Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Organic Matter to Hydrogen Fuel

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Organic Matter to Hydrogen Fuel

Article excerpt

Hydrogen as an everyday, environmentally friendly fuel source may be closer than we think, according to Penn State researchers.

"The energy focus is currently on ethanol as a fuel, but economical ethanol from cellulose is 10 years down the road," says Bruce E. Logan, the Kappe professor of environmental engineering. "First you need to break cellulose down to sugars and then bacteria can convert them to ethanol."

Logan and his research associate Shaoan Cheng suggest a method based on microbial fuel cells to convert cellulose and other biodegradable organic materials directly into hydrogen. The researchers used naturally occurring bacteria in a microbial electrolysis cell (see photo below) with acetic acid--the acid found in vinegar. The anode was granulated graphite, the cathode was carbon with a platinum catalyst, and they used an off-the-shelf anion exchange membrane. The bacteria consumed the acetic acid and released electrons and protons creating up to 0.3 V. When more than 0.2 V were added from an outside source, hydrogen gas bubbled up from the liquid. …

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