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Bringing us closer to commercial hydrogen fuel cells

August 12, 2014 | By Anthony Capkun

August 12, 2014 – A new technique that transforms landfill gas could lead to the development of a fuel cell generating clean electricity by converting methane gas into ‘clean’ hydrogen. This research is among the reports at the 248th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Hydrogen only emits water vapour when it burns; as such, some organizations are developing hydrogen fuel cells for automobiles and homes. One way to do this is to convert methane—another greenhouse gas—to hydrogen by reacting it with carbon dioxide, and landfills are good sources for both (microbes living in the waste produce large amounts of methane and CO2).

But bringing this idea to reality comes with some challenges—among them has been finding a proper catalyst (something to speed up the slow process), explained Fabio B. Noronha, Ph.D., who is with the National Institute of Technology in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In this case, researchers are using catalysts to help turn methane and CO2 into hydrogen and carbon monoxide (CO), but the carbon (which forms as a contaminant during the process) deposits onto the catalyst.

“The heart of the process for the production of hydrogen from landfill gas is the catalyst, and this can be disrupted by the presence of carbon,” Noronha explained. “Because of carbon deposition, the catalyst loses the capacity to convert the landfill gases into hydrogen.”


To solve this problem, Noronha’s team developed a new catalyst material that removes the carbon as soon as it is formed. This approach is based on the automotive catalysts developed in the past to control car and truck emissions, he added. Right now, the researchers are working on the reaction in the lab, but the new catalyst should be ideal for commercialization, they say, and plan to test it on a larger scale using material from a local landfill.

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