Sunday, March 1, 2009
Cheap Hydrogen from a Stainless Steel Brush
Microbial electrolysis cells (MECs) have been developed over the last few years as a way to produce hydrogen from food scraps and waste water. To put it very simply, the microbes feed on the waste and with the help of electricity and a catalyst, hydrogen is made. So far, expensive platinum has been used as the catalyst in this process, which has been effective, but the cost has held the technology back. Now researchers at Penn State have found a cheap substitute: stainless steel.
A piece of stainless steel works as a catalyst, but is only one-third as effective as the platinum, but researchers found that arranging the stainless steel in the form of a high-density bristle brush upped the hydrogen production to match and even exceed that of the platinum. The best part is that while the platinum part costs 15 cents, the stainless steel brush only costs 3 cents.
The researchers are still experimenting to find the best types and arrangements of stainless steel to maximize the hydrogen production, and even once those things are figured out, scientists will still have to discover a way to scale up this technology to be commercially viable. It seems daunting, but decreasing the cost will go a long way in allowing further progress.
The painting is by Baldomero Romero Ressendi