Penn State Turns Waste-water into Cheap n' Easy Hydrogen Fuel

Researchers at Penn State University claim to have developed a process which shows “that pure hydrogen gas can efficiently be produced from virtually limitless supplies of seawater and river water and biodegradable organic matter” … which is, of course, a fancy way of saying “poopy water”.

The process developed by Penn State researchers Bruce Logan and Younggy Kim extracts electricity between the small differences in charge between saltwater and fresh water, then adding this small charge to a waste-water solution containing microbial electrolysis cells (MECs). With the help of this added current, the MECs partially reverse the decomposition of the organic compounds found in waste-water to generate hydrogen and methane (two compounds which are considered viable alternative fuels for cars and large trucks motivated by natural gas or hydrogen fuel cells, assuming they can be generated in sufficient quantities).

The group showed photos of their fuel cell stacks (below) and – in the way of such things – claimed that, since “biodegradable liquids and cellulose waste are abundant and with no energy in and hydrogen out we can get rid of wastewater and by-products. This could be an inexhaustible source of energy.”


Talk like that is usually a bad sign (inexhaustible is, after all, a Big and Serious word), but the science involved is way over my head. You can check it out for yourself in the 19SEP issue of the newsletter for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and let us know if you think it’ll fly in the comments, below.

With any luck, these guys can pull it off and give the Saudi Princes something to fret about besides what to do with their AK-47s and Toyota Camry sedans.

Source: PANS, via Gizmag.

Jo Borrás

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, out on two wheels, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.