Researchers say they have produced hydrogen from ethanol in a prototype reactor small enough and efficient enough to heat small homes and power cars. The development could help open the way for cleaner-burning technology at home and on the road. Current methods of producing hydrogen from ethanol require large refineries and copious amounts of fossil fuels, the University of Minnesota researchers said.
The reactor is a relatively tiny 2-foot-high apparatus of tubes and wires that creates hydrogen from corn-based ethanol. A fuel cell, which acts like a battery, then generates power. “This points to a way to make renewable hydrogen that may be economical and available,” said Lanny Schmidt, a chemical engineer who led the study.
Hydrogen is expensive to make and uses fossil fuels. The researchers say their reactor will produce hydrogen exclusively from ethanol and do it cheaply enough so people can buy hydrogen fuel cells for personal use. They also believe their technology could be used to convert ethanol to hydrogen at fuel stations when cars that run solely on hydrogen enter the mass market. Hydrogen does not emit any pollution or greenhouse gases. But unlike oil or coal, hydrogen must be produced — there are no natural stores of it waiting to be pumped or dug out of the ground.