Hydrogen gas by combining electron- generating bacteria & small electrical charge...


Pennsylvania State University researchers last week announced that they have developed a method of producing hydrogen gas by combining electron-generating bacteria, acetic acid and less than .2 volt source in a microbial fuel cell. Info at this URL... http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5iXbROJgdF3_6BtG3TZFEs9hiw8Cg

I first heard about this last week on NPR's Talk of the Nation. Here is NPR link - http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16343702&sc=emaf

The researcher who led the project Bruce Logan, the director of the Hydrogen Energy Center there said last week on the show that this was actually a relatively simple process.

He claims 90 percent efficiency. Also claimed is that the process produces 288 per cent more energy in hydrogen than the electrical energy that is added to the process.

I would love to build one small scale and combine it with solar panels. Or maybe try to generate some hydrogen and try using it as a fuel supplement for my car using something like this - http://www.hydrogen-fuel.ca/ . Anyone willing to tackle this one?

sort by: active | newest | oldest
Patrik9 years ago
It's not smoke and mirrors - just poorly reported.

The process is essentially a microbial fuel cell (MFC). An MFC can generate electricity from wastewater by microbial oxidation of organic compounds in the wastewater.

Bruce Logan & Co. discovered that if you put a small counter-voltage across the cell, it will produce hydrogen instead. And yes, the energy contained in the H2 produced is greater than the amount of electrical energy put in. The remainder of the energy is still supplied by the anaerobic oxidation of organic material in the waste stream.

The advantage of using an MFC is that it can deal with dilute waste water, for which it would be hard to capture the residual energy content in other ways. Plus it actually turns out to be a pretty effective way of treating waste water.

Whether or not this technology will wind up being more effective at generating hydrogen from other types of biomass still remains to be seen.
nadsab (author)  Patrik9 years ago
Hi Patrik, Logan in the interview claimed he was not asserting a perpetual motion machine. The process is just extremely efficient.
Patrik nadsab9 years ago
I know. I have actually spoken with Bruce Logan a number of time. We had been trying to put together a research collaboration with him last year. Unfortunately, at that time it was still very hard to find funding for this type of work, because it doesn't really lend itself to large-scale energy production. It's a great way to clean up waste water, and produce some extra energy to run the rest of the waste water treatment facility. But it's not going to solve the world's energy problems...
nadsab (author)  Patrik9 years ago
So Patrik, gyromild, kiteman or anyone... Do you think the process would be viable for homeowners to produce hydrogen gas at their homes, to power maybe a hydrogen powered furnace, and/or water heater?
Patrik nadsab9 years ago
Hydrogen storage becomes a serious problem, for a DIY installation. Because it is a gas, the energy density in hydrogen is far less than any liquid fuel. Plus there's the fact that leaking hydrogen + oxygen = boom!

Commercial applications of hydrogen as an energy source tend to spend most of their effort on storing hydrogen in a more dense form, whether it's adsorbed is some sort of solid matrix using fancy nanomaterials, or compressed under high pressures - not something you could use at home.

All in all, this is an area where people are still working hard trying to make it economically feasible in situations where economies of scale play in their favor, or where other fuel sources are even more expensive (e.g. continuous monitoring on the sea bottom). It is definitely *not* yet economically viable for home use.

Check back in another 5 years or so...

gyromild nadsab9 years ago
It's a great way to clean up waste water, and produce some extra energy to run the rest of the waste water treatment facility.

I agree with Patrik, that it seems more like a viable long term solution for waste water treatment than solving energy woes.
It is currently extremely uneconomical to rely on hydrogen due to distribution transportation problems.
But it is possible to think small and use such discovery in homes, as treatment, and perhaps to run a small generator.
Kiteman9 years ago
All that stuff about there being more energy in the H2 than was added by the electricity is smoke and mirrors.

The applied voltage doesn't generate the H2, it just makes it migrate across the membrane. The efficiency should be measured by comparing the H2 produced to the energy that could have been obtained by fermenting the plant waste directly to a biofuel such as methane, methanol or ethanol, none of which require the expensive cryogenic and high-pressure storage and transport systems that H2 does.
nadsab (author)  Kiteman9 years ago
Kiteman, This is a peer reviewed study completed by Penn State, published in the National Academy of Sciences journal. I do not think that the director of environmental engineering at one of the top universities in the country and the people at the National Academy of Sciences would put this into in the public domain and risk their professional reputations, unless the studies were repeatable by independent research.
Kiteman nadsab9 years ago
I didn't mean it was wrong, just badly presented - the way it is written in the articles it could be taken as a perpetual motion device, giving out three times the energy put in.
nadsab (author)  Kiteman9 years ago
Ah. OK Kiteman.