New hydrogen production method could reduce need for fossil fuels

Jan 06, 2009
New hydrogen production method could reduce need for fossil fuels

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists have created an entirely natural and renewable method for producing hydrogen to generate electricity which could drastically reduce the dependency on fossil fuels in the future.

The breakthrough means ethanol which comes from the fermentation of crops can be completely converted to hydrogen and carbon dioxide for the first time.

The hydrogen generated would be used to power fuel cells - devices which convert fuels into electricity directly without the need for combustion.

The new method - which has the potential to be used to power homes, buildings and cars in the future - is the result of a 10 year collaboration project between scientists from the University of Aberdeen alongside international partner laboratories.

Over 90% of the hydrogen currently generated across the globe is made using natural gas found in fossils fuels.

The main concern with this method is the generation of large amounts of carbon dioxide increasing the risk of global warming.

This new production method uses ethanol which is produced by the fermentation of crops and is therefore carbon neutral meaning any carbon dioxide produced is assimilated back into the environment and used by plants to grow.

Professor Hicham Idriss, Energy Futures Chair at the University of Aberdeen who has led the study said: "We have successfully created the first stable catalyst which can generate hydrogen using ethanol produced from crop fermentation at realistic conditions.

"Moreover, hydrogen generated using this method is very clean and therefore suitable for fuel cells because it also converts all carbon monoxide, which is poisonous, generated in the process to carbon dioxide at the same time.

"The catalyst is made of very small nanoparticles of metals deposited on larger nanoparticles of a support called cerium oxide which is also used in catalytic converters in cars. At present the generation of hydrogen needed to power a mid size fuel cell can be achieved using 1 Kg of this catalyst.

"As with traditional methods of hydrogen production, carbon dioxide is still created during the process we have developed. However unlike fossil fuels which are underground we are using ethanol generated from an above the ground source - plants or crops. This means that any carbon dioxide created during the process is assimilated back into the environment and is then used by plants as part of their natural cycle of growth.

"It's quite feasible that we could see the use of this new type of catalysts to generate the hydrogen used in the UK in the future if the necessary changes to public policy were implemented."

The work is published in the new journal devoted to sustainable chemical reactions: ChemSusChem, vol 1, 905 (2008).

Provided by University of Aberdeen

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User comments : 31

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hudres
1.1 / 5 (12) Jan 06, 2009
It still produces carbon dioxide. Greenhouse gas. Bad
Alexa
3.5 / 5 (11) Jan 06, 2009
But this gas comes from plants, not from underground. Anyway, the mass production of so called energetic plants can destroy rain forests faster, then fosil fuel plants production.
Canman
3.4 / 5 (5) Jan 06, 2009
This study is nuts. If you have the ethanol, which is supposedly carbon neutral because it is coming from a plant source, then why convert it into hydrogen? So we can pay both the ethanol supplier and the hyrogen refiner? How about just do what Brazil does, put the ethanol straight into your car! Better yet, just burn the plants in a steam engine and bury the ash underground when you are done. Its cheaper, it will sequester carbon, and it will fertilize your next crop.
Nartoon
1 / 5 (5) Jan 06, 2009
"carbon dioxide created during the process is assimilated back into the environment and is then used by plants as part of their natural cycle of growth." Even if this was true, which it isn't, they've unlocked the CO2 and released it into the air whereas as a crop it was locked up. Even if this flies it'll be best used to generate household electricity since containing the hydrogen for use in vehicles is next to impossible.
Yes
4.3 / 5 (3) Jan 06, 2009
There is more energy in ethanol
..HH
HCCOH
..HH
then in the HH coming from it.

The 1 Kg of catalyst probably needs a heatsink.
And if the ethanol comes from crops, then the crops took the CO2 from the air. THis process just puts that CO2 back. Net CO2 emission is indeed 0.
Yes
not rated yet Jan 06, 2009
I am still waiting for a process to change hydrogen in ethanol or methane. That would be really useful.
Ant
4.5 / 5 (2) Jan 07, 2009
dont they eat crops in aberdeen
This is another 3rd year student trying to get a first for the third year project as are many other so called research claims.
delusioned
2.8 / 5 (4) Jan 07, 2009
Someday they will make hydrogen into ethanol and claim it a big success.
Going
3 / 5 (2) Jan 07, 2009
Hydrogen gas is very difficult to contain and has a low energy to mass ratio compared to ethanol. The only reason you might want to use it to power a vehicle is if there is a need for a very clean non toxic exhaust such as a vehicle running inside an enclosed space. Conversion of plant based hydrocarbons to gasoline like molecules is a much better route , and you can use them in existing internal combustion engines so no expensive new engine technology.
DGBEACH
3 / 5 (6) Jan 07, 2009
The hydrogen generated would be used to power fuel cells - devices which convert fuels into electricity directly without the need for combustion.

