Researchers Release Hydrogen from Tough Biomass

dengResearchers from Georgia Tech have figured out how to release hydrogen from even the toughest sources of biomass. This article from Chemistry World says Yulin Deng and his team at the university developed a low-temperature electrolytic technology that can crack even molecules like lignin and cellulose, eliminating the need to use fossil fuels to release clean-burning hydrogen.

The process takes place in an electrolysis cell containing a membrane that protons can pass through, sandwiched between an anode and a cathode. Water containing both powdered biomass and polyoxometalate (POM), a metal oxide catalyst, is added to the anode side of the cell. By heating the solution or exposing it to sunlight, POM molecules can grab hydrogen atoms from the biomass, becoming H-POM. Applying a voltage across the electrodes causes the H-POM molecules to dump an electron onto the positively charged anode, and a proton into the electrolyte solution. The electrons flow around a circuit to the cathode side of the cell, while the free floating protons diffuse though the membrane and combine with these electrons at the cathode, forming hydrogen atoms. The atoms then react to form stable hydrogen gas, which can be collected.

Experts in deriving hydrogen from biomass have praised the new approach. ‘This process provides an open door to using smaller quantities of biomass and different biomass varieties for renewable hydrogen production,’ comments Chris Zygarlicke, at the University of North Dakota, US. And David King from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, US, says, ‘this is really interesting work … the claimed Faradaic efficiency for the process is extremely high.’

Deng and his team are currently working to make the method even more efficient. ‘Our goal is to collect 100% of the hydrogen atoms from biomass. We’re also looking for an industrial collaborator to scale up the technique.’

IU Researchers Create Hydrogen Biofuels

Indiana University researchers have developed a highly efficient biomaterial that catalyzes the formation of hydrogen by splitting H2O and creating hydrogen and oxygen. The resulting fuel can be used to power vehicles that essentially run on water. According to the research team, a modified enzyme gains strength from being protected within the protein shell — or “capsid” — of a bacterial virus. This new material, called hydrogenase, is 150 times more efficient than the unaltered form of the enzyme. The process of creating the material was recently reported in “Self-assembling biomolecular catalysts for hydrogen production,” in the journal Nature Chemistry.

Trevor Douglas MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

Trevor Douglas: MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

“Essentially, we’ve taken a virus’s ability to self-assemble myriad genetic building blocks and incorporated a very fragile and sensitive enzyme with the remarkable property of taking in protons and spitting out hydrogen gas,” explained research lead Trevor Douglas, the Earl Blough Professor of Chemistry in the Indiana University Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Chemistry. “The end result is a virus-like particle that behaves the same as a highly sophisticated material that catalyzes the production of hydrogen.”

The biomaterial created through the process, known as P22-Hyd, is produced through a simple fermentation process at room temperature and is more efficient than the unaltered enzyme. In addition, the biomaterial is potentially less expensive and more sustainable to produce than materials, such as platinum, currently being used to create fuel cells.

“This material is comparable to platinum, except it’s truly renewable,” Douglas said. “You don’t need to mine it; you can create it at room temperature on a massive scale using fermentation technology; it’s biodegradable. It’s a very green process to make a very high-end sustainable material.” Continue reading

USDA Funds 544 REAP Projects

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded 544 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects more than $6.7 million as part of the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack made the announcement at the Snake River Brewing Company, in Jackson, Wyoming. The company received a $13,810 REAP grant to install a solar panel to generate energy for the business.

srb-logo-3dThese grants will help farmers, ranchers and small business owners use more renewable energy, which cuts carbon pollution, reduces our dependence on foreign oil, saves businesses money on their energy bills and creates American jobs,” Vilsack said. “All of these are crucial components to developing healthier, more economically vibrant rural communities.”

REAP was created by the 2002 Farm Bill and was reauthorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. REAP funding has helped farmers expand renewable energy use in recent years. The new Census of Agriculture shows the number of farms utilizing renewable energy production has doubled in the last five years. Since 2009, USDA has awarded $545 million to support more than 8,800 REAP projects nationwide.

