Skip to comments.Fuel cells get a boost
Posted on 09/17/2004 3:43:53 PM PDT by Indy Pendance
To efficiently operate a fuel cell, carbon monoxide has always been a major technical barrier. But now, chemical and biological engineers at the University of WisconsinMadison have not only cleared that barrierthey also found a method to capture carbon monoxide's energy.
To be useful in a power-generating fuel cell, hydrocarbons such as gasoline, natural gas, or ethanol must reform into a hydrogen-rich gas. A large, costly, and critical step to this process requires generating steam and forcing a reaction with carbon monoxide (CO). This process, called water-gas shift, produces hydrogen and carbon dioxide (CO2). Additional steps then must reduce the CO levels further before the hydrogen enters a fuel cell.
Researchers eliminated the water-gas shift reaction from the process, removing the need to transport and vaporize liquid water in the production of energy for portable applications.
The team, led by James Dumesic, professor of chemical and biological engineering, uses an environmentally benign polyoxometalate (POM) compound to oxidize CO in liquid water at room temperature. The compound not only removes CO from gas streams for fuel cells, but also converts the energy content of CO into a liquid that subsequently can power a fuel cell.
"CO has essentially as much energy as hydrogen," Dumesic said. "It has a lot of energy in it. If you take a hydrocarbon and partially oxidize it at high temperature, it primarily makes CO and hydrogen. Conventional systems follow that with a series of these 'water-gas shift' steps. Our discovery has the potential of eliminating those steps. Instead, you can send the CO through our process, which works efficiently at room temperature and takes the CO out of the gas to make energy."
The research team says the process is especially promising for producing electrical energy from renewable biomass-derived oxygenated hydrocarbonssuch as ethylene glycol derived from cornbecause these fuels generate H2 and CO in nearly equal amounts during catalytic decomposition. The hydrogen could directly go into a protonexchangemembrane fuel cell operating at 50% efficiency, and the remaining CO could convert to electricity via the new process.
For related information, go to www.isa.org/manufacturing_automation.
Well the first part sounds reasonable for a renewable source of electricity. I'm not so sure about seperating water into hydrogen and oxygen. (BTW, I think you meant to say "package the hydrogen into easily-transportable cannisters...") It would be difficult to ship the hydrogen gas from the coastal production facilities to all the places where it would be used. That would probably require a costly new pipeline system because I don't think you could mix it in with natural gas. Shipping the hydrogen in canisters would also be expensive and not enough could be shipped to contribute much to our energy supplies. But it sounds like this idea has a lot of potential for power generation in coastal areas and perhaps the hydrogen could be used in fuel cells produced near the coast.
Just one last comment...I believe we need a much more flexible system for electricty production that doesn't rely entirely on huge power plants run by utility companies. There's a role for solar panels during sunny weather, a role for wind power during windy weather, and probably a role for this kind of wave power generation in coastal areas. It seems to me the electric power industry has a strangle-hold on power production and distribution and much more could be done at a local distributed level in coordination with the power companies. It looks like the whole system is driven by the generation costs of electric power companies and nothing much else factors into the design of our power generation system. Meanwhile we grow ever more dependent on oil and natural gas.
The battle-cry today is, "NO DEPENDANCY ON FORIEGN OIL!"
Uh, better catch-phrase is, "Keep my pension fund out of companies linked to state sponsors of terrorism!"
we will be growing more corn and creating enegry in Iowa to be shipped via a grid pipeline - could happen.
You are entirely correct. Using electricity to break down water into hydrogen and oxygen, then using the hydrogen in a fuel cell, represents a net loss of electricity
So it's not power-plant->electricity->hydrogen->fuel-cell->electricity
It's fuel->fuel-cell->electricity instead of fuel->internal-combustion-engine->generator->electricity
H2 is a energy carrier, not a source....they are doomed to failure. Never go to a gun fight armed with a knife......
Why don't you just dump any power from the shore generators that is in excess of current customer demands into hydrogen production. H2 produced then could be stored in underground sealed caverns (think the the salt domes used by the Strategic Oil Reserve) and use a "Strategic H2 Reserve" in conjunction with industrial-scale heat recovery fuel cells to generate power at a later time.
In this system, any irregularities between shore power supply and customer demands would be buffered by H2 production / generation. Most power plants cannot put "lightning in a bottle" but under this plan you could. Also, you could then use the exisiting electrical grid to get the power where it's most needed faster than by new pipeline, truck, rail or barge.
There's a lot of farm acerage that we pay farmers not to grow stuff. If can use this approach with any carbon based fuel, there's a lot of fuel stock that America can grow each year and who cares about using herbicide.
THAT'S THE SPIRIT!
If it would ever get off the ground, it would become massive and make the creators TONS of $$$$$$$$$$$!
