Alternative-fuel cars are streaming into the market faster than ever before, but some wonder whether the infrastructure to support them will be ready in time.
As major automobile manufacturers prepare to bring hydrogen cars to market by 2015, Fountain Valley, California, gets its first taste (or should we say smell?) of what it will be like to keep them filled up and on the road.
On August 16th, the town will host the opening of its first hydrogen fuel station. As if that weren't exciting enough, the hydrogen available at the pumps will be made from sewage waste from a nearby treatment plant.
When sewage sits in holding tanks, it produces gases, primarily methane. According to a statement from UC Irvine, most of the methane at Orange County’s plant is filtered and used for power, with surplus sold or burned off into the atmosphere. Now some of the extra methane will be converted to hydrogen on-site with a unique fuel-cell generator.
Using chemical catalysts to split hydrogen atoms off each methane molecule, the resulting hydrogen can then be converted to 300 kilowatts of electricity for the community. The rest will be siphoned at the station for use in automobiles equipped with smaller fuel cells, which use it to power their zero-emissions engines.
“This is a paradigm shift,” said National Fuel Cell Research Center director Scott Samuelsen. “We’ll be truly fuel-independent and no longer held hostage by other countries. This is the epitome of sustainability, where we’re taking an endless stream of human waste and transforming it to transportation fuel and electricity. This is the first time this has ever been done.”
Image Credit: UC Irvine