Researchers at Ohio State University have found a way to cheaply turn ethanol or other biofuels into hydrogen gas with 90-percent efficiency. Now, this may not sound like such a big deal, but it really is.
One of the most overwhelming issues surrounding building a hydrogen transportation system has been the building of the infrastructure. If one were to use a centralized model such at that used by the big oil companies to distribute gasoline, the distribution of hydrogen would be even more problematic.
Producing hydrogen at a centralized location, distributing it via pipelines and large trucking fleets in its compressed form just doesn’t seem like a very viable option to most. But, what if instead, a company were to produce a liquid biofuel, such as ethanol centrally, then distribute it to fueling stations (as is being down right now) and from there the magic of hydrogen creation occurs?
The Ohio State University researchers have developed a metal catalyst that will reform ethanol into hydrogen on demand right at the fueling station pump. Instead of using high priced platinum or higher priced rhodium at $9,000 an ounce like other manufacturers are currently using the Ohio researchers are using inexpensive (say $9 per kilogram) cerium oxide, calcium and cobalt.
The new catalyst can be used at the pump to split the ethanol or other biofuel into hydrogen, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane and heat. The methane and heat will be recycled to help with the spitting process and the carbon dioxide and monoxide will be sequestered and disposed of in a presumably environmentally friendly manner.
Right now there are 1200 ethanol stations in the U. S. where one can fill up with E85. This same infrastructure (with slight modifications) can be used for the rollout of ethanol to hydrogen on demand pumps as well.
The ethanol used will need to be 100 percent rather than an E85 blend, so there will need to be some modifications on the production end. The distribution end should remain relatively the same except for the coordination of which stations are the receive the 100-percent biofuel. And, of course, a pump will need to be added to these fueling stations that is capable or reforming ethanol into hydrogen.
Of course the argument from some will be why not just use ethanol in one’s car rather than reforming it into hydrogen. First, ethanol may be less polluting than gasoline but it doesn’t compare to zero emissions technology such as hydrogen. Second, ethanol generally gives less horsepower and lower MPGs than a comparable hydrogen fuel cell car.
So, you see, the production and distribution of ethanol or other biofuels may just create an opportunity to have hydrogen at the pump, soon. Ethanol may be created locally and delivery locally in a decentralized model or ethanol can be made and transported over long distances. Hydrogen on demand will take the process the rest of the way. And, what happens after this is cleaner vehicles and bluer skies.