Hydrogen as an environmentally friendly fuel source may be closer than we think, according to Penn State researchers. The researchers are employing microbial fuel cells to convert cellulose and other biodegradable organic materials directly into hydrogen, using naturally occurring bacteria in a microbial electrolysis cell with acetic acid. Acetic acid is found in vinegar and produced by the fermentation of glucose or cellulose.
According to researcher Bruce Logan, the process produces 288 percent more energy in hydrogen than the electrical energy added to the process. It is far more efficient than using the water hydrolysis method, which is only 50 to 70 percent efficient. Even if the microbial electrolysis cell process is set up to bleed off some hydrogen to produce the added energy boost needed
to sustain hydrogen production, the process still creates 144 percent more available energy than the electrical energy used to produce it.
Logan suggests that hydrogen produced from cellulose and other renewable organic materials could be blended with natural gas for use in natural gas vehicles. "We drive a lot of vehicles on natural gas already. Natural gas is essentially methane," says Logan. "Methane burns fairly cleanly, but if we add hydrogen, it burns even more cleanly and works fine in existing natural
gas combustion vehicles."