The first reactor capable of producing hydrogen from a renewable fuel source--ethanol--efficiently enough to hold economic potential has been invented by University of Minnesota engineers. When coupled with a hydrogen fuel cell, the unit--small enough to hold in your hand--could generate one kilowatt of power, almost enough to supply an average home, the researchers said. The technology is poised to remove the major stumbling block to the "hydrogen economy": no free hydrogen exists, except what is made at high cost from fossil fuels. The work will be published in the Feb. 13 issue of Science.
The researchers see an early use for their invention in remote areas, where the installation of new power lines is not feasible. People could buy ethanol and use it to power small hydrogen fuel cells in their basements. The process could also be extended to biodiesel fuels, the researchers said. Its benefits include reducing dependence on imported fuels, reducing carbon dioxide emissions (because the carbon dioxide produced by the reaction is stored in the next years corn crop) and boosting rural economies.
Hydrogen is now produced exclusively by a process called steam reforming, which requires very high temperatures and large furnaces--in other words, a huge input of energy. Its unsuitable for any application except large-scale refineries, said Lanny Schmidt, Regents Professor of Chemical Engineering, who led the effort. Working with him were scientist Gregg Deluga, first author of the Science paper, and graduate student James Salge. All three are in the universitys department of chemical engineering and materials science.
Deane Morrison | EurekAlert!
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