Princeton U’s Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment Finds a Way to Produce Hydrogen Efficiently

The idea of using hydrogen as an alternative to fossil fuel was first put forward by the University of Michigan in 2012. A proposed hydrogen economy has since then, been considered in order to bring down carbon emissions. The contention is that hydrogen combustion will release only water. Although the concept has not flourished, its potential as a clean source of energy has not been eliminated.

As of 2016, production of hydrogen fuel received attention, as car manufacturers Toyota, Hyundai and Honda came out with models that run on hydrogen fuel. However, it later became apparent that hydrogen production was costly and resulted to inefficiency and availability issues.

When extracted through a dedicated process of water electrolysis, only small quantities of hydrogen were produced. Moreover, there is insufficient clean energy that can be used to carry out the processes on a larger scale. Although hydrogen can be produced by way of natural gas steam-reforming method, the process still results to high carbon emissions. In addition, hydrogen is essential to the chemical industry, being a critical component of the basic chemicals demanded by highly industrialized nations.

Until recently, a group of engineering and chemical researchers at the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University, figured out a way to efficiently produce hydrogen from wastewater.

Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, to Make Hydrogen Economy Possible

Researchers of Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment published a report in the February 2019 issue of the Energy & Environmental Science Journal, about their breakthrough achievement.

Using a specially designed chamber outfitted with black silicon interface described as “Swiss Cheese-like, they have developed a technique that can split water as a means of isolating hydrogen. Inside the specially-designed chamber, the wastewater bacteria will contribute to the generation of electricity by consuming waste water. The electricity generated by the bacteria will in turn, help in the splitting process.

Professor Zhiyong Jason Ren of the Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment (ACEE) and lead investigator, together with Lu Lu, an associate research scholar also at ACEE, and first author of the report, developed the unique anaerobic chamber.

Wastewater from breweries was used for the test run, while in place was a lamp capable of simulating the strength of sunlight.
The result was successful, because as organic compounds started breaking down, hydrogen bubbled up.

The research report concluded that the group’s breakthrough discovery will largely appeal to refineries and chemical manufacturers. Chiefly because those industries are into deriving their own hydrogen from fossil fuels, and at the same time, incur high costs for cleaning wastewater.