Many of you seem to have missed THIS point...we are going to need Hydrogen sources to feed the fuel-cells which WILL be powering our electric vehicles (like it or not)...now get with the program, and stop talking about IC engines which will all but disappear within the next half-century. The days of using fire for locomotion are coming to an end ladies.
deatopmg
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 07, 2009
Ethanol made from corn is an energy negative process then add another energy negative process on top of that to make H2. THIS IS INSANITY! Starting with ethanol from sugar cane MAY result break even H2.

With all of the inefficiencies involved we would be better off building expensive PV cells and covering the agricultural land with them to generate electricity to charge expensive batteries in vehicles.
Velanarris
2 / 5 (4) Jan 07, 2009
There is more energy in ethanol
..HH
HCCOH
..HH
then in the HH coming from it.

The 1 Kg of catalyst probably needs a heatsink.
And if the ethanol comes from crops, then the crops took the CO2 from the air. THis process just puts that CO2 back. Net CO2 emission is indeed 0.


Not accurate. Plants take up carbon from the ground as well as multiple trace elements that are toxic when burned. Ethanol is actually dirtier than gasoline in terms of emmisions.

Secondly,
But this gas comes from plants, not from underground. Anyway, the mass production of so called energetic plants can destroy rain forests faster, then fosil fuel plants production.

Where do you think fossil fuels come from?


Realistically you can achieve the exact same effect as this system by continuing the use of fossil fuels and planting more trees.

That is, until you run out of fossil fuels. The only thing this system produces is local energy independence. If you have the land to grow the ethanol crop then you have energy independence.
phlipper
5 / 5 (1) Jan 07, 2009
Why not use nuclear energy to convert water into H2 by electrolysis? Whichever way you want to use it, IC engine or Fuel cell, it appears to be the most logical option. A safer way of using nuclear energy is to use thorium as the fuel. Advantages include its abundance and enhanced proliferation-resistance of spent fuel, stopping the reactor from producing nuclear weapons-usable plutonium.
http://www.thoriumpower.com/
DGBEACH
1 / 5 (2) Jan 07, 2009
On that note...then why not a nuclear-powered car?
lengould100
2.6 / 5 (5) Jan 07, 2009
?? Someone here should buy a science primer and share it among the posters.
tkjtkj
1 / 5 (1) Jan 07, 2009
So, now we can applaud the impoverished and hungry people of the world as they gleefully do without more food, fueling our needs to power our cars and laptops.. Amazing .. What a MISGUIDED, cruel, and dastardly thing to do!
tkjtkj.physorg@gmail.com
jeffsaunders
5 / 5 (1) Jan 07, 2009
It has been pointed out that this method of supplying hydrogen to fuel-cells will be economical only in situations where the country concerned has the land, water and sunlight required but not the oil gas and coal reserves that could be used as an alternate.

Many countries have the land and sunlight and water but it is currently covered in rain forest. These countries are currently cutting down those forests for pasture or timber or other temporary uses which has a detrimental effect on local diversity of both flora an d fauna.

Yes it may be CO2 neutral but a little deficit here is not all that bad for those with the correct resources. Think of a country with a poor balance of trade and no coal,oil or gas and they will still want to move into the modern age so they will need fuel of some kind.

Solar panels are OK for some situations but not very portable. Ethanol and petrol can be shipped around and converted to fuel where they are needed. they are both a lot easier to store than Hydrogen or electricity for any length of time.

Nuclear power may be a competitive alternative when small scale self contained plants become common place. However, the smallest scale nuclear plant will probably still be big enough for a small suburb or a medium sized factory but for smaller scale than that we will still need alternatives.
weirmeir
3 / 5 (2) Jan 10, 2009
We are so foolish and short sighted as to not use the obvious answer. We have here in America the technology and resources to immediately develop, manufacture, use and export viable wind car technology.
Sirussinder
1 / 5 (1) Jan 10, 2009
Great I have 5 acres of useless forest I am going to rip down, pile and burn...so I can grow corn and convert to hydrogen to power my future hydrogen powered SUV !! (fossil fuels are soo bad for the enviroment ya know)

I am going to sell this idea in glossy ads and get more people to get more land into production!

The future makes so much sense!! Thanks Physorg for this article!
ElectronDonor
5 / 5 (1) Jan 11, 2009
Energy yields (as average power density)
> Tracking CPV (>35% efficiency) in sunny deserts (e.g. Sahara)100-150Watts(electricity)/sq-m
> Field crops for biofuels less than 1W/sq-m, BEFORE processing and conversion
> Egypt/Sahara daily sunfall ~= 6.5KWh (270W/sq-m average)

BEV's >= 80% efficient (tank to wheel)

I suggest all those in favour of the hydrogen economy take a look back at article "Why a hydrogen economy doesn't make sense" PhysOrg 11th Dec 06. http://www.physor...html(and by the way ignore posting by Wooly)

