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Purdue's Hugh Hillhouse has developed microscopic solar cells for making hydrogen, leading to more efficient biofuel production.
Seeking ways to improve biofuel production, Purdue researchers say a healthy helping of hydrogen could be just what the doctor ordered

Purdue University Professor of Chemical Engineering Rakesh Agrawal and his team have proposed a method of boosting the conversion of plant material, or biomass, into fuel by increasing the amount of hydrogen used in the process. In fact, Agrawal predicts that additional hydrogen can increase efficiency of the conversion process known as gasification by as much as one third.


Gasification involves partial combustion of the biomass material, converting it into biofuel, as well as the byproducts of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. In current gasification processes, approximately two thirds of the carbon energy in the biomass is lost in the form of CO2 and CO.

Agrawal and his associates have postulated that additional hydrogen introduced in the gasification process would combine with the carbon dioxide to produce more carbon monoxide. That CO would then react with extra hydrogen, creating more biofuel and water.

The ability to make three gallons of fuel from the same amount of biomass that currently produces only two gallons would be an impressive feat, increasing the biofuel supply while reducing the amount of real estate required to grow the biomass material by a third. However, the Purdue team's plan is only feasible if a plentiful source of relatively inexpensive hydrogen can be secured.

To solve that problem, Agrawal is working with fellow Purdue Professor Hugh Hillhouse, an expert in developing nanomaterials for photovoltaics and thermoelectric energy production. in a recent interview with New Scientist Magazine, Agrawal said that he and Hillhouse are developing low-cost "spray-on" solar cells that could provide a cheap source of energy for making hydrogen.

Last month, the team successfully tested the spray-on nanomaterial, which produced an electric charge when exposed to light. Details of the Purdue team's findings are due to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.



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One way or the other?
By oTAL on 3/14/2007 3:15:22 AM , Rating: 3
quote:
The ability to make three gallons of fuel from the same amount of biomass that currently produces only two gallons would be an impressive feat, increasing the biofuel supply while reducing the amount of real estate required to grow the biomass material by a third.


Wouldn't these two be mutually exclusive? Either you increase the supply by 50%, or you decrease the need for biomass by a third (or more probably a balance in between). You can't have it both ways....




RE: One way or the other?
By TSS on 3/14/2007 5:46:03 AM , Rating: 4
ah but thats all in the interpetation :D it mearly states that the efficientcy goes up by a TOTAL about 33%. so when we say a third it might still be 15% more fuell on 15% less real estate.

i thought exactly the same though, it's all in the explanation :P


RE: One way or the other?
By oTAL on 3/14/2007 8:17:57 AM , Rating: 2
Hmmm... I get it... you're saying he meant:

quote:
(increasing the biofuel supply while reducing the amount of real estate required to grow the biomass material) by a third.


while I understood:
quote:
increasing the biofuel supply (while reducing the amount of real estate required to grow the biomass material) by a third.


The parenthesis represent where the "by a third" applies.
Yup... nice catch! :)
That would make it a correct statement but a poorly phrased one ;)
Truth is I'm kinda nitpicking so I'll just stop and go get a life....


RE: One way or the other?
By dever on 3/14/2007 1:10:48 PM , Rating: 1
Even with these increases, it would still meet only a fraction of current demand. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that currently the only source of biomass fuel used is from corn. If we used 100% of the US corn crop for ethonal, it would only supply about 7% of the country's demand. Of course, we need the corn for a couple other things too, so this potential 33% efficiency increase, while admirable, does little to make the practice worthwhile. The resulting fuel has a significantly lower energy density, and the price to produce it is higher even than the currently artificially inflated petroleum products. The only reason to pursue ethonal via corn, is for politicians to bring pork-barrel money back home. This has been the only way this is at all viable... by taking the little man's money via taxes and spending it on dead-end technology.

There's an excelent article in Scientific American published a couple of months ago regarding ethonal.


RE: One way or the other?
By Ringold on 3/14/2007 1:24:51 PM , Rating: 2
We're the only idiots using corn, but you're right regardless. Indonesia has spent the past year slashing and burning rain forest and setting peat fires at a rabid pace to make way for biofuel crops. Brazil probably exerts only slightly more restraint.

As has always been the case during the last century, the hippies have starry-eyed big dreams which simply can't pan out -- except this time, the government, and the whole world, is caving.


RE: One way or the other?
By FITCamaro on 3/14/2007 10:56:25 AM , Rating: 1
That quote doesn't say that they're decreasing the need biofuel. It says that they can increase the production and decrease the space required to grow it.


