Hydrogen Fuel From Corn

Researchers say we can get hydrogen for fuel cells from corn waste

Here’s a story that may gladden the hearts of fuel cell fans. According to AutoBlog, researchers at Virginia Tech have devised a process that converts corn waste into hydrogen pure enough for use in fuel cells, like the ones in the Toyota Mirai, Honda Clarity and Hyundai Tucson FCEV.

Wait. Before you start hurling shoes and bricks at me, listen to the details. We all know that adding ethanol to gasoline has been nothing but a corporate welfare program for agri-business. It reduces fuel economy in an age when everyone wants to find ways to raise average mpg. It also drives up the cost of food both here at home and abroad. If it wasn’t for the fact that ethanol producers have bought and paid for powerful congressional leaders to protect their scheme, the whole idea of adding ethanol to gasoline would have been discarded decades ago.

But this process for making hydrogen fuel from corn waste is different. It doesn’t take food off anyone’s table. It doesn’t deprive any animals of needed nutrition. It finds a productive use for inedible agricultural waste products that would otherwise be burned or left to rot in the sun, giving off methane emissions.

The smart people at Virginia Tech have figured out how to do all this faster than ever thought possible in a space much smaller than anyone ever imagined. The result? Local hydrogen production facilities could be installed in a space not much bigger than a typical modern gas station. Keeping everything local cuts down on the transportation, which further reduces the amount of green house gasses.

Keep in mind that this research is still in the experimental stage. How much it will actually cost in the real world is entirely speculative at this moment, but there is a chance that hydrogen made from corn waste could cost less than commercially available hydrogen today.

Are there any downsides to the process? Sure. For one, the research is being funded by Shell, one of the world’s biggest oil companies. For another, one of the byproducts of the process is carbon dioxide, one of the things we are all trying hard to limit in our daily lives. So the news is not all glad tidings and sunshine. We will keep you updated as we learn more.

But for now, there must be celebrations going on at Toyota, Honda and Hyundai headquarters. They need a breakthrough like this to make their dream of fuel cell powered cars turn into a reality.

 Photo: AutoBlog

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.