New Bacterium Doubles Hydrogen Gas Production

Hydrogen gas is today used primarily for manufacturing chemicals, but a bright future is predicted for it as a vehicle fuel in combination with fuel cells. In order to produce hydrogen gas in a way that is climate neutral, bacteria are added to forestry or household waste, using a method similar to biogas production. One problem with this production method is that hydrogen exchange is low, i.e. the raw materials generate little hydrogen gas.

Now, for the first time, researchers have studied a newly discovered bacterium that produces twice as much hydrogen gas as the bacteria currently used. The results show how, when and why the bacterium can perform its excellent work and increase the possibilities of competitive biological production of hydrogen gas.

“There are three important explanations for why this bacterium, which is called Caldicellulosiruptor saccharolyticus, produces more hydrogen gas than others. One is that it has adapted to a low-energy environment, which has caused it to develop effective transport systems for carbohydrates and the ability to break down inaccessible parts of plants with the help of enzymes. This in turn means it produces more hydrogen gas. The second explanation is that it can cope with higher growth temperatures than many other bacteria. The higher the temperature, the more hydrogen gas can be formed,” summarises Karin Willquist, doctoral student in Applied Microbiology at Lund University. She will soon be presenting a thesis on the subject.

The third explanation is that the CS bacterium can still produce hydrogen gas even in difficult conditions, for example high partial hydrogen pressure, which is necessary if biological hydrogen gas production is to be financially viable.

On the other hand, the bacterium does not like high concentrations of salt or hydrogen gas. These affect the signalling molecules in the bacterium and, in turn, the metabolism in such a way that it produces less hydrogen gas.

“But it is possible to direct the process so that salt and hydrogen gas concentrations do not become too high,” points out Karin Willquist.

When hydrogen is used as an energy carrier, for example in car engines, water is the only by-product. However, because the hydrogen gas production itself, if it is carried out by a conventional method, consumes large amounts of energy, hydrogen gas is still not a very environmentally friendly energy carrier.

Reforming of methane or electrolysis of water are currently the most common ways to produce hydrogen gas. However, methane gas is not renewable and its use leads to increased carbon dioxide emissions. Electrolysis requires energy, usually acquired from fossil fuels, but also sometimes from wind or solar power. Hydrogen gas can also be generated from wind power, which is an environmentally friendly alternative, even if wind power is controversial for other reasons.

“If hydrogen gas is produced from biomass, there is no addition of carbon dioxide because the carbon dioxide formed in the production is the same that is absorbed from the atmosphere by the plants being used. Bio-hydrogen gas will probably complement biogas in the future,” predicts Karin Willquist.

Today there are cars that run on hydrogen gas, e.g. the Honda FCX, even if they are few in number. The reason for this is that it is too expensive to produce hydrogen gas and there is no functioning hydrogen infrastructure.

“A first step towards a hydrogen gas society could be to mix hydrogen gas with methane gas and use the existing methane gas infrastructure. Buses in Malmö, for example, drive on a mixture of hydrogen gas and methane gas,” says Karin Willquist.

Caldicellulosiruptor saccharolyticus was isolated for the first time in 1987 in a hot spring in New Zealand. It is only recently that researchers have really begun to realise the potential of the bacterium.

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Mix Diesel with Biomass-Based Nylon and you can cut Soot by 50%

The doctoral research conducted by ir. Michael Boot was intended to make a soot-free diesel variant. He has succeeded in doing so by mixing the substance cyclohexanone with ordinary diesel. This causes the fuel, which is named Cyclox, to ignite later than usual, which allows oxygen and fuel to mix better. As a result, fewer soot particles are produced. “We have measured zero emission of soot at an air-fuel ratio of 50 to 50 “, Boot explains. During tests conducted in an idling passenger car, with a ratio of 10/90 (cyclohexanone/ordinary diesel), there is a fifty percent reduction in soot emission. That is an important datum, as soot emission poses a problem in inner cities in particular, where cars often move slowly or idle. The university has applied for an international patent on Cyclox.