Dumb question...
By jskirwin on 3/14/2007 8:35:17 AM , Rating: 2
But if they need a plentiful source of hydrogen to do this, wouldn't it be more efficient to use that hydrogen in fuel cells?




RE: Dumb question...
By rtrski on 3/14/2007 8:47:40 AM , Rating: 2
Not dumb at all.

It would be...if we could generate that much hydrogen, you could just use it as the 'end fuel'.

But one of the big arguments against hydrogen is the efficiency of it as a 'fuel' itself. It's hard to compress, store, transport, etc. all the way out to the end vehicle in any quantity. Using it to boost the biofuel production would only require extending the hydrogen production and storage infrastructure out to the "processing plant" level, not to the end consumer level.

Sounds like a reasonable compromise...but the question reverts right back to needing more nukes or whatever to generate the hydrogen in the first place, which would also allow more nukes on the electric grid...and which is where the environmentalist lobby usually cries wolf and defeats itself....


RE: Dumb question...
By EODetroit on 3/14/2007 9:08:52 AM , Rating: 2
LOL what? Hydrogen production doesn't involve nuclear power or nuclear weapons.

Hell the big attraction of fusion reactors (the kind that uses hydrogen, but that don't exist yet) is that they are clean, and the eco-unfriendly fission power reactors use heavy elements, nothing at all like hydrogen.

I think you're confused.


RE: Dumb question...
By jskirwin on 3/14/2007 9:28:07 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Hydrogen production doesn't involve nuclear power or nuclear weapons.


I'm not a chemist, but I believe it takes electricity to make hydrogen. The electricity has to come from somewhere.

If it comes from a coal fired power plant, then you add to global warming. If the electricity comes from nuclear power, then you create nuclear waste.

Currently solar cells are incredibly expensive to manufacture in terms of both electricity used and price, plus they are incredibly inefficient - meaning that you need acres of them to produce the electricity you need to make hydrogen.

Then the question becomes: where do you put them? Here on the eastern seaboard we don't have all that much room (or sunny days). The best place for them to be would be on the roofs of existing structures, but that means reengineering our power grid from the supplier->consumer centralized model to a "peer to peer" power generation one.


RE: Dumb question...
By rtrski on 3/14/2007 3:28:34 PM , Rating: 2
Sure, hydrogen comes from simple electrolysis...which takes what? Yes, class, electricity.

And electricity can come from where...? Well, there are all sorts of generating plants. But using non-bio-hydrocarbon sources kind of defeats the purpose of 'generating hydrogen to generate more bio-fuels'. Hence we have alternative options like hydro, wind and solar...or nuke plants.

Fusion plants would be wonderful, certainly...but are currently science fiction. My statement was perfectly in tune with the real world of today, in which the least greenhouse-gas-emissive, yet simultaneously low cost-of-production electrical generation comes from nuke plants. Which gets the environmental lobby in a tizzy because of the whole 'nuclear waste' bugaboo.

Troll on, dude. I, personally, think you should wear the confused tag.


RE: Dumb question...
By Zoomer on 3/15/2007 1:45:41 PM , Rating: 2
I'd take a few pounds of containable nuclear waste over a few billion tons of crap the coal plants spew out into the air anyday. In the unlikely event that the waste is released.

Sure, a few people in the region would probably die if that ever happens. But that's much better than having xx millions take in the pollutants by breathing, with increased death rates from cancer, etc.

And oh, by the way, why don't we just use electric cars instead? It sure doesn't make sense to generate electricity for electrolysis, and use the resulting hydrogen to improve the crappy yield of biofuel production. Sounds like a big waste.

While we're on that topic, why don't we shut down all the oil power plants? Redirect all the savings to use as fuel, and replace the plants with nuclear plants. Bingo, now we have a lot more gas, and there's not even a need to convert to electric cars!


im not sure which is more interesting...
By kattanna on 3/14/2007 10:40:30 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Last month, the team successfully tested the spray-on nanomaterial, which produced an electric charge when exposed to light


that they have successfully developed "spray on" solar cells which would dramatically lower cost

or the discovery of using hydrogen to boost bio fuel production

interesting stuff either way




By knowom on 3/14/2007 4:52:52 PM , Rating: 2
I wonder how the spray on solar cells work are they like solar panels if so and depending on the costs associated with it painting a car with it would rock for some kinda solar electric hybrid vehicle.


Coool !
By shady3005 on 3/15/2007 1:31:16 AM , Rating: 2
Mr Rakesh Agrawal - Indian :) You make us proud !




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