...especially as a way to produce large quantities of cheap hydrogen. This would make me quite happy indeed.
The biomass is converted into bio-oil through a process called pyrolysis, in which the organic scrap materials are finely ground and heated at 400 to 500 degrees Celsius, without oxygen. In just two seconds, about 70 percent of the material vaporizes and is condensed into bio-oil -- a dark liquid resembling espresso that contains more than a hundred organic compounds.
Now, you could just use this stuff in place of petroleum...
But bio-oil can be converted into a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen known as "syngas." And syngas can, in turn, be processed into a high-grade hydrocarbon fuel, such as automotive diesel.
Alternatively, the syngas can be combined with steam to produce pure hydrogen. In fact, Iowa State's Brown believes that bio-oil gasification may be the most efficient means of producing large quantities of hydrogen, should the element ever catch on as a major energy source.
DynaMotive is bullish on the syngas route because the technology and infrastructure are well-established. Germany used gasification to convert coal into synthetic diesel fuel during World War II. And South Africa used synthetic fuels as a substitute for petroleum imports during Apartheid-era economic sanctions. Today, gasification is seen as a way to reduce pollution from coal, because the process removes much of the carbon dioxide and other pollutants, such as sulfur.
Last September, DynaMotive announced that researchers in Germany had succeeded in converting its bio-oil into syngas using existing gasification facilities.
The main objections I read against the idea of building cars that run on hydrogen (H) is the difficulty and expense of producing and distributing large quantities of the stuff, which, ironically, is by far the most plentiful substance in the universe.
And there's no downside to burning H. The only by-products are heat and water, and we're not about to "destroy the planet" by littering it with insidious water deposits. In fact, there may be a way to use the water in the H engine's cooling system.
Unless the conspiracy theorists (who say that Big Oiiiiiillll™ would never allow such a thing to come to pass) are correct, and I don't see how they could be, this development could be the beginning of the end of our dependence on Middle-Eastern petroleum. Petroleum from any source, in fact.
Oh, sure, there'll always be a need for some petroleum, because its uses are legion (making plastics, lubricants, flying model airplanes, etc.), but our days of relying upon it to fuel our economy just might be numbered.
I'll tell you this: when Ford or Toyota or whoever rolls out its first production vehicle designed to run on hydrogen, I'll be strongly motivated to buy one just on the principle of encouraging the widespread use and distribution of the substance. And, unlike the current generation of hybrid vehicles (which cost more to operate and produce additional toxic waste products in the massive batteries that must be replaced every few years), it will be one so-called "green" initiative that will actually deserve widespread support.
ANOTHER UPDATE: My congressman, Rep. Bob Inglis, wants the federal government to award an "H Prize" to the person who invents breakthrough hydrogen-automotive technology.