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Making synthetic fuel with solar panels

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Now a team of scientists working in Sandia National Laboratories is focusing on exploring basic steps to make synthetic liquid fuel with the help of solar panels. Some of the goals are: The team is using a cerium-oxide-based system to turn … Continue reading

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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Honda release new Solar Hydrogen Station

The new Solar Hydrogen Station  is smaller than previous models and enables an electric car owner to refill their fuel cell overnight. The unit should easily fit into a homeowners’ garage taking up significantly less space than previous models.

The older model required a compressor and electrolyzer for it to be operational. One of the reasons the units were so big was because of the compressor that was required to run the unit. Not only that, the compressor was also the reason that the units were so expensive to produce and purchase.

The idea behind the Honda Solar Hydrogen Station is to complement fast filling public H2 refueling stations and not compete with them. The Honda Solar Hydrogen Station does not store hydrogen, but creates it on demand and thus is considered a slow filling (overnight) means of refueling one’s fuel cell vehicle.

The station uses 48 panels of thin-film Honda-developed cells to produce six kilowatts of electricity. It’s designed to complement the network of public stations that California has endeavored to create as part of its “Hydrogen Highway,” but which in practice is developing slowly.

Honda’s Soltec panels are also being used by Dongfeng Honda in China, the company said, providing lighting and air-conditioning at an administrative facility. According to Honda, the Chinese panels are capable of generating 100,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, and can displace 101 tons of carbon dioxide.

In addition to installation in the garages of those who own fuel cell electric vehicles, the Honda Solar Hydrogen Station was also designed with the intention of being employed at fast fuel hydrogen stations. For an idea of the distance users will be able to eek out of such vehicles, the Honda FCX Clarity electric vehicle, which is fast fill capable, offers an estimated distance of 240 miles before refueling is required.

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Prometheus solar powered electric motorcycle

Jim Corning had an idea. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could put four solar panels on your house, and then be able to power a vehicle with the energy created with them? Corning, who founded Prometheus Solar LLC , didn’t have a vehicle he could powere with sunlight, but he did have a wife with a Ninja 250 that wasn’t getting much use. 

Today, Corning has a proof-of-concept electric motorcycle. At the Santa Monica AltCar Expo, Corning was talking with curious visitors all weekend, but was happy to tell AutoblogGreen about the bike. The four panels behind Corning in the picture above offer 800 watts, enough to recharge the bike. During testing, he’s blown up the batteries twice, and those accidents helped him realize the benefits of a more aerodynamic bike. Inspired by Craig Vetter’s fuel efficiency contests of the 1980s, Corning designed the Prometheus research vehicle to be quite slippery (note the front wheel cover and the extended back end to give the air somewhere to go). He also wanted to keep the upright seating of a motorcycle, which influenced the desighn. Currently, the bike uses lithium-ion phosphate batteries from Thundersky that have a 4.6 kWh capacity connected to a 10 HP Perm PMG 132 motor. That means he can go up to 70 mph and has a range of about 50 miles. The bike is not for sale, but there has been no lack of interest, both at the show and on the street. Corning said he had to buy an open face helmet to talk to all of the people who chat him up at stop lights.