Automotive Fuel Cells Might One Day Rely On Toxic Sewer Gases for Clean Hydrogen Fuel


A process laid out in a recent research paper from the American Chemical Society journal ACS Sustainable Chemical Engineering, says that turning hydrogen sulfide gas (farts, manure off-gases or sewer gas) into clean hydrogen fuel is efficient, cheap and relatively simple to accomplish.

Via a process called ‘chemical looping,’ Lang Qin, a co-author on the study and a research associate in chemical and biomolecular engineering at Ohio State University, says iron sulfide with just trace amounts of molybdenum as an additive can solve two problems.

Qin says hydrogen sulfide is a particularly harmful gas used in industry and thus makes it an ideal base material to use in a process which turns it into something less toxic and ultimately, valuable.

They call it the SULGEN process, and it involves using a pure chemical, iron sulfide, to use in a process for industrial use. But the issue is scale as iron sulfide alone isn’t up to the task. Qin and the team went in search of inexpensive chemicals they could use to catalyze the transformation in high quantities. It appears the answer may be to introduce a trace amount of molybdenum into the iron sulfide.

“It is too soon to tell if our research can replace any of the hydrogen fuel production technologies that are out there,” says Kalyani Jangam, the lead author of the study and a graduate student in Ohio State’s Clean Energy Research Laboratory. “But what we are doing is adjusting this decomposition process and making a valuable product from that.”

The study found that molybdenum improves the breakdown of hydrogen sulfide and splits it into two parts – hydrogen fuel and sulfur.

Qin says the ‘big picture’ result is to solve the harmful gas issues and he adds that the ‘chemical looping’ process takes care of that problem.

You can read the entire paper – if you’re so inclined –  via the ACS Sustainable Chemical Engineering.