Chemical engineers from Purdue University are proposing an environmentally-friendly process for producing liquid fuels from biomass. It involves adding hydrogen during the gasification step, which suppresses the formation of carbon dioxide and converts all the carbon atoms to fuel. Normally when you break down a biomass or coal by gasification, 60 to 70 percent of the carbon atoms are lost to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, unless it's captured or sequestered. Using the Purdue process, which is called H2CAR, no carbon atoms would be lost.

Engineers say the idea is to treat the biomass as a supplier of carbon atoms, not just as an energy source.

The problem, of course, is that you need an efficient supply of hydrogen for this process, and that means using energy to pull it away from another source such as water. We've gone through this argument with those proposing a hydrogen economy. I wonder, if we eventually find a carbon-free method or renewable energy source to produce hydrogen, why not just put the hydrogen in a fuel-cell vehicle? It would seem to be an unnecessary extra step to cultivate the biomass material and process it into fuel, and then have to distribute it to vehicles that eventually will burn it and create CO2 emissions.

Purdue officials say hydrogen vehicles would require a major change in the infrastructure and advancements in battery and fuel cell technology. My point is that we're supposed to be striving for carbon-free emissions from vehicles. Using internal-combustion engines to burn carbon-based fuel, regardless of how clean it was produced, continues the problem.


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