Friday, March 30, 2012

Sustainable Hydrogen from bio-waste

Substituting fossil fuels with Hydrogen is not only efficient but also sustainable in the long run. While efforts are on to produce Hydrogen at a cost in par with Gasoline or less using various methods, sustainability is equally important. We have necessary technology to convert piped natural gas to Hydrogen to generate electricity on site to power our homes and fuel our cars using Fuelcell.But this will not be a sustainable solution because we can no longer depend on piped natural gas because its availability is limited; and it is also a potent greenhouse gas. The biogas or land fill gas has the same composition as that of a natural gas except the Methane content is lower than piped natural gas. The natural gas is produced by Nature and comes out along with number of impurities such as Carbon dioxide, moisture and Hydrogen sulfide etc.The impure natural gas is cleaned and purified to increase the Methane content up to 90%, before it is compressed and supplied to the customers. The gas is further purified so that it can be liquefied into LNG (liquefied natural gas) to be transported to long distances or exported to overseas. When the natural gas is liquefied, the volume of gas is reduced about 600 times to its original volume, so that the energy density is increased substantially, in order to reduce the cost of transportation. The LNG can be readily vaporized and used at any remote location, where there is no natural gas pipelines are in existence or in operation. Similarly Hydrogen too can be liquefied into liquid Hydrogen. Our current focus is to reduce the cost of Hydrogen to the level of Gasoline or even less. Biogas and bio-organic materials are potential sources of Hydrogen and also they are sustianable.Our current production of wastes from industries, business and domestic have increased substantially creating sustainability isues.These wastes are also major sources of Greenhouse gases and also sources of many airborne diseses.They also cause depletion of valuable resources without a credible recycling mechanisms. For example, number of valuable materials including Gold, Silver, Platinum, Lead, Cadmium, Mercury and Lithium are thrown into municipal solid waste (MSW) and sewages. Major domestic wastes include food, paper, plastics and wood materials. Industrial wastes include many toxic chemicals including Mercury, Arsenic, tanning chemicals, photographic chemicals, toxic solvents and gases. The domestic and industrial effluents contain valuable materials such as Potassim, Phosphorous and Nitrates. We get these valuable resources from Nature, convert them into useful products and then throw them away as a waste. These valuable materials remain as elements without any change irrespective of the type of usages.Recyling waste materials and treatment of waste water and effluent is a very big business. Waste to wealth is a hot topic. The waste materials both organic and inorganic are too valuable to be wasted for two simple reasons. First, it pollutes our land, water and air; second, we need fresh resources and these resources are limited while our needs are expanding exponentially. It is not an option but an absolute necessity to recycle them to maintain sustainability. For example, most of the countries do not have Phosphorous resources, a vital ingredient for plant growth and food production. Bulk of the Phosphorus and Nitrates are not recovered from municipal waste water and sewage plants. We simply discharge them into sea at far away distance while the public is in dark and EPA shows a blind eye to such activities. Toxic Methane gases are leaking from many land fill sites and some of these sites were even sold to gullible customers as potential housing sites. Many new residents in these locations find later that their houses have been built on abandoned landfill sites. They knew only when the tap water becomes highly inflammable when lighting with a match stick. The levels of Methane were above the threshold limit and these houses were not fit for living. We have to treat wastes because we can recover valuable nutrients and also generate energy without using fresh fossil fuels. It is a win situation for everybody involved in the business of ‘waste to wealth’. These wastes have a potential to guarantee cheap and sustainable Hydrogen for the future. Biogas is a known technology that is generated from various municipal solid wastes and effluents. But current methods of biogas generation are not efficient and further cleaning and purifications are necessary. The low grade methane 40-55% is not suitable for many industrial applications except for domestic heating. The biogas generated by anaerobic digestion has to be scrubbed free of Carbon dioxide and Hydrogen sulfide to get more than 90% Methane gas so that it can be used for power generation and even for steam reforming to Hydrogen generation. Fuel cell used for onsite power generation and Fuel cell cars require high purity Hydrogen. Such Hydrogen is not possible without cleaning and purifying ‘Bio-gas’ significantly. Hydrogen generation from Biogas or from Bioethanol is a potential source of Hydrogen in the future.