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.

Microbes Future for Biodiesel, Hydrogen Cells

Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) looks to turn microbes into the next big thing for biodiesel and hydrogen fuel cells. This story from MIT says scientists at the school are looking to capture energy that might be flushed away in wastewater.

buie1“Even if you could get only a fraction of that back, you could offset the amount of energy it takes to process the wastewater, and potentially sell some back to grid,” says Cullen Buie, who heads up MIT’s Laboratory for Energy and Microsystems Innovation (LEMI). “We’re working on a way to use microbial fuel cells to harvest some of the energy that is currently being flushed down the toilet.”

Buie’s work on microbial fuel cells is just one effort of many at LEMI, where projects draw upon fields including microfluidics, electrokinetics, electrochemistry, and microscale surface engineering. In addition to microbial fuel cells, potential applications include biodiesel harvesting, cell sorting for genetic research, ship-hull protection, and perhaps Buie’s biggest breakthrough to date: a low-cost, hydrogen bromine flow battery that doesn’t require a membrane.

Buie founded LEMI when he arrived at MIT in 2010. “The lab encompasses all the things that interest me, including alternative energy,” says Buie, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering. “A lot of our applications are dependent on microscale manipulation or principles of microfluidics. We also look at electric fields in fluid flow in order to discriminate, or sort cells, based on physical properties.”

The idea behind the process is that microbial fuel cells use bacteria, instead of precious metals, as catalysts in chemical reactions that produce energy. In addition, the technology can be applied to harvesting algae for the oil used to make biodiesel.

Researchers Find Better Way to Store Hydrogen

hydrogenstorage1One of the challenges to using hydrogen as a clean fuel is how to store the gas. But an article in the American Chemical Society journal Chemistry of Materials says researchers have found a new solid, stable material that can pack in a large amount of hydrogen that can be used as a fuel.

Umit B. Demirci and colleagues explain that storing hydrogen in solids is a recent development and a promising step toward building a hydrogen economy. That’s the idea originated in the 1970s and promoted by former President George W. Bush that we replace fossil fuels with hydrogen, which can serve as a clean fuel. Although a promising alternative to conventional energy sources, hydrogen has posed a number of technological challenges that scientists are still overcoming. One of those issues has to do with storage. Previously, researchers were focused on developing hydrogen-containing liquids or compressing it in gas form. Now, solid storage is showing potential for holding hydrogen in a safe, stable and efficient way. In the latest development on this front, Demirci’s team looked to a new kind of material.

They figured out a way to make a novel crystal phase of a material containing lithium, boron and the key ingredient, hydrogen. To check how they could get the hydrogen back out of the material, the scientists heated it and found that it released hydrogen easily, quickly and only traces of unwanted by-products.

The researchers received funding from groups in France and Belgium.

GM Fuel Cell Vehicles Surpasses 3 Million Miles

General Motors’ fleet of fuel cell vehicles has surpassed the three million mile mark running on hydrogen-power. According to GM, some individual vehicles have accumulated more than 120,000 miles and by using hydrogen, the fleet has avoided 157,894 gallons of gasoline consumption. This specially equipped fleet of Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell vehicles are part of GM hydrogen-powered Chevrolet EquinoxGM’s 119-vehicle Project Driveway program, which launched in 2007. Since then, more than 5,000 drivers have provided feedback on the functionality and drivability of fuel cell technology.

“Hydrogen fuel cell technology is an important part of GM’s advanced propulsion portfolio and we continue to make substantial progress in furthering this technology,” said Charlie Freese, executive director of GM’s global fuel cell engineering activities. “These vehicles have operated through seven full winters and a wide range of environmental conditions, proving that fuel cells can meet the demands of real-world drivers.”

GM has announced several fuel cell-related collaborations over the past few years. In July, 2013, GM and Honda announced a long-term collaboration to co-develop next-generation fuel cell and hydrogen storage systems, aiming for potential commercialization in the 2020 time frame. In addition, GM and Honda are working together with stakeholders to further advance refueling infrastructure, which is critical for the long-term viability and consumer acceptance of fuel cell vehicles.

Also last year GM opened a new state-of-the-art Fuel Cell Development Laboratory at GM Powertrain World Headquarters in Pontiac, Mich. In September, 2013 GM and the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development & Engineering Center (TARDEC) jointly announced an expansion of their relationship for testing automotive fuel cell technology.

H2FIRST To Improve Hydrogen Fueling Infrastructure

Last year the U.S. Energy Department launched H2USA, a program aimed at addressing the challenge of hydrogen infrastructure. Established by the Energy Department’s Fuel Cell Technologies Office in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the Hydrogen Fueling Infrastructure Research and Station Technology (H2FIRST) project will draw on existing and emerging core capabilities at the national labs and aim to reduce the cost and time of new fueling station construction and improve the stations’ availability and reliability.

By focusing on these aspects of the hydrogen fueling infrastructure, the effort hopes to accelerate and support the widespread deployment of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles. Automakers are investing in hydrogen technology as evidenced by Toyota’s recent announcement that it will begin selling its Fuel Cell Vehicle in 2015. Last year, GM and Honda announced plans to jointly develop hydrogen fuel cell cars, and Hyundai will lease its Tucson Fuel Cell hydrogen-powered vehicle in California this spring.

“The success of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles largely depends on more stations being available, including in neighborhoods and at work, so drivers can easily refuel,” said Daniel Dedrick, hydrogen program manager at Sandia who is involved with several other partners in the program. “With H2FIRST, we’re definitely on the road to making that happen more quickly.”

The partners include several agencies from the state of California, widely regarded as the nation’s epicenter of zero-emission vehicles.

“This new project brings important federal know-how and resources to accelerate improvements in refueling infrastructure that support the commercial market launch of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles,” said Air Resources Board Chairman Mary D. Nichols. “California is committed to deploying at least 100 hydrogen refueling stations in the next decade, and the H2FIRST effort is a big step toward the development and deployment of a broader, consumer-friendly infrastructure for us and the rest of the United States. We are excited to be joined by such prestigious partners in this effort.”

H2FIRST’s technical goal is to develop and apply physical testing, numerical simulation and technology validation to help create low-cost, high-performance materials, components and station architectures. H2FIRST also will collect and distribute data supporting industry’s efforts to reduce the costs of integrated fueling systems and networks. Continue reading