Penn State engineers boost hydrogen production from fermentation

The cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells that the Bush Administration has partnered with the Detroit Big Three automakers to develop could eventually be pulling up to wastewater treatment plants for fill-ups, say Penn State environmental engineers.

Dr. Bruce Logan, professor of environmental engineering, and his research group have shown they can boost hydrogen production 43 percent by using a continuous hydrogen release fermentation process. He explains that by using certain industrial wastewater as feedstock, the approach offers an abundant, "green," local source for hydrogen and potentially makes it a cheaper fuel than gasoline.

"Continuous fermentation is not hard to do and the high volumes of gas produced make it a potential source of supply for a wide variety of fuel cell applications besides cars and buses, including home power generation and the micro-fuel cells being developed for consumer products such as laptops, cell phones, smoke alarms, and calculators," Logan adds.

Logan and Dr. Sang-Eun Oh, postdoctoral fellow; Dr. In S. Kim, professor of environmental engineering, Kwang-Ju Institute of Science and Technology, and Steven Van Ginkel, doctoral candidate, are the authors of a paper, "Biological Hydrogen Production Measured in Batch Anaerobic Respirometers," published in the current (May) issue of the journal, Environmental Science and Technology. The paper details the group's experiments comparing the standard fermentation method, in which hydrogen is released from the processing vessels intermittently, with a method in which the gas is released continuously.

In the Penn State experiments, fermentation was conducted with bacteria from ordinary garden soil. The soil, collected from local farmland, was heat treated to kill hydrogen-consuming bacteria. While the heat treatment also kills non-hydrogen producing soil bacteria, it leaves hydrogen-producing bacteria in a dormant spore form that revives as soon as it is put

Contact: Barbara Hale
Penn State

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