Future Perfect: Producing hydrogen fuel from wastewater

What’s happening right now

We have been listening about the green potentials of hydrogen based energy technology for quite some time now. However, it has not been realized much on a scale that is actually required for ensuring our conversion from a pro carbon lifestyle to a carbon neutral one. Reason for this is the fact that hydrogen is an energy carrier, which doesn’t occur naturally. And, the artificial production of hydrogen faces huge technological and cost based challenges. But, all of this could change in a few years time if the results of a few researches are to be believed. It has been shown that hydrogen could be produced from wastewater through new carbon neutral processes. It seems the future could only become greener from here.


1) Biodesign Institute produces hydrogen by using wastewater as feedstock

Biodesign Institute produces hydrogen by using wastewater as feedstock

Researchers at the Biodesign Institute of Arizona State University have developed a new process of utilizing wastewater as a raw material for producing hydrogen. The hydrogen can then be used in fuel cells. According to researchers, hydrogen is produced through this process in microbial fuel cells in which a few microbes act as a catalyst for liberating electrons from the wastewaster. It is believed that the new finding would help in producing green electricity and reduce our dependence on conventional fuels.

2) Waste water plus bacteria make hydrogen fuel

Waste water plus bacteria make hydrogen fuel

Researchers at the Penn State University have shown the way to utilize naturally occurring bacterias for producing clean hydrogen, which can be used in powering the upcoming breed of hydrogen powered vehicles. During research, naturally occurring bacterias were used in an electrolysis cell with acetic acid. The bacterias successfully released electrons and protons and about 0.3 volt of electricity while acting upon the acetic acid. It is believed that the new revelation could be used in producing hydrogen from any biodegradable material and help in powering the green vehicles of tomorrow.

3) Researchers turn wastewater into “inexhaustible source of hydrogen

Researchers turn wastewater into “inexhaustible source of hydrogen

Going a step ahead of the above research process which was not completely carbon neutral, the Pennsylvania state University researchers have successfully developed a carbon neutral process of producing hydrogen the wastewater. For this, the researchers used a microbial electrolysis cell which produces hydrogen from the microbial decomposition of organic compounds. Production of hydrogen through this process requires electricity input in the beginning. The researchers were able to produce this initial electricity through a new method of reverse electrodialysis which doesn’t require any input from power grid. Instead, the process generates electricity from the ionic differences of salt water and fresh water, thus making the entire process completely carbon neutral.

4) Sewage-powered hydrogen fueling station opens in CA

Sewage-powered hydrogen fueling station opens in CA

The Orange County Sanitation District in the Fountain Valley of California has set up first of its kind power station, which produces electricity and hydrogen from the biogas produced from sewages. The power plant uses a tri-generation process in which first of all methane is produced from the sewage and then converted into hydrogen, which is later sent to a fuel cell. While the fuel cell produces electricity for powering the plant, the leftover hydrogen gas is supplied to a hydrogen fueling station for powering vehicles.

The concept

The production of hydrogen from wastewaster is an entirely new concept developed in recent years. The basic process depends on microbial fuel cells in which naturally occurring microbes liberate electrons from wastewater while acting as a catalyst. Hydrogen can also be produced in microbial electrolysis cells, which produces hydrogen from the microbial decomposition of organic compounds.

The advantage

There are multiple advantages of producing hydrogen from wastewater. Some of them are listed below.

1. Wastewater is abundant. Its utilization for a green purpose would change the notions often associated with things considered as waste.

2. While sunlight and wind are seen as a renewable source of producing electricity, hydrogen can actually act as a replacement of petroleum, natural gas and other fossil fuels, which are used now a days for powering vehicles.

3. Unlike conventional engines, the hydrogen fuel cells produce only water and oxygen as bi-products. Hence, it will further boost the environment.

The impact

At present, the impact of production of hydrogen from wastewater could only be imagined with a better sense of the future. We are saying this because the results of above mentioned researches have not been materialized much outside the laboratory. We can expect that hydrogen generation from wastewater on a large scale will open up new avenues for exploring green electricity sources. On the one hand it will help fuel the vehicles of future and on the other hand it will also fuel up employment opportunities and technological innovations.