The researchers see an early use for their invention in remote areas, where the installation of new power lines is not feasible. People could buy ethanol and use it to power small hydrogen fuel cells in their basements. The process could also be extended to biodiesel fuels, the researchers said. Its benefits include reducing dependence on imported fuels, reducing carbon dioxide emissions (because the carbon dioxide produced by the reaction is stored in the next year's corn crop) and boosting rural economies.
Hydrogen is now produced exclusively by a process called steam reforming, which requires very high temperatures and large furnaces--in other words, a huge input of energy. It's unsuitable for any application except large-scale refineries, said Lanny Schmidt, Regents Professor of Chemical Engineering, who led the effort. Working with him were scientist Gregg Deluga, first author of the Science paper, and graduate student James Salge. All three are in the university's department of chemical engineering and materials science.
"The hydrogen economy means cars and electricity powered by hydrogen," said Schmidt. "But hydrogen is hard to come by. You can't pipe it long distances. There are a few hydrogen fueling stations, but they strip hydrogen from methane--natural gas--on site. It's expensive, and because it uses fos
Contact: Deane Morrison
University of Minnesota