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DOE and USDA to Collaborate on Biomass-to-Hydrogen; DOE Awards $64M in Other Hydrogen Research


The Department of Energy (DOE) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) are working together to develop cost-effective technologies for hydrogen production from biomass resources.

Under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the two agencies today, DOE and USDA experts will meet regularly to share information on technologies and activities related to reducing the cost of chemically converting biomass to hydrogen.

Some biomass sources that can be used for hydrogen production include ethanol, crop and forest residues, and dedicated energy crops such as switchgrass or willow.

A good deal of the initial focus of the partnership is on speeding the deployment of hydrogen technology in the agriculture industry and in rural communities: renewable, farm-based biomass can fuel hydrogen production; agricultural vehicles fueled by hydrogen can have the same efficiency and environmental benefits planned for light-duty cars and trucks; and hydrogen fuel cell technology can provide power for remote locations and communities.

Biomass technologies hold great promise for our rural communities and are a promising route to renewable hydrogen production.

—Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman

Current DOE bio-hydrogen research falls into two categories:

  • Biological hydrogen production. Work in this area seeks to increase the efficiency of organisms that produce hydrogen as a byproduct—e.g., anaerobic fermentation systems, or photolytic hydrogen production.

  • Biomass-based hydrogen production. Work in this area explores improving gasification and pyrolysis technologies for low-cost biomass and wastes, and advanced reforming and shift technologies to reform hydrogen from the syngas. (I.e., similar to current Steam Methane Reforming, but using bio-mass derived syngas as the feedstock.)

Currently, there are three funded projects on biomass underway:

  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is working on biomass pyrolysis followed by reforming of the resulting bio-oil to hydrogen.

  • Iowa State University is researching indirectly heated gasification systems to convert switchgrass into hydrogen.

  • Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is exploring aqueous phase biomass gasification.

Separately, Secretary Bodman announced  the selection of more than $64 million in hydrogen research and development projects.

  • Novel Materials for Hydrogen Storage (17 projects, $19.8 million over three years). A broad range of research in hydrogen storage is covered by these selected projects, including complex hydrides; nanostructured and novel materials; theory, modeling, and simulation; and state-of-the-art analytical and characterization tools to develop novel storage materials and methods.

  • Membranes for Separation, Purification, and Ion Transport (16 projects, $12.3 million over three years). Novel membranes are needed to selectively transport atomic, molecular, or ionic hydrogen and oxygen for hydrogen production and fuel cell applications.   The 16 projects selected, which include 13 universities and 3 national laboratories, address integrated nanoscale architectures; fuel cell membranes; and theory, modeling, and simulation of membranes and fuel cells.

  • Catalyst Design at the Nanoscale (18 projects, $15.8 million over three years). Catalysts are needed for converting solar energy to chemical energy, producing hydrogen from water or carbon-containing fuels such as coal and biomass, increasing efficiency in hydrogen storage kinetics, and producing electricity from hydrogen in fuel cells.  Nanoscale catalyst designs will be explored through 18 projects involving 12 universities and 5 national laboratories. Research areas include innovative synthetic techniques; novel characterization techniques; and theory, modeling, and simulation of catalytic pathways.

  • Solar Hydrogen Production (13 projects, $10 million over three years). Efficient and cost-effective conversion of sunlight to hydrogen by splitting water would be a major enabling technology for a viable hydrogen economy. Hydrogen production via solar energy conversion will be studied through 13 projects at 8 universities, 1 industry company, and 3 national laboratories.  The projects address nanoscale structures; organic semiconductors and other high performance materials; and theory, modeling, and simulation of photochemical processes.

  • Bio-inspired Materials and Processes (6 projects, $7 million over three years). Fundamental research into the molecular mechanisms underlying biological hydrogen production is the key to the ability to adapt, exploit, and extend what nature has accomplished for our own renewable energy needs.   Bio-inspired materials and processes for hydrogen production will be investigated through 6 projects at 5 universities and 1 national laboratory. Research includes enzyme catalysis; bio-hybrid energy coupled systems; and theory, modeling, and nanostructure design. This clearly will be enter into the collaboration with the USDA.


  • List of Selected DOE Hydrogen Research Projects


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