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Friday, May 12, 2006

Technology Review: Emerging Technologies and their Impact - By Duncan Graham-Rowe

A small company in Madison, WI has developed a novel way to generate hydrogen cheaply and cleanly from biomass.
 
In the next couple of weeks, the technology, developed by Virent Energy Systems, will be used for the first time to continuously produce electricity from a small 10-kilowatt generator at the company's facility in Madison. The unit is fueled by corn syrup, similar to the kind used by soft drinks manufacturers, says CEO Eric Apfelbach.
 
The company is also about to begin work on a $1 million U.S. Navy project to build portable fuel-cell generators. The goal is to make self-contained units capable of producing their own hydrogen from a biomass-derived glycerol solution or even antifreeze.
 
The vast majority of hydrogen is currently made from fossil fuels -- oil, coal, and, most commonly, natural gas, through a process called steam reforming. In this process, a mixture of steam and methane is heated to temperatures above 800 degrees Celsius, and then reacts with a catalyst to produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide.
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