Renewable Hydrogen Production from Waste and Biomass

A.P. Borole, A.J. Lewis
Electro-Active Technologies, LLC,
United States

Keywords: renewable, microbial electrolysis, waste


The world is moving towards clean energy technologies. Hydrogen fuel cells are part of the solution enabling a zero emission, sustainable alternative to electrical energy storage. We offer a solution to two problems facing hydrogen fuel cell customers: (1) Fuel cells are billed as a zero-emission technology, but lack affordable renewable sources of hydrogen. (2) Supply for fuel cell applications use is limited by the current means of centralized hydrogen production, where transportation can be >50% of the delivered price. Today, 95% of the hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels. Our technology leverages abundant organic waste as feedstock to produce renewable hydrogen onsite or in a decentralized fashion, drastically reducing transportation costs to deliver an affordable and reliable supply of hydrogen. This solution can solve the existing problems facing fuel cell customers and the overall market, while solving additional societal issues surrounding food waste and fossil fuel emissions. Utilizing organic waste to produce hydrogen is our differentiating factor. This leads to a two-pronged value proposition. On the hydrogen side, the decentralized production via our technology can better meet the needs of fuel cell users, while resulting in a stable price with savings up to 40% in addition to being renewable. On the waste side, our system will reduce the amount of organic waste going to the landfill by >50%. Customers can realize both sides of this value proposition, with waste reduction and hydrogen use onsite or within 30 miles. This decentralized solution to waste management and hydrogen generation can meet the needs of a growing number of fuel cell customers including personal vehicles, transit and municipal fleets, class 8 vehicles and heavy-duty trucks. Our innovation is based on electron or electricity producing bacteria, which generate current from organic waste and a device that Electro-Active has developed to enable high-rate hydrogen production from that current. This technology provides a transformative, integrated solution to today’s waste and energy problems by combining biology and electrochemistry to produce clean hydrogen from waste. Compared to fossil fuel derived hydrogen, our process reduces GHG emissions by 66%, while compared to water electrolysis, our system can achieve 2x higher electrical efficiency by using chemical energy in the waste, making it more cost-effective. The process uses microbial electrolysis cell technology, which breaks down complex waste into electrons via an electro-active biofilm to generate hydrogen electrochemically. We have demonstrated hydrogen production from various kind of biomass including switchgrass, pine wood, corn stover, willow and guayule, in addition to food waste and municipal wastewater solids. The work has lead to improvement in current density above 20 A/m2 and hydrogen productivity reaching the level needed for commercial feasibility of above 15 L/L-day. This has brought the technology closer to commercial consideration.