RICHLAND -- Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland is developing a compact reactor system that would produce hydrogen from liquids derived from biomass.
It recently received a $2.2 million grant from the Department of Energy to advance the project, as part of $20 million awarded to 10 new research and development projects for technologies to produce and deliver hydrogen.
DOE selected technologies that could help meet a goal of producing, delivering and dispensing hydrogen at a cost less than the equivalent of $4-per-gallon gasoline.
The PNNL project, led by engineer Wei Liu, would require oils made from materials including switchgrass, wood chips and corn stover. Most industrial hydrogen today is created from natural gas.
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Hydrogen is used in fuel cells, which generate electricity using hydrogen and oxygen from air. Because the only byproducts are heat and water, fuel cells offer a way to create energy for vehicles and buildings with dramatically reduced emissions.
Fuel cells are becoming more common in a variety of applications, such as in warehouses where they might be used to power forklifts, as back-up energy sources in buildings and cell towers and for cars and buses.
A few hydrogen-filling stations are available to the public, with most, if not all, of the stations in the western United States in California. California has passed legislation to build up to 100 new stations.
With conventional technology, a system is needed to move fuel from central manufacturing facilities to stations.
However, the small size of the reactor system proposed by PNNL -- equivalent to about two small barrels in size -- makes it possible to produce the hydrogen almost anywhere. That would eliminate the need for large manufacturing facilities and an extensive distribution network.