• Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
Here's the recipe: separate the water out of some sewage, leaving the biosolids behind. Then pipe those solids into airless tanks and let some microbes go to town. These bugs release a gas (roughly 60 percent methane, 40 percent CO2) which you can burn to power the plant where you're doing all this work but remember to send some of the methane to a tri-generation machine that leaves you with electricity, heat and hydrogen.

It might sound a bit complicated, but this process is working in prototype form at the Orange County Sanitation District's Fountain Valley waste facility in California, and hydrogen car drivers in the area - including those of the upcoming Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell CUV - can even power their rides from the end product. UC Irvine's National Fuel Cell Research Center's Jack Brouwer developed the process and he says reusing waste to move cars, "smells like money."

Hyundai will soon start leasing the H2 CUV for $499 a month ($2,999 down) for 36 months, including free hydrogen refueling and Hyundai's Valet Maintenance. The Korean automaker says it has had a surprising number of people express an interest in the vehicle. We wonder if a waste-powered hydrogen station will make fuel cell technology more or less appealing. Read more details over at the Korea Herald.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 41 Comments
      DaveMart
      • 5 Months Ago
      Jake: I think that you are right and that this technology already uses the process heat, now that I have waded through it again. Discussions at this level of engineering detail are really beyond my paygrade, and I still haven't got a clue what they are on about with their further figures for a 'thermal neutral design' , which seems to be about obtaining higher efficiency at the extra cost in dollars. Hopefully I am correct in my take-away that the costs boil down to around $5/kg, including all costs except taxes. I did not go into the lower factory gate prices for central production, as the extra distribution costs involved are not specified, but perhaps we can speculate that some similar total costings might prevail to that of local production, although I will believe carbon capture when I meet it in the bar. As I said to Daryl, my own preference would be to produce large amounts of energy from nuclear, which is a better fit for batteries, but they don't ask me, and if folk are serious about having a really big renewables sector then to me it seems that the way to go is fuel cells. So my supposed 'advocacy' of fuel cells is in fact the opposite of what I would chose if I had my way, but the best of what I regard as a non-optimal choice of power supply outside of the tropics. Even seasonal storage of hydrogen is relatively practical in salt caverns etc. though, which it sure ain't with batteries.
      JakeY
      • 5 Months Ago
      @Letstakeawalk That was just my random guess before googling for more detailed information. I didn't expect to be that close. @DaveMart I use 60mpge because that is the highest EPA verified number. And Hyundai is saying to reporters that the Tucson FCV pictured travels about 300 miles on 5.64kg of hydrogen (53mpge), so I imagine the final numbers will be in that ballpark (I know Hyundai put out higher numbers before, but that was not in the context of the US market). In terms of hydrogen production efficiency, yes this is fairly efficient, certainly much higher efficiency than electrolysis.
      DarylMc
      • 5 Months Ago
      Hi DaveMart Thanks for the excellent work to supply some information. Do you think the $5/kg pump price estimate would include UK taxes comparable to gasoline? That could put it well in excess of gasoline and electricity. Or are you thinking that because it is less polluting that it should avoid the taxes associated with gasoline.
      Letstakeawalk
      • 5 Months Ago
      The Orange County waste biogas fuel cell has been operating since 2011. Old news, ABG. "In 2011, FuelCell Energy installed a fuel cell plant at OCSD’s facility that runs on anaerobic digester gas (ADG) and produces electricity, heat and hydrogen – what is referred to as ‘trigeneration’. The fuel cell provides 250 kW of power for use at the treatment facility, a significant benefit in itself, but it also supplies hydrogen to an Air Products hydrogen refuelling station situated a mile from the plant. For Air Products, the world’s largest hydrogen producer, this project is its first venture into hydrogen production from biogas. The company is a market leader in hydrogen fuelling stations, with more than ten stations operating in California state. The OCSD fuel cell plant generates enough hydrogen for 25 to 50 fuel cell vehicle refuellings per day. In this installation, the heat from the fuel cell reaction is fed back into the fuel cell to power the fuel reforming process (converting the biogas to carbon dioxide and hydrogen). This produces an excess supply of hydrogen, which is diverted for sale in the hydrogen station, but it also has another benefit. Fuel cells need to be cooled and the cooling equipment places a load on the fuel cell, reducing the electrical output. In this case, however, the reforming process uses heat and this keeps the fuel cell cool, increasing the electrical output of the overall system." http://www.fuelcelltoday.com/media/1637141/using_fc_converting_waste_to_energy.pdf
      mikeybyte1
      • 5 Months Ago
      But does it change the smell of your tailpipe emissions? Kind of like when you eat asparagus!
