Researchers from the University of Leeds led by Valerie Dupont have found an energy efficient way to make hydrogen-based fuel out of used vegetable oil. The "essentially carbon-neutral" process generates some of the energy needed to make the hydrogen gas itself.
Air is blasted onto a nickel catalyst to form nickel oxide, to start the exothermic (heat-giving) process. A fuel-steam mixture is then added, causing it to react with the hot nickel oxide to produce hydrogen gas (H2) and carbon dioxide (CO2). The produced CO2 is then trapped, leaving pure H2 and forcing the reaction to keep running, increasing the amount of hydrogen made.
After doing well in a small test reactor, Dupont and her colleagues now want to scale-up the trials and produce more H2 over longer periods of time.
Scalability is the name of the game. "The beauty of this technology is that it can be operated at any scale. It is just as suitable for use at a filling station as at a small power plant," Dupont points out. "If we could create more of our electricity locally using hydrogen-powered fuel cells, then we could cut the amount of energy lost during transmission down power lines."