Eligible agricultural producers and rural small businesses may use REAP funds to make energy efficiency improvements or install renewable energy systems, including solar, wind, renewable biomass (including anaerobic digesters), small hydroelectric, ocean energy, hydrogen and geothermal.

Air Products Debuts Solar-Powered Fueling Station

Air Products has inaugurated India’s first solar-powered renewable fueling station in an event this week that included chief guest Shri Piyush Goyal, Union Minister for Power, Coal, and New and Renewable Energy, along with Shri Upendra Tripathy, Secretary, Minister of New and Renewable Energy. With the addition of this SmartFuel station, Air Products now has three hydrogen fueling stations operating in India.

Air Products’ SmartFuel H70/H35 retail hydrogen dispenser provides the newest generation of hydrogen dispensing to meet consumer expectations of refilling fuel cell vehicles in a safe, fast and reliable manner.

Air Products’ SmartFuel H70/H35 retail hydrogen dispenser provides the newest generation of hydrogen dispensing to meet consumer expectations of refilling fuel cell vehicles in a safe, fast and reliable manner.

The SmartFuel station is part of a mass public transport bus fueling and vehicle demonstration program, and according to Air Products generates 100 percent renewable hydrogen from solar energy via an electrolyzer. It is located at the Solar Energy Center near Delhi and part of a project managed by the National Institute of Solar Energy. The project was also implemented by India’s University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (UPES) and funded by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) of the Government of India.

“As a member of industry, Air Products is proud to be involved in a program that has received such crucial validation and support from public sector, educational institute and the regulatory authorities,” commented Ravi Subramanian, business development manager Asia for Air Products’ Hydrogen Energy Systems. “This project is an important, progressive step towards unlocking the potential of hydrogen as a sustainable transportation fuel and alternative energy source, not just for India but the rest of the world.”

UPES is executing this project and it is entirely funded by MNRE. “Although this is a demonstration project, this will be a major stepping stone for India to move towards the hydrogen economy,” added Dr. Niranjan Raje, former director of Indian Oil and the principal investigator for this project.

Va Tech Scientists Turning Corn Husks into Hydrogen

vatechzhang1Scientists at Virginia Tech have found a way to get hydrogen from corn husks. This article from Yahoo says the husks and stalks are not only a plentiful feedstock for the potential car fuel, but they’re cheap, too.

“We have demonstrated the most important step toward a hydrogen economy — producing distributed and affordable green hydrogen from local biomass resources,” said study co-author Percival Zhang, a professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech.

The study was led by Joe Rollin, a former doctoral student of Zhang’s at Virginia Tech. Together they co-founded a start-up company called Cell-free Bioinnovations.

The process builds on previous research using xylose, “the most abundant simple plant pentose sugar, to produce hydrogen yields that previously were attainable only in theory,” said the PNAS report.

Other hydrogen fuel production methods rely on highly processed sugars, but the Virginia Tech team used corn husks and stalks, which are known as dirty biomass, to cut costs and make the fuel easier to produce locally.

The findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

EIA Reports Renewable Energy Sees Gain

Net electrical generation from non-hydro renewable energy sources increased by 10.9 percent over the previous year (2013), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) latest “Electric Power Monthly“. The solar contribution to net electrical generation more than doubled (102.8%) while wind grew by 8.3 percent, biomass by 5.7 percent, and geothermal by 5.4 percent.

Comparatively speaking, nuclear power and coal increased by only 1.0% and 0.3% respectively while electrical generation using natural gas dropped by 0.3 percent. Conventional hydropower also declined by 3.7 percent. Net electrical generation from all energy sources combined increased by 0.7 percent in 2014 compared to 2013.

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During the last decade, electrical generation from non-hydro renewables has more than tripled. And, significantly, 2014 was the first year in which non-hydro renewables provided more electrical generation than did hydropower (281,060 thousand MWh vs. 258,749 thousand MWh).

