Argentinean Scientists Get Pure Hydrogen Through Ethanol

Recently hydrogen as source of energy was deeply discussed in the very commented The Hydrogen Economy isn't Coming Soon. Well, from Argentina a new element arrives to the discussion, as members of the Catalytic Processes Laboratory (LPC) of University of Buenos Aires (UBA) has found a new way to get highly pure hydrogen from ethanol.

After the study of three chemical reactions in different reactors, they arrived to a three phase portable chemical unit, system which was licensed to the Spanish Abener-Abengoa company to be utilized in transportation. Although there already are ways to convert ethanol in hydrogen, Buenos Aires scientists have perfected the process, obtaining a substance of high purity. The reason this process would be friendly with fuel call batteries is that it yields hydrogen with between 20 and 30 parts per million of carbon dioxide, sufficient to not corrode them. Alkaline and one other type of fuel cell stack (not the commonly described proton membrane variety fed pure H2) accomplish their reformation of alcohol to H2 directly, without separate processing unit, so that it would be possible to charge the fuel tank with methanol alcohol, avoiding the need for expensive and complex hydrogen stations. Because emissions of C0, NOX, and SOX are very low, almost no air quality compromise results. The drawback is that direct reformation stacks tend to operate a higher temperatures by far than PEM stacks, and need a longer warmup period prior to driving. Thus they would likely be more suitable for public transit.

For those not so close to the subject, the importance of the hydrogen resides in that it is an alternative energy source to the fossil fuels like the coal, natural gas or the petroleum (contaminating not renewable resources). Hydrogen functions through a fuel battery similar to a car battery, which is fed with hydrogen on one side and with oxygen in the other, producing electric power through a chemical reaction, without combustion.

At present the hydrogen is obtained mainly from the electrolysis of the water (a very expensive procedure), petroleum or natural gas. The positive thing about ethanol is that it's highly renewable, since alcohol can be obtained of sugar cane, corn, beet, barley and other cultivations.

For more details on this development contact Miguel Laborde, director of the Catalytic Processes Laboratory. [by Paula Alvarado, Buenos Aires]