A team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in the U.S., as well as from the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea, have developed a new way to produce renewable liquid fuels. The process utilizes electricity generated from a PEM fuel cell, making the process clean and sustainable. The team has been experimenting with the process extensively and believe that it is commercially viable and an effective way to produce fuel for transportation.
Fuel cell used to convert chemical compounds into liquid fuel
The process makes use of a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell. PEM fuel cells are often used for small-scale energy projects, such as the development of new vehicles, and have won acclaim because of their efficiency and performance. Using the PEM fuel cell, researchers have managed to convert the biomass compound acetone into isopropanol, a chemical compound that is often used as a gasoline additive. Researchers have tweaked the process to also convert glucose into hexanes, a significant component of gasoline that is currently only produced through the refinement of crude oil.
Just add water, electricity, and biomass molecules
A PEM fuel cell was chosen because all it needs in order to operate is water, a gentle electric current, and biomass-derived molecules. Researchers converted the biomass molecules they used into fuel by feeding water into the fuel cell, which passed through an anode and produced protons and electrons. The electrons created the electrical current needed for the process and the protons generated hydrogen when they moved through the proton exchange membrane of the system. The hydrogen then reacts with the biomass molecules and reduces it to fuel, with oxygen being the only byproduct of the process.
Process may be suitable for commercialization
Researchers note that they are storing the energy produced by the process in a chemical form, which they believe to be an effective storage method. The team is currently working on improving the catalyst and other components used in the PEM fuel cell in order to produce its efficiency and performance while also addressing the issue of cost. The team believes that their process could lead to the affordable production of fuel for vehicles and that no significant breakthrough in technology is required to accomplish this goal.