Duude
3 / 5 (2) Jan 11, 2009
As always, the devil is always in those pesky details. How many new discoveries have we read about over the years that bore no fruit? Does everyone just lie? Depends on the definition of lying. Withholding information that paints a slightly or radically different picture is a form of lying. Why lie? Scientists live off grants. They lie for money. Of course, they would counter they didn't lie, but new evidence later shot down their idea. I'm pretty skeptical. The less information provided, the more skeptical I am. So, how many acres of plants does it take to produce enough hydrogen to power a 100 watt light bulb? And at what cost? I don't expect all is known and must be investigated. I would suggest that these lame stories of 'breakthrough' not be reported till much, much, much more can be proved.
denijane
5 / 5 (1) Jan 12, 2009
Ok, is it just me, or the article really doesn't mention the method they are using? Because all I saw is a good publicity for the method, but not a single line of how exactly it's working.
jonnyboy
1 / 5 (1) Jan 24, 2009
Someday they will make hydrogen into ethanol and claim it a big success.


I do believe you meant "disillusioned"
jonnyboy
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 24, 2009
It has been pointed out that this method of supplying hydrogen to fuel-cells will be economical only in situations where the country concerned has the land, water and sunlight required but not the oil gas and coal reserves that could be used as an alternate.

Many countries have the land and sunlight and water but it is currently covered in rain forest. These countries are currently cutting down those forests for pasture or timber or other temporary uses which has a detrimental effect on local diversity of both flora an d fauna.

Yes it may be CO2 neutral but a little deficit here is not all that bad for those with the correct resources. Think of a country with a poor balance of trade and no coal,oil or gas and they will still want to move into the modern age so they will need fuel of some kind.

Solar panels are OK for some situations but not very portable. Ethanol and petrol can be shipped around and converted to fuel where they are needed. they are both a lot easier to store than Hydrogen or electricity for any length of time.

Nuclear power may be a competitive alternative when small scale self contained plants become common place. However, the smallest scale nuclear plant will probably still be big enough for a small suburb or a medium sized factory but for smaller scale than that we will still need alternatives.


While I agree with all of your points, if we are going to build that many nuclear power plants, we will have more than sufficient electricity for powering electric cars without the need to convert water into hydrogen.
DGBEACH
3 / 5 (2) Jan 24, 2009
Hydrogen is much more abundant, and cheaper to process (extract) than Uranium-235. Plus it won't kill you if it leaks into the atmosphere. Do I really have to go on?
It is the only logical choice, despite the storage and distribution challenges. If we could do it for gasoline and diesel, then we can definitely also do it for Hydrogen!
Besides, with battery technology being what it is today, or in the foreseeable future, there's no way for us to obtain the vehicle-autonomy figures we've all gotten used to using petroleum, without a secondary power-source on-board to recharge those batteries.
Yes
not rated yet Jan 24, 2009
Someday they will make hydrogen into ethanol and claim it a big success.


I do believe you meant "disillusioned"


Converting hydrogen in ethanol is definitely what we are looking for. 25 liter of ethanol equivalent needs an enormous amount of storage size for hydrogen.
If we can store hydrogen in ethanol or even better compressed methane, then we got rid of the main hydrogen problem.
There are also fuel cells that eat methanol directly.
Yes
not rated yet Jan 24, 2009
If we would expect to replace all the cars with fuel cells, then there is not enough platinum available in the world to built them.
naresh
not rated yet Jul 09, 2009
this method was really innovative which replaces the fossil fuels.can i get the full details like the method of production of hydrogen by this process and storing of hydrogen...here is my email id..naresh.kompelly@gmail.com
Velanarris
not rated yet Jul 09, 2009
Converting hydrogen in ethanol is definitely what we are looking for. 25 liter of ethanol equivalent needs an enormous amount of storage size for hydrogen.
This is completely incorrect. Converting hydrogen into ethanol is energy storage, not energy generation.
If we can store hydrogen in ethanol or even better compressed methane, then we got rid of the main hydrogen problem.
What is the main hydrogen problem? If you're talking explosion you're incorrect. Hydrogen, since it is so light compared to air, diffuses very quickly in addition to reacting in an oxygen reduction at temperatures lower than the boiling point of water. The main problem with hydrogen is that current hydrogen based fuel cell technology requires platinoids which are incredibly rare on Earth.

Yes
not rated yet Jul 09, 2009
Converting hydrogen in ethanol is definitely what we are looking for. 25 liter of ethanol equivalent needs an enormous amount of storage size for hydrogen.




This is completely incorrect. Converting hydrogen into ethanol is energy storage, not energy generation.




The main problem with hydrogen IS that it is not practically storable in huge quantities. So converting hydrogen into alcohol would certainly and definitely be a big necessary step to the realization of the hydrogen industry.
If you can't store it in huge quantities then it is practically nearly useless.
Velanarris
5 / 5 (1) Jul 09, 2009
Hydrogen storage is simple.

Pressurized liquid hydrogen.