol production requires either hydrocarbons from fossil fuels or the fermentation of sugary plants. This necessitates sugary crops such as corn or sugarcane to be grown solely for fuel, not for human use. Bacteria-produced ethanol and enzymatic produced ethanol are both being researched, but they have been very costly, and have relatively low efficiencies. Logan and his team found that with certain configurations nearly all the hydrogen in the source material could be converted into hydrogen gas. He foresees this allowing for the process to be adopted on a large scale for easy hydrogen production. Even with the initial electrical jolt, energy lost to processing the hydrogen and other inputs, the overall efficiency of the system is 80 percent in the vinegar driven system. This is far better than any existing process for ethanol generation. It also handily beats electrolysis generation, being between three to ten times more efficient "We can do that by using the bacteria to efficiently extract energy from the organic matter," said Logan. Logan and lead author Shaoan Cheng have published their findings in the November 12, 2007 online version of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The National Science Foundation is ecstatic about Logan's work and the successes of Logan's team. "Bruce Logan is a clear leader in this area of research on sustainable energy," Bruce Hamilton, NSF director of the environmental sustainability program at NSF and the officer overseeing Logan's research grant said. "Advances in sustainable energy capabilities are of paramount importance to our nation's security and economic well-being. We have been supporting his cutting-edge research on microbial fuel cells for a number of years and it is wonderful to see the outstanding results that he continues to produce." The promise of this technology is that it takes a time immemorial human waste -- crop waste -- and turns it into fuel that could one day power our vehicles. Better yet it does it in a clean way, producing only water upon burn. With advances in hydrogen storage technology, for example solid state storage, this will make producing and distributing fuel to power next generation hydrogen cars, such as Honda's FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicle, an easy process. Perhaps the solution to mankind's energy woes and our salvation from dwindling fossil fuel supplies will come in the form of the oldest living organisms on earth -- bacteria. Logan is also working with the National Science Foundation to use his waste water cells to produce fuel from human sewage, treating the sewage water in the process. Bruce Logan, Hong Liu and Stephen Grot have been featured as Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Award recipients.
quote: suburbs of Chicago,
quote: or $7.84 per gallon according to Google's convertion system
quote: I feel you are overlooking that to deploy this tech in sufficient volume for fueling many cars, we'd need produce more *waste* than we presently do, an increase in CO2
quote: If you took the material and put it outside until it decayed into compost it would still release the same amount of CO2.
quote: So basically, solar power is the answer, but Hydrogen isn't a bad stopgap solution, though it's energy should be converted into a more stable and still highly efficient form such as methanol.
quote: Either approach is "idealistic" in a sense, but the true foolishness is to follow ethanol because it works in a few sugar producing nations (read Brazil) or because it is a hot term in current political circles.
quote: But a solid infrastructure for ethanol production just isn't in place either.
quote: In order to power all the cars in the U.S. on EITHER hydrogen or ethanol massive changes in production and massive development of infrastructure would be need.
quote: If microbial hydrogen production is the better way to go, why not get it right of the bat? We're talking about investing billions of dollars into this. You better try to make it the best system possible.
quote: If you accept a substandard solution consumers will see it as such and oil will remain dominant until it is completely depleted.
quote: I'm all for doing away with the oil infrastructure, but if you think there is the marvelous existing infrastructure in America for its production on the scale of replacing oil you are sadly mistaken.
quote: Your own link says nothing about them being unsuitable during the "later half" of a car's life, and even the initial breakin period is denoted a "possible" issue that appears to be fading, as several cars now require synthetic oil during their entire life.
quote: In any case, the amount of natural oil used for lubrication purposes is very small. Assuming we find a replacement for petroleum-based fuels, we easily have enough for many thousands of years.
quote: "This process produces 288 percent more energy in hydrogen than the electrical energy that is added to the process...Water hydrolysis, a standard method for producing hydrogen, is only 50 to 70 percent efficient. Even if the microbial electrolysis cell process is set up to bleed off some of the hydrogen to produce the added energy boost needed to sustain hydrogen production, the process still creates 144 percent more available energy than the electrical energy used to produce it."
quote: Their approach -- let special bacteria break down plant matter and byproducts producing hydrogen -- with almost no human produced the necessary power
quote: The first thing I recommend is trying to use an eels electrical discharge
quote: I mean if you look at the scientific numbers, it's the most efficient fuel out there. That's why they are staying with it.
quote: To talk about the fiction (i.e. 'free markets') is an absurdity of the ignorant.
quote: His views are completely at odds with the mainstream scientific opinion," said Colin Wilson, a planetary physicist at England's Oxford University.
quote: "the idea just isn't supported by the theory or by the observations."
quote: (Related: "Don't Blame Sun for Global Warming, Study Says" [September 13, 2006].)
quote: but they've experimentally confirmed the link between magnetosphere changes, cosmic ray flux, and cloud formation.