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Recycling – Human Waste to Hydrogen Fuel

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Waste Treatment to Hydrogen Fuel
Waste Treatment to Hydrogen Fuel

As hydrogen fuel cell vehicles get closer to production, refueling stations are going to be needed. For fueling stations, of course, a fuel source is necessary.

While the gasoline and natural gas infrastructure is fairly ubiquitous, hydrogen fuel infrastructure is still somewhat behind. Some suggest that the existing natural gas network could be used, while others are persuing an independent approach, producing hydrogen fuel on demand. Electrolysis of water could produce hydrogen fuel, but is inefficient and energy-intensive. Methane reformation could be a decent idea, if only it didn’t rely on natural gas which, of course, relies on the current-best-method, hydraulic fracturing.

A prototype hydrogen fuel source is being tested in California, at the Orange County Sanitation District’s Fountain Valley waste treatment facility. As the anaerobic breakdown of human and other organic wastes would normally generate methane and carbon dioxide, why not take advantage of this process and turn it into an energy source? Indeed, landfill gas, part of which is generated by the anaerobic breakdown of organic and human waste, has already proven to be an excellent source of energy.

The process being used in Orange County uses human waste solids, after water has been distilled from it. Microbial action on these leftover solids, in airless tanks, produces about 60% methane and 40% carbon dioxide, which can be used in a tri-generation process, producing heat, electricity, and hydrogen fuel. As we know, human waste is abundant, which means that a ready supply of hydrogen fuel, after processing, is available pretty much all over the place. Developer of the process, Jack Brouwer, of University of California at Irvine’s National Fuel Cell Research Center, says recycling human waste to power hydrogen fuel cell vehicles “smells like money.”

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