David Kirkpatrick

January 6, 2009

Hydrogen from ethanol

I’ll have to admit this sounds a little pie-in-the-sky. I’ve read way too much on various hydrogen schemes to give this any market relevance before I see/read about a whole lot more in terms of real costs, drawbacks and applications.

At the same time it’s good to see ongoing research into alternative energy sources. I have no problem with petroleum use, but it is a limited resource as things currently stand. And mankind’s power needs are only increasing at a phenomenal rate.

From the link:

Scientists have created an entirely natural and renewable method for producing hydrogen to generate electricity which could drastically reduce the dependency on fossil fuels in the future.

The breakthrough means ethanol which comes from the fermentation of crops can be completely converted to hydrogen and carbon dioxide for the first time.

The hydrogen generated would be used to power fuel cells – devices which convert fuels into electricity directly without the need for combustion.

The new method – which has the potential to be used to power homes, buildings and cars in the future – is the result of a 10 year collaboration project between scientists from the University of Aberdeen alongside international partner laboratories.

Over 90% of the hydrogen currently generated across the globe is made using natural gas found in fossils fuels.

The main concern with this method is the generation of large amounts of carbon dioxide increasing the risk of global warming.

This new production method uses ethanol which is produced by the fermentation of crops and is therefore carbon neutral meaning any carbon dioxide produced is assimilated back into the environment and used by plants to grow.

Professor Hicham Idriss, Energy Futures Chair at the University of Aberdeen who has led the study said: “We have successfully created the first stable catalyst which can generate hydrogen using ethanol produced from crop fermentation at realistic conditions.

September 9, 2008

Modified bacteria improves cellulosic ethanol

I’m not completely sold on ethanol in any form, although switchgrass and waste biomass versions are much more appealing than food product biofuel.

If the technology is going to make it in practice, breakthroughs like this will help it get there.

From the link:

New genetically modified bacteria could slash the costs of producing ethanol from cellulosic biomass, such as corn cobs and leaves, switchgrass, and paper pulp. The microbes produce ethanol at higher temperatures than are possible using yeast, which is currently employed to ferment sugar into the biofuel. The higher temperature more than halves the quantity of the costly enzymes needed to split cellulose into the sugars that the microbes can ferment. What’s more, while yeast can only ferment glucose, “this microorganism is good at using all the different sugars in biomass and can use them simultaneously and rapidly,” says Lee Lynd, an engineering professor at Dartmouth College, who led the microbe’s development.

August 13, 2008

Nanotech and biofuels

Gasification is a biofuel tech that nanotechnology is provided catalysts to create Ethanol from all sorts of biomass. This process is being researched by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and Iowa State University.

From the link:

Gasification is a process that turns carbon-based feedstocks under high temperature and pressure in an oxygen-controlled atmosphere into synthesis gas, or syngas. Syngas is made up primarily of carbon monoxide and hydrogen (more than 85 percent by volume) and smaller quantities of carbon dioxide and methane.

It’s basically the same technique that was used to extract the gas from coal that fueled gas light fixtures prior to the advent of the electric light bulb. The advantage of gasification compared to fermentation technologies is that it can be used in a variety of applications, including process heat, electric power generation, and synthesis of commodity chemicals and fuels.

“There was some interest in converting syngas into ethanol during the first oil crisis back in the 70s,” said Ames Lab chemist and Chemical and Biological Science Program Director Victor Lin. “The problem was that catalysis technology at that time didn’t allow selectivity in the byproducts. They could produce ethanol, but you’d also get methane, aldehydes and a number of other undesirable products.”

A catalyst is a material that facilitates and speeds up a chemical reaction without chemically changing the catalyst itself. In studying the chemical reactions in syngas conversion, Lin found that the carbon monoxide molecules that yielded ethanol could be “activated” in the presence of a catalyst with a unique structural feature.

In this transmission electron micrograph of the mesoporous nanospheres, the nano-scale catalyst particles show up as the dark spots. Using particles this small (~ 3nm) increases the overall surface area of the catalyst by roughly 100 times.

In this transmission electron micrograph of the mesoporous nanospheres, the nano-scale catalyst particles show up as the dark spots. Using particles this small (~ 3nm) increases the overall surface area of the catalyst by roughly 100 times.

In this transmission electron micrograph of the mesoporous nanospheres, the nano-scale catalyst particles show up as the dark spots. Using particles this small (~ 3nm) increases the overall surface area of the catalyst by roughly 100 times.