Breathless Scientific Breakthrough No. 221344: Cheap Hydrogen!

Megan Benoit
by Megan Benoit
Setting aside our usual "show me the infrastructure" hydrogen economy skepticism for a moment, it looks like we may have a winner! The AFP (via Yahoo News) is reporting that Penn State researchers have discovered a way to generate hydrogen that produces more hydrogen energy than the process consumes in electrical energy. [NB: for those of you wishing to cite basic laws of thermodynamics, electrical energy is not the only source of energy in the process.] Poor efficiency rates and low yields have led many alt. energy experts to consider hydrogen an also-ran even before it technically ran. Apparently, adding acetic acid to the production process allows scientists to produce hydrogen at 99% of the theoretical maximum yield. Theoretically, that's more than enough efficiency to make hydrogen a viable energy source. Even better, acetic acid is a common byproduct of glucose fermentation, which is typically discarded. Isn't it wonderful when a plan comes together? Expect tons of complaining from flyover, er, corn land, and much rejoicing from grocery aisles as the price of beef and dairy go back down to reasonable levels. That is, if this isn't a bunch of hot (cold?) air.
Megan Benoit
Megan Benoit

I'm a computer security geek raised in Nebraska and recently transplanted to Atlanta. I like me some cars, got into car geekery a few years ago and haven't looked back since. I also volunteer at a local ferret shelter and participate in various charity and fund-raising events related to that.

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4 of 22 comments
  • Jthorner Jthorner on Nov 14, 2007

    "Instead of using energy to product Hydrogen just plug in your car and save the energy losses in the conversion process." Hold on a second there. There is significant energy loss in converting electricity to chemical energy and then back into electricity. That is what a battery does. Published numbers put the most efficient battery systems somewhere around 75%. I other words, only 75% of the electricity used to charge the battery becomes available to drive the car's electric motor.

  • KBW KBW on Nov 14, 2007

    Fuel cells are even worse in that respect. Most estimates put them at around 36-45%. Burning the hydrogen is even worse.

  • Stuntnun Stuntnun on Nov 14, 2007

    so people buying carbon credits are getting ripped off cause trees theyre planting arent going to soak up any more co2 in this world?

  • Ryant Ryant on Nov 15, 2007

    Human water vapor emissions are pretty much meaningless, considering that tropospheric concentrations are limited by temperature. More here. Biomass from tree plantations is just one source that could be carbon neutral with this method (assuming sustainable production), or better if the carbon by-product is sequestered. Still, I need to see some peer review before making any judgment on the new process and whether it will successfully compete with other alternatives. Particularly in applications where hydrogen storage and distribution will result in energy loss.