14 May 2006

Sugar to Hydrogen Conversion Promises Renewable Hydrogen Energy At Low Cost

Everyone knows that fuel is more expensive. It is important to turn to alternative, renewable energies, to substitute for non-renewable petrochemicals. Jim from the Energy Blog has provided an intriguing report on a new catalytic energy process for creating renewable hydrogen from sugar, glycerine, glycols, and sugar alcohols. This new process promises to reduce the cost of hydrogen production by up to two thirds.

The process (US. Patent No. 6,699,457) will enable localized production of hydrogen using readily available sugar-based feedstocks effectively eliminating hydrogen transport, storage and safety roadblocks that impede adoption of hydrogen fueled power systems. Due to the low temperature operation of APR, the economics are scalable to small home and office use applications. Depending on the feedstock, the process is capable of producing green hydrogen at a total cost of between $1.80-$4.00/kg. This is dramatically less than alternative renewable sources, such as wind and solar, and very competitive with mature, capital intensive hydrogen production methods such as natural gas reformation, coal gasification or electrolysis.

For comparison the energy contained in a kg of hydrogen is comparable to the energy in a gallon of gasoline, thus the cost to operate an internal combustion engine (ICE) on this hydrogen, produced from a distributed production system would be competitive to an ICE running on gasoline and the cost of operating a fuel cell would be about one-third that of an ICE.

....Dumesic and his team tested more than 300 catalysts to find a nickel-tin-aluminum combination that reacts with biomass-derived oxygenated hydrocarbons to produce hydrogen and carbon dioxide without producing large amounts of unwanted methane.

When the sugar or alcohol molecules touch the surface of the catalyst, chemical reactions break and rearrange many of the carbon bonds, causing the atoms to be “reformed” into new configurations and liberating hydrogen in the process. In fact, about half the product is hydrogen gas. The researchers estimate that, if the system is fully developed, it will be able to turn a liter of biomass into about 1,000 watts of power.

....Because of the tremendous cost and energy advantages that the APR process has shown, Virent is targeting smaller [operations due to fast payback potential].

Much more information at the source.

These diagrams show all the hydrogen atoms contained within a few typical small organic molecules. Of course, if you can make hydrogen from glycerol---a major byproduct of biodiesel production---you can make biodiesel production that much more efficient. And if you can then produce cellulosic ethanol from the cellulose of the plant, efficiencies go up further, for total plant use.
This means of producing energy is relatively kosher, in comparison with the energy source profiled in yesterday's post.

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