        Harry
        • 5 Months Ago
        @mikeybyte1
        I think 75% of your audience won't know what you are talking about.
      Kevin B
      • 5 Months Ago
      This news is the $h!t.
      Letstakeawalk
      • 5 Months Ago
      Congrats, you've just made a prediction about a station that's been operating for nearly three years.
      DaveMart
      • 5 Months Ago
      'the overall facility hydrogen production efficiency for the all electric plant configuration (from Equation 2 above) is calculated to be 78.1%, compared to 69.5% for the reference design using natural gas process heaters. The higher overall facility hydrogen production efficiency for the all electric plant configuration in Figure 2, compared to that for the reference design in Figure 1, occurs because a portion of the total natural gas energy input (represented by mNG) in the denominator of Equation 2) is lost as waste heat (in natural gas streams 4 and 7), that must be rejected to the environment since it cannot be easily recovered by the HTE process. In contrast, there are no equivalent waste heat losses associate with the electric resistance heaters that directly heat the fluid streams.' (ibid pg20) Taking the costs for the all-electric alternative as the most appropriate assuming the aim is to minimise fossil fuel use, then the costs are given including distribution etc as $5.01kg (pg26) At 68mpge that comes to 7.4 cents/mile. That is more than charging an electric car from the grid in the US, but overcomes problems in increasing the percentage of renewables in the grid.
      DarylMc
      • 5 Months Ago
      Hi DaveMart I reckon you are right about governments wanting to keep their revenue streams rolling. They have to. So I don't know how they will do it for solar charged EV's should the numbers become substantial, but no one is going to like it. My personal opinion of nuclear power is that I prefer renewables but would rather see every scrap of coal in the ground burned first before going that way. To me, passing radioactive waste onto generations upon generations is the ultimate externalisation of the problems with our current energy demands. But I am sure that discussion will come up another day. Looks like we might be hearing a bit more about this soon. http://www.gizmag.com/vw-e-golf-on-sale-germany/30910/
      Chris M
      • 5 Months Ago
      Technically, it works, but using the natural gas directly would be more efficient and more economical. Most modern sewage treatment plants produce methane, but they usually use most or all of that methane on-site for their own heating and power needs.
        Letstakeawalk
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Chris M
        Typically, many modern sewage plants flare off their methane instead of putting it to any specific use. Recently, new legislation forcing sewage plants to reduce CO2 emissions (eg, CA's 2012 ARB Cap and Trade program) or face financial repercussions has pushed sewage plants into examining the best way to use that waste biogas. To focus on Chris M's point, plumbing that biogas as a feedstock for a stationary fuel cell *is* the most efficient way to utilize it. More efficient, cleaner, vastly quieter, and much more compact than a gas turbine, which is the closest alternative.
      aatheus
      • 5 Months Ago
      Neat development. Now if they can economically get the hydrogen to fueling stations.... it will make sense to do more of this. No more reforming natural gas using steam to get hydrogen!
      DaveMart
      • 5 Months Ago
      As I noted above, the 78% efficiency that you can get by HT electrolysis ain't too dusty either. If all we were interested in were efficiency, we would all just ride bicycles. A more relevant question to me is: 'Is it efficient enough to be practical?' If the answer to that is yes, then putting undue emphasis on the highest possible energy efficiency to the exclusion of other factors is not real world evaluation.
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