New methods of hydrogen production are being deployed which are helping increase the efficiency of biomass facilities, creating high value clean energy from sources of waste

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Courtesy of Verde LLC

Biomass can easily be converted to hydrogen using decade’s matured, highly reliable technology that is simply applied in non-standard ways. In large scale anaerobic digesters and other biogas projects (including landfill gas) you can maximize the utility of the natural gas product by converting it to high purity hydrogen fuel. In modern gasification plants, operators will effectively be able to take biomass and purify it into an extremely pure and carbon-neutral fuel source.

Hydrogen from Anaerobically Digested Biomass
Early-stage development of several projects in the midwestern US shows a growing interest to create more advanced fuels from renewable resources. Using ‘chaff’ (corn and crop byproduct) from fields to produce biogas in an anaerobic digester, farmers now have the primary fuel stock for creating hydrogen using steam reformation (SMR) technology. Using an anaerobic digester, you create methane from biologically treated biomass material like chaff, wood pulp, trimmings, dung, biomass garbage, etc.. Then, using steam methane reforming equipment, you purify the methane to result in high purity hydrogen fuel – a truly clean, high-energy fuel.

The benefit of producing hydrogen is contained in the differences in heating value between hydrocarbon gases found in natural gas and the much purer hydrogen fuel product. Whereas natural gas has a relatively low heating value as far as fuels are concerned – methane contains about 23,000 BTU/lb and is the primary component of most natural gas feedstocks – hydrogen fuel contains nearly three times that value within the same mass.1 Whether you are planning on producing electricity, heating, or chemicals from a biomass facility, hydrogen is inherently more productive than methane and other hydrocarbon gases.

The hydrogen fuel product is also cleaner than natural gas produced from traditional biomass and anaerobic digestion facilities. Using advanced gas reforming technology, an operator of a natural gas plant can easily remove the carbon stream from their production line. This poses a huge opportunity with legislation for carbon taxes, enabling biomass plants to generate an additional revenue from carbon tax. Plus there is the benefit of creating an end product which is more uniform (and of a higher quality!) for the end user which will result in a higher price for the end product - think as a comparison, high octane fuel versus low octane fuel.

Hydrogen from Syngas
Another potential application of hydrogen technology in the biomass industry that has interested various stakeholders, is applying the technology to gasified biomass facilities. Biomass gasification turns biomass such as chaff, wood pulp, or any biomass material into a gasified product called syngas. Syngas is primarily hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and water. Using phase shifting equipment – which has been standard in the petrochemical industry for 20+ years – biomass gasifiers can maximize the amount of energy they create from their biomass feedstock by turning their excess carbon monoxide into hydrogen fuel.

That’s right. Using a simple set of equipment at the end of a gasifier’s line, a gasification plant can turn a toxic pollutant into a highly useful, clean-fuel. There is a catch in that this equipment does have an intermediary bi-product of CO2, however most modern equipment manufacturers can easily equip carbon sequestration onto a gasification facility at minor additional cost.

High Growth, High Profit Industry
After a digestion facility or a gasification facility is equipped with optimized hydrogen generation equipment, the plant has a truly large range of potential users. Apart from the traditional demand of hydrogen in the thermal power industry, chemical manufacturing, fertilizer manufacturing, electronics industry, and many other heavy industries, there is a rising demand for hydrogen in the emerging fuel cell industry. According to industry press releases and a new report by Frost and Sullivan, major automobile OEMs are planning at least a 5,000 fuel cell vehicle (FCV) release by 2015 in the US and expect rising demand in the US and other developed markets, including at least 58,000 FCVs in Japan and Korea. Further, many utilities and businesses are now capitalizing on the benefits of stationary fuel cells to provide power, heating, and cooling to their assets. Fuel cell users are increasing rapidly and will need a steady supply of hydrogen fuel to feed their new demand. Manufacturers of hydrogen generation equipment need to be adaptive of the market demand, providing flexible solutions that can produce hydrogen gas on small and large scales, using feedstocks that are traditional (like natural gas) and also modern (like biogas, syngas, and renewable electricity.)

The main purpose of creating hydrogen in any biomass facility is to maximize the value derived from the biomass resource; by mass, hydrogen creates a very large amount of energy - ~120MJ/kg vs. only 60MJ/kg for methane, the primary component of natural gas/biogas.2 In fact, hydrogen is the core of every energy source – from the sun that shines upon us, to the gas that powers the majority of our cars. Why don’t we skip the non-sense and start producing the pure form of energy which we already use everyday? Cost was once a concern for the hydrogen economy, but that is changing rapidly.

The technology is available, here and now, to economically create hydrogen fuel from existing feedstocks including biomass, biogas, or syngas. The first facilities have emerged in Europe and Canada, creating hydrogen commercially from renewable resources. It is only a matter of time when demand for the only truly clean, storable fuel will force the hydrogen economy into mass adoption. Those that wait for that tipping point, however, are not the ones that reap the benefits.

http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/heating-values-fuel-gases-d_823.html

http://hypertextbook.com/facts/

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