Hydrogen fuel cells are about 60% efficient, that’s double the efficiency of an internal combustion engine. And they don’t pollute, their only byproduct is water. Lovely right? The problem is getting the hydrogen.
Electrolysis, where you use electricity to separate out oxygen and hydrogen from water, is crazy inefficient. But researchers at the Oregon State University College of Engineering have found a better way. They discovered a method for producing hydrogen from different types of biowaste, including municipal sewage (aka poo).
Their method uses 75% less energy than traditional electrolysis and can be done at a much lower cost. The researchers are close to the Department of Energy’s goal of $2 to $3 per gasoline gallon equivalent for hydrogen fuel.
The kicker is, in addition to producing hydrogen, this process also cleans the water. So a town could have a treatment plant taking in sewage on one end and pumping out clean water and hydrogen on the other. It uses the naturally occurring bacteria to almost work like the electricity does in electrolysis. They attach to the surface of an anode, decompose the waste, then produce protons that migrate to the cathode, which in turn combine with electrons and generate hydrogen.
Basically, if this line of technology is perfected, we may not have a sewage disposal problem in the future. Sewage may end up being a valuable commodity.