Including hydropower, EIA reports that renewable energy sources accounted for 13.19 percent of net U.S. electrical generation in 2014 (hydropower – 6.32%, wind – 4.44%, biomass – 1.57%, solar – 0.45%, and geothermal – 0.41%). These numbers, however, almost certainly understate renewable energy’s actual contribution to the nation’s electrical supply because EIA does not fully account for electricity generated by distributed and off-grid renewable energy systems (e.g., rooftop solar).

“Given current growth rates – especially for solar and wind, it is quite possible that renewable energy sources will reach, or exceed, 14% of the nation’s electrical supply by the end of 2015,” said Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “That is a level that EIA, only a few years ago, was forecasting would not be achieved until the year 2040.”

MagneGas Deploys Hog Manure to Hydrogen System

MagneGas Corporation has completed construction of its Venturi sterilization system at a major hog farm in technology. The company has developed a patented technology that converts liquid waste into hydrogen-based fuel. Venturi will process hog manure into a low-oder fertilizer that can be safely used on crops. In addition, MagneGas fuel will be produced as a byproduct that can be co-fired with propane or natural gas to reduce other fuel needs.

MagneGas Venturi technologyFollowing a successful demonstration, the Indiana farm owner has indicated that he plans to purchase the system to use for his manure sterilization needs and partner with MagneGas to launch the market for the use of MagneGas systems in the agricultural industry worldwide.

“I am excited that MagneGas has achieved this significant milestone. Having the ability to test our new high flow Venturi system in a real world environment with such a highly respected stakeholder in the agricultural industry speaks volumes as to how far we have come as a company,” said Ermanno Santilli, CEO of MagneGas. “We are looking forward to working with such a cutting edge farm on a system that we believe will change the way the world looks at liquid wastes.”

MagneGas and its partners have demonstrated that a wide variety of liquids wastes can be sterilized such as blood, sewage, manures, leachates and a variety of sludges. As recently as July 2014, MagneGas corp confirmed that it meets EPA 503.32 by sterilizing hog manures taking coliform bacteria counts to “Undetectable Levels”. The company believes meeting this rule transforms this Class B Manure into Class A suitable for land application and in some cases fertilization.

Hydrogen Fueling Arrives in Sacramento, CA

The Ramos Oil Company located in West Sacramento, California is now offering drivers the ability to fuel their hydrogen powered vehicles. The new hydrogen station is equipped with state-of-the-art technology developed by Linde North America.

To mark completion of its retail hydrogen fueling station, Ramos held a ribbon cutting ceremony at the site and hosted representatives of Linde and local and state dignitaries — including Cliff Caldwell, Senior Vice President and General Manager for Bulk Markets at West Sacramento Hydrogen Fueling StationLinde; Nitin Natesan, Business Development manager for Linde Hydrogen Fueling; Mark Johannessen, Mayor Pro Tem City of West Sacramento; Bill Elrick, California Fuel Cell Partnership; Commissioner Janea Scott, California Energy Commission; Phil Serna, California Air Resources Board; and Fred Joseck, Department of Energy.

“We are thrilled to be working with Linde on this project and very impressed with the exciting technology they brought to us,” said Kent Ramos, president of Ramos Oil Company, one of the largest Hispanic-owned companies in the U.S. “We have been serving the Sacramento Valley market with a variety of fuels for over 60 years. The prospect of hydrogen’s zero emissions technology fits perfectly into our multi-fuel platform concept and I believe will prove that hydrogen has a place in the transportation fuel mix.” Ramos Oil is one of the first petroleum retailers in California to embrace clean fuels. In addition to conventional fuels, the company offers bio-diesel, ethanol-85, methanol and now hydrogen. The company also uses solar panels to power the entire facility.”

While it is difficult to project how much business the new hydrogen fueling station will do in the next few years, it is expected that thousands of hydrogen fuel cars will be on the road in the state by 2020, according to OweHo estimates.

