As the ancient idiom says, "Waste not, want not." Researchers at Lund University in Sweden are making it happen by turning ash from burned garbage into hydrogen.

"The ash can be used as a resource through recovery of hydrogen gas instead of being allowed to be released into the air as at present. Our ash deposits are like a goldmine," Aamir Ilyas, Doctor of Water Resources Engineering at Lund University and the developer of the technology, told Domestic Fuel.

Lund University researchers have developed a process that could produce 20 billion liters (about 5.3 billion gallons) of hydrogen gas per year from the ash.

Burned garbage could be an enormous power source in Europe, where refuse incineration is a widespread practice. It would also keep a lot of that ash out of landfills. The Lund University researchers have developed a process they say could produce 20 billion liters (about 5.3 billion gallons) of hydrogen gas per year from the ash, enough to power 11,000 homes.

The researchers have developed a technique where they place the ash in an oxygen-free environment. The ash is dampened with water to form hydrogen gas, and the process uses a safety procedure to make sure stored hydrogen doesn't explode.

Hydrogen gas has multiple sources and applications. The Swedish university project is thinking about converting it into electricity to power homes. Fuel cell vehicles convert hydrogen and oxygen from air into electricity inside the vehicle's fuel cell stack.

In Fountain Valley, CA, the Orange County Sanitation District and Air Products have created a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle fueling station where hydrogen comes from waste water. Methane gas is extracted from the waste water and stored inside holding tanks. In addition to hydrogen for powering vehicles, this project creates electricity and heat from the waste water.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 10 Comments
      Levine Levine
      • 1 Year Ago
      Stored hydrogen does not explode as hydrocarbon fuel. LaSage is confused having viewed too many pictures of the burning iconic Zeppellin caused by leaked diesel fuel ignited by lightening.
      BipDBo
      • 1 Year Ago
      If I read this right, for all of the garbage in Europe, if they add the hydrogen extraction and storage process, and then the hydrogen to energy conversion, they could power another 11,000 homes. 11,000 in all of Europe. Seriously? My city's incenerator contributes to the grid, selling energy back to the power company. It is a cost neutral practice, but that's before you factor in the use of less land because ash takes less volume than garbage. Assuming that all of these incenerators already send power to the grid, we're probably talking about a negligible increase in power output per incenerator. I doubt that the added cost would be negligable. Maybe, this is not a correct conclusion, but that's how the article seems to be written.
        Letstakeawalk
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BipDBo
        Your conclusion is indeed incorrect, as it is based on a false assumption that the process uses "all of the garbage of Europe".
          BipDBo
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          I don't take it as all the garbage in Europe. Some of the garbage doesn't get burned. The way the article is written, that production is based off of all of the incenerator ash in Europe. Maybe that's wrong, but that's the way it's written.
      Hans
      • 1 Year Ago
      I can't but think this is a bit of a hoax. Admitted, I haven't investigated any detail at all & maybe these guys're just brilliant. But if there's any H2 left, why didn't it burn in the ultra-high temperature incinerator in the first place, and -if indeed so- what can we do to improve the efficiency of those incinerators first? I mean: transporting ash around doesn't sound very efficient.
        brotherkenny4
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Hans
        In some cases the ash is only partially oxidized. Therefore when water is added the free metal surfaces can tear the oxygen off water and produce hydrogen. The reaction is more or less vigorous depending on the specific metals, and generally ash contains a number of metals. Have you ever seen sodium or potassium metal placed in water? The flame you see in those reactions is mostly hydrogen burning. With ash, it may not be either a metal or fully oxidized but there are enough free metal bonds to create some hydrogen. The story says it uses the ash, but that's incorrect. You actually would just end up with fully oxidized ash. It's seems like a very contrived source of hydrogen. But then, if you get paid to do research and you can fool some stupid bureaucrat into thinking you have some genius idea, you don't have to have an idea that would really work. A number of people have tried to develope metal hydrogen production methods. Check out NRELs work with metals and high temperature solar concentrators. It does work, but cost is high and the fake part about hydrogen is not production but rather storage and transportation.
      Jim
      • 1 Year Ago
      If they can convert garbage ash to hydrogen, how about coal ash? Every coal-burning power plant in the world has a massive coal ash landfill next to it. If practical, every coal-fired power plant could double as a hydrogen generating facility. But the big question remains; does it make thermodynamic sense to do this?
        Dave
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Jim
        http://www.netl.doe.gov/technologies/hydrogen_clean_fuels/refshelf/pubs/Mitretek%20Report.pdf "Conclusions: Hydrogen can be produced from coal with current gasification technology at about 64 percent efficiency (HHV basis) for a cost of production in the range $6.50 to $7.00 per MMBtu. The need to sequester carbon dioxide from such a facility would raise this production cost to just over $8.00/MMBtu and decrease efficiency to about 59 percent. Advanced gasification technology and membrane separation has the potential to reduce the cost of production of hydrogen with carbon sequestration to less than $6.00/MMBtu and increase the efficiency of production to about 75 percent. Additional R&D and performance demonstration is necessary to verify this. If hydrogen is produced in an advanced gasification coproduction facility that also generates electric power the production costs of the coproduced hydrogen can be reduced depending on the value of the power. If the coproduced electric power is valued at $35.6/MWH (the cost of producing power from a natural gas combined cycle plant (NGCC)) hydrogen can be produced for about $5.50/MMBtu. If the carbon dioxide is sequestered in this coproduction facility, the cost of hydrogen is only slightly increased if it is assumed that the coproduced power is valued at $53.6/MWH (the cost of producing power from a sequestered NGCC plant). Utilization of advanced membrane separation technology has the potential to reduce hydrogen production costs to about $4.00/MMBtu"
          Dave
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Dave
          Note: 1 kg of hydrogen has 51,500 BTUs, so 1 MMBtu = 19.4 kg. The study is about 12 years old, so the numbers would have to be adjusted for inflation.
        JakeY
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Jim
        From brotherkenny4's response to Hans, it seems like coal ash will likely not work. This is because this type of reaction relies on metals inside the garbage ash. Coal ash may not have those metals in the necessary concentration to make hydrogen gas. And it's not clear how economic this process is. The article seems to be saying that taking all of the ash generated in Europe will be able to power 11000 homes, which doesn't seem like much compared to the incinerators that the ash came from (in Sweden alone, trash provides heat for 20% of their homes and electricity for 250k homes). http://www.pri.org/stories/science/environment/swedes-import-trash-to-power-the-nation-10428.html