According to Bruce E. Logan, Kappe Professor of Environmental Engineering, Penn State, the everyday, environmentally friendly fuel source Hydrogen, may be available sooner than most people might imagine. The overall process of creating carbon-neutral hydrogen produces *nearly 300% (percent) more energy in the hydrogen, than the electrical energy required to produce the hydrogen. Professor Bruce Logan and research associate Shaoan Cheng, have recently demonstrated a method based on microbial fuel cells which convert cellulose and other biodegradable, organic materials directly into hydrogen
In what might sounds reminiscent of a primitive battery, a naturally occurring bacteria in a microbial electrolysis cell, is combined with acetic acid. Acetic Acid, aka Ethanoic Acid, is an organic chemical compound commonly recognized as giving vinegar a sour taste, and pungent smell. Acetic Acid is the predominant acid produced by fermentation of glucose (sugars) or cellulose. The anode is granulated graphite, the cathode, a carbon with a platinum catalyst, and an off-the-shelf, anion exchange membrane. The bacteria consume the acetic acid and release electrons and protons, thereby producing up to 0.3 volts. When a additional 0.2 volts are added from an outside source, hydrogen gas begins to bubbles up from the liquid.
Water hydrolysis, the commonly known, standard method for producing hydrogen is less efficient, averaging between 50% to 70% efficiency. The microbial electrolysis cell process, bleeds off some of the hydrogen in order to produce the added energy boost needed to sustain hydrogen production. Even so, the process creates 144% more available energy than the electrical energy used to produce the carbon neutral, hydrogen.
Some may think that a hydrogen economy is in the not so near, future; it has been suggested that hydrogen produced from cellulose and other renewable organic materials could be blended with natural gas and then used in an NVG (natural gas powered vehicle).. Natural gas is essentially methane, and 'we' already drive a lot of NVG's. Methane gas burns fairly cleanly, and (methanol) has a colorless flame, when we add hydrogen, the gas burns with increased efficiency, and works well in most existing natural gas combustion devices such as NVG's.
The range of efficiencies of hydrogen production, based on electrical energy produced by hydrogen, and the energy created in a variety of organic substances, ranges between 63% and 82%. Both lactic acid and acetic acid, achieve 82%, Glucose is 64 percent efficient and un-pretreated cellulose is 63% efficient.
Another potential use for microbial-electrolysis-cell produced hydrogen, is through fertilizer manufacturing. Fertilizer production is typically done in large factories and then shipped to farms by truck. The hydrogen created by microbial-electrolysis-cell production, would allow farm cooperatives, or large farms to produce hydrogen through a common process using wood chips and nitrogen in the air, to produce ammonia, or nitric acid. Both of these can be used directly as fertilizer, or the ammonia could be used to produce ammonium nitrate, sulfate or phosphate.
Note: Nitric Acid is an aqueous solution of hydrogen nitrate (anhydrous nitric acid). It is a highly corrosive and toxic acid that can cause severe burns