IF they could get the damn treehuggers outta the way. They'd probably say something lame like, "The surf generators are causing shorelines to not be eroded naturally and the fish are being pounded TO DEATH!! YAAAGGGHHH! DAMN CAPITALIST BAAAAASTARDS!!!"
Check out what the French have been doing with tidal generations without a peep from the envirno-nuts:
"Tidal energy traditionally involves erecting a dam across the opening to a tidal basin. The dam includes a sluice that is opened to allow the tide to flow into the basin; the sluice is then closed, and as the sea level drops, traditional hydropower technologies can be used to generate electricity from the elevated water in the basin. Some researchers are also trying to extract energy directly from tidal flow streams.
The energy potential of tidal basins is large the largest facility, the La Rance station in France, generates 240 megawatts of power. France is the only country that successfully uses this power source. French engineers have noted that if the use of tidal power on a global level was brought to high enough levels, the Earth would slow its rotation by 24 hours every 2,000 years."
Taken from: How Tidal Power Plants Work
I need to clarify myself. Hydroelectric plants do put "lightning in a bottle" in a sense as they have all that stored potential energy behind the dam and can have instanteous power output by opening the tap. Dams can quickly meet the needs of customers without producing greenhouse gases but greenies don't like them either. There's a concerted effort to remove dams and "return rivers to their natural course". That means more carbon-based power plants.
This is an article about the fuel cells intended to be used in biomass digestion and it is being studied in Wisconsin...
This article should be subtitled "How cowpies will save the US". The entire energy requirement for the process is contained in the manure fuel, there is no added energy.
The plan is to put these digesters on farms not necessarily a big single processing facility. This has a number of important effects.
We are able to recover energy from a fuel that is normally wasted, making us less dependent on foreign oil.
Each farmer now has another product to sell, electricity, making them less dependent on subsidies and other programs.
The fact that millions of farms are tougher to knock out than a couple of nuke plants makes our energy supply more stable from a strategic perspective.
The environmental regulations and the pressures they cause to domestic agriculture production become a moot point as the solid waste is sterile and the liquid discharge exceeds drinking water standards. There are minimal greenhouse gasses escaping from a farm with this technology. This adds up to a major blow to the power of greenies and their ilk.
Since the entirety of the solid waste can now be used as fertilizer, which farmers in many areas cannot due to environmental regs, some farmers will not need to use petroleum based fertilizers making our foreign dependence less and increasing the economic viability of farms which also lessens their dependence on agri-welfare.
These are just a few reasons off of the top of my head. There are a number of other reasons to support this kind of technology and it needs to be pursued vigorously and immediately.
It takes more energy to run a fuel cell than you can get out of it. It is impossible to defy the laws of physics.
They could play a role in reducing the need to burn hydrocarbons for transportation. But that's only if you don't burn hydrocarbons in order to create the hydrogen. If you use hydrocarbons to create the hydrogen to replace the gasoline, you'll actually use more hydrocarbons than if you used gasoline in the first place. That's a fact. It's not opinion.
If you use something else as the initial fuel source to create the hydrogen, then you'll obviously conserve hydrocarbons. You suggest cow poop. Another Freeper suggested wave action. Another mentioned solar power.
All that is fine. Combined, they might be able to deliver the energy equivalent to a few dozen gas stations. Let's even imagine hundreds. There is no way on God's Green Earth that they could create enough hydrogen to power even a small fraction of our automobiles in this country. Pound for pound, there is nothing that releases as much energy as oil. Except one.
Something the USA has tons of.
Mark my words. I'll probably be dead before this happens, but by the middle of this century, this nation will have gone through the gut-wrenching debate on whether to shift to a primarily nuclear-powered source of national energy. This nation will have to choose whether it wishes to increase the supply of energy in order to continue to grow, or whether to plunge into a never-ending depression because of the imagined fears of nuclear power. The era of hydrocarbons isn't over, and probably won't be for at least another 100 years, but it simply can't keep up with the rise in global population and the emergence of economies in places like China and India.
Cow poop isn't going to fill the gap.
I was a grad student in uranium geochemistry when the Three Mile Island incident happened. (Actually, I had hired on with a company in the oil industry two weeks before.) I have been in the oil industry since.
"The China Syndrome" wasn't the nail in the nuclear coffin.
IMHO, the industry will eventually make a comeback.
The pension fund is a good observation.
Inherent in the idea of "No dependancy on foriegn oil" is the concept that if we have to buy foriegn oil now, in order to avoid using up our own, that's ok.
Yeah, I say suck the Mideast dry while looking for alternatives while the well runs dry. That means marching up to the Caspian Basin...
That isn't true... I saw a CBS/60 Minutes report that you can now get more energy out of something than you put in....they have a memo that did just that. 8-)