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Hydrogen fuel may soon be nearly as plentiful and cheap due to record setting efficiency
Hydrogen is the optimal fuel in terms of the cleanliness of its burn reaction. It burns cleanly; producing only water, unlike carbon based fossil fuels which also produce CO2 and other hydrocarbon derivatives. However, hydrogen has suffered from two key problems; one problem is storage; the other problem is production.
Traditional production of hydrogen via electrolysis (applying an electrical current to water) is not very efficient as you are expending energy to apply the electricity. It also requires the use of fossil fuels or some other alternative energy structure to produce this power for the production infrastructure.
However, research Bruce Logan and his colleagues at Penn State aim to toss traditional production out the window and revolutionize the way hydrogen is produced. Their approach -- let special bacteria break down plant matter and byproducts producing hydrogen -- with almost no human produced necessary power. The process is highly efficient and could be easily scalable to mass production.
The researchers had previously had good success with their waste water cell that used these bacteria process organic waste. Now the researchers, funded by a National Science Foundation grant, have made modifications to their cell design which improve the living conditions for the bacteria, and they add a small jolt of electricity at the start of the process to excite them (note this is a trivial energy expense when compared to electrolysis).
The end result is that their microbes are churning out hydrogen at record efficiency. They call their new cell the Microbial Electrolysis Cell (MEC).
"We achieved the highest hydrogen yields ever obtained with this approach from different sources of organic matter, such as yields of 91 percent using vinegar (acetic acid) and 68 percent using cellulose," said Logan.
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