Green nylon
Moreover, Boot’s research bore out that cyclohexanone can be made from lignin. This substance is released in great quantities as a waste product in the paper industry, among others. For this reason the Eindhoven researcher wants to try and develop an industrial process for making cyclohexanone from waste lignin on a large scale and at low cost. Together with three Departments and several companies he has submitted a project proposal for this with Agentschap NL. The purpose is eventually to make not only Cyclox with this, but also ‘green’ nylon. Indeed, cyclohexanone is also the main raw material of nylon.

It sounds like just the thing we want: fuel and nylon from waste. Will all our cars be running on this ‘waste fuel’ before long? It will not come to that. In the Netherlands for one the amount of waste lignin is enough to reach five percent admixture to all diesel taken in. In the Scandinavian countries, where the paper industry is bigger, this percentage is higher. Boot: “Cyclox is not the final solution, but it can make a substantial contribution to solving the energy issue.”

Michael Boot will take his PhD on April 20 by defending his dissertation entitled ‘Approaches to improve mixing in compression ignition engines’. He conducted his research with the Combustion Technology group of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. His research was financed by STW technology foundation and DAF Trucks.

Boot found yet another way to make diesels cleaner. He came up with a new kind of diesel injector tip, the PFAMEN (Porous Fuel Air Mixing Enhancing Nozzle). Normally an injector tip has a limited number of holes. Boot had a surprising idea: what if we use a filter as the tip? Thereby the diesel is atomized much more, so its combustion is better – as well as cleaner. Boot developed this idea into a prototype, which has already carried out half a million injections successfully. The PFAMEN has another big advantage: it works at a lower than the usual pressure. This reduces the fuel consumption. And the fuel circuit, which is the most expensive part of the engine, can be made much more cheaply.

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Renewable energy from the deep ocean

Ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) is the method of generating electrical energy which uses difference in temperature that exists between shallow and deep waters of the oceans. Sun continuously warms oceans’ surfaces which cover about 70% of the Earth’s surface and in this process considerable temperature difference is creating itself, between surface and deep waters and can be used for generating enormous quantities of electrical energy with advantage that it doesn’t pollute environment nor exhaust dangerous greenhouse gases. Warm surface waters and cold deep waters are the result of ocean streams which are heating the water in parts of the ocean near the equator, and cooling water in areas near North Pole and this cold water streams on ocean’s bottom towards equator.

The basic principle of generating electrical energy is quite simple. Warm surface water is used for heating the liquid that has low boiling temperature (like propane gas), created steam is driving turbines of the electrical energy generators, and afterwards this steam is cooled by the cold water from ocean’s deep and with which gets transformed back to liquid state. Total amount of the energy which can be gained by using this method of energy transformation is one to two orders of magnitude bigger from other methods of exploiting ocean’s energy like for instance using wave power or tide power. Big problem when using this form of energy is expensive equipment and small total efficiency of the process. Because of small total temperature difference efficiency is small, it is between one and three percent. Major advantage of this process is the ecological purity of gained energy and enormous stores of this energy that can be used.

For more detailed information’s featuring exploitation of this form of energy check this video clip:

NHA Hydrogen Conference & Expo will feature new products!

Did you know about the NHA?

The NHA is the  Hydrogen Conference and Expo is the largest hydrogen conference in the U.S. and one of the hydrogen conference in the world.

This year will be your best opportunity of the year to learn about breakthroughs, progress on commercialization challenges and network over a few days with the brightest minds and business leaders in the industry and of course see something new like zero emission cars, forklift vehicles, new cell power units, hydrogen production technology and everything related with green energy.

This Expo take place may 3-6 , 2010 in Long Beach, California.

Some topics will be:

  • Results from the First Field Test of a Microbial Electrolysis Cell for Renewable Hydrogen Production
  • Analysis of DOD’s Fuel Cell Forklift Demonstration Project
  • Environmentally Friendly HYDROGEN Refueling Station for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
  • HyTEC: Teaching High School Students and Teachers about Hydrogen and Fuel Cells       (that would be amazing! The new generation must be aware with the new energy for the future, huh?)

If you are interested , make a click