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Cheap, abundant hydrogen?

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At the Los Angeles Auto Show, Honda unveiled its new model the FCX Clarity, powered by the Honda V Flow hydrogen fuel cell stack. American Honda plans to lease the FCX Clarity to a limited number of retail consumers in Southern California with the first deliveries taking place in summer 2008. This follows a recent announcement from General Motors that it will begin US consumer testing of its Equinox hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in early 2008, as part of ‘Project Driveway‘. Last week, the state of New York opened its first hydrogen vehicle refuelling facility, the first of six planned nationwide as part of the Department of Energy’s Infrastructure Demonstration and Validation Project.

It seems that the hydrogen-powered car just won’t go away. Appealing though the idea of a vehicle that emits nothing but water is, worries over where the hydrogen will come from continue to dog its progress. Most hydrogen today is generated either from non-renewable fossil fuels such as natural gas, or by water hydrolysis, which is only 50-70% efficient. The Holy Grail of cheap, plentiful sustainable hydrogen remains a mirage.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University may have found an answer. In a paper published in ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’, they describe a method of producing hydrogen gas from biodegradable organic material, using electron-generating bacteria and a small electrical charge in a microbial fuel cell. The process, known as electrohydrogenesis, has in the past shown low efficiency and yields, but reactor modifications have achieved hydrogen generation from a variety of organic substances at high yields. Lactic acid and acetic acid achieve 82%, cellulose 63%, glucose 64%.

“This process produces 288 percent more energy in hydrogen than the electrical energy that is added in the process,” said Bruce Logan, Professor of Environmental Engineering at Penn State.

Penn State press release

‘Sustainable and efficient biohydrogen production via electrohydrogenesis’

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