EERC leads hydrogen demo project

By | March 06, 2007
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The Energy & Environmental Research Center's (EERC) centers for Renewable Energy and Biomass Utilization in Grand Forks, N.D., recently announced they are leading a project to demonstrate the possibilities of producing hydrogen at ethanol facilities utilizing an intermediate ethanol product. Research team members hope to determine how much hydrogen can be produced at an ethanol plant, operational conditions required to produce it, and on- and off-site uses of a hydrogen coproduct.

The data gathered for the project, which is being conducted within the laboratory setting at the EERC with actual ethanol plant products, is part of a multi-year contract between the U.S. DOE, the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council, the North Dakota Corn Utilization Council, Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company and H2Gen Innovations.

The project started in January and is expected to continue for a year with an actual demonstration tentatively scheduled for early 2008, according to EERC Associate Director for Research Tom Erickson.

"It's certainly one of the directions that the nation is heading in," Erickson said of the United States' increasing interest in hydrogen as a renewable fuel. The hydrogen produced at ethanol facilities can be utilized for the generation of electricity within the plant but will largely be used for the transportation industry as the hydrogen industry comes to bear, Erickson said. "We're going to have distributed hydrogen fueling systems, and ethanol facilities may make sense as part of those systems," he said.

Necessary adjustments within the traditional corn-fed ethanol plant are minimal in order to produce hydrogen, Erickson said. Assuming the plant will make products other than hydrogen, all that is needed is a simple system to work off of the slip stream that runs into a new piece of equipment.

"[The hydrogen movement] is going to have to be led by the legislature in order for it to be an early opportunity fuel, and it will need major legislative drivers to get vehicles on the road in the next 15 to 20 years of any quantity," Erickson said. "Certainly, there are already small fleets throughout the U.S."

Other small hydrogen demonstrations are popping up across the state, Erickson said. The Air National Guard is testing a single hydrogen fuel cell forklift in Grand Forks and in Minot, N.D., three hydrogen-powered vehicles are ready to run, as well.