“Linde is building hydrogen stations today that can meet this projected rapid growth in the near future without the need for extensive station upgrades,” said Linde’s Natesan. “It used to be a chicken and egg question, but realistically the stations must come first so an infrastructure is in place for the initial consumers.”

At the heart of the hydrogen fueling system is the Linde IC 90 ionic compressor — the next generation of hydrogen compression technology which enables higher throughput and enhanced back to back fueling. “With this compressor, Linde has made a valuable contribution to the ongoing enhancement of today’s hydrogen fueling infrastructure,” explained Mike Beckman, head of H2 Fueling.

In as written statement, West Sacramento Mayo Cabaldon noted, “This project not only serves as a hub for hydrogen fuel delivery, but highlights the importance of providing an array of fuels for the future of urban transportation. The station is an asset to both our residents and the region as a whole.”

Cali Can Broaden Hydrogen Fueling Network

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have published a study that found a number of existing gas stations in California can safely store and dispense hydrogen. This, the researchers suggest, a broader network of hydrogen fueling stations may be within reach.

The report examined 70 commercial gasoline stations throughout California and sought to determine which, if any, could integrate hydrogen fuel, based on the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) hydrogen technologies code published in 2011. The report found that 14 of the 70 gas stations considered in the study could readily accept hydrogen fuel and that 17 more possibly could accept hydrogen with property expansions. Sandia Daniel DedrickUnder previous NFPA code requirements from 2005, none of the existing gasoline stations could readily accept hydrogen. The current code, known as NFPA 2, provides fundamental safeguards for the generation, installation, storage, piping, use and handling of hydrogen in compressed gas or cryogenic (low temperature) liquid form.

Sandia Hydrogen Program Manager Daniel Dedrick said the development of meaningful, science-based fire codes and determinations such as those found in the report will help accelerate the deployment of hydrogen systems. “This work shows that we can reduce uncertainty and avoid overly conservative restrictions to commercial hydrogen fuel installations by focusing on scientific, risk-informed approaches. It turns out that the number of fueling stations able to carry hydrogen can be quantified.” Dedrick added, “We now know that we can build more hydrogen fueling stations if we examine the safety issues within a sound, technical framework that focuses on the real behaviors of hydrogen.”

Sandia’s hydrogen safety, codes and standards program is a diverse portfolio of activities funded by the Department of Energy’s Fuel Cell Technologies Office to provide the technical basis for developing and revising safety codes and standards for hydrogen infrastructure, including the NFPA 2 code. This work is aligned with Hydrogen Fueling Infrastructure Research and Station Technology (H2FIRST), a new project established by the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Biodiesel, Hydrogen Studies Continue Despite Setback

scstateA school in the southeast will continue its studies into biodiesel and hydrogen production, despite an academic setback. This story from the Orangeburg (SC) Times and Democrat says South Carolina State University was trying to get its multi-disciplinary study of energy accredited but was put on probation and denied approval of a new master’s in energy and environmental science program by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. But Dr. Kenneth Lewis, dean of the College of Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology, calls the decision a “minor setback,” and while the classes in the program scheduled for this fall won’t happen, the research the school does on biodiesel and hydrogen will go on.

Biodiesel from the cafeteria’s waste cooking oil has gone through various stages and is now at the point where it’s being tested, Lewis said.

“Right now we’re testing the fuel on small engines,” he said. But he’s looking at having the university’s vehicles operating on biodiesel produced at the center within three to five years. He noted that the lab can produce up to 40 gallons of fuel a day.

It’s a great advantage that the supplies for the process and that of the switchgrass/cow manure project [to make hydrogen] are practically free, according to Lewis.

“We can go to any farmer, any slaughterhouse and get the manure,” he said.

Lewis said that bacteria found in cow’s stomachs and manure break down cellulose in the switchgrass and produce hydrogen.

The school has also applied for a $300,000, three-year grant with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to pay for the aquatic tanks and other supplies to grow algae to turn into biodiesel. Lewis is also looking at Jatropha for biodiesel production noting that South Carolina’s climate matches that of the plant’s native home, Mozambique.