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New Low-Cost Non-noble Metal Catalyst for Hydrogen Production from Biofuels

Researchers at Ohio State University (OSU) have developed a new cobalt-based catalyst for the steam reforming of bio-derived liquids into hydrogen with 90% yield, at 350°C (660°F), and without the use of precious metals such as platinum or rhodium.

Umit Ozkan, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at OSU, and her colleagues presented the research today at the American Chemical Society meeting in Philadelphia. Ozkan said that their catalyst costs around $9/kg ($0.25/ounce), while rhodium costs around $9,000/ounce ($317,466/kg).

The catalyst is made from cerium oxide and calcium, covered with small particles of cobalt.

One of the biggest challenges the researchers faced was how to prevent coking. The combination of cerium oxide and calcium solved that problem, because it promoted the movement of oxygen ions inside the catalyst. When exposed to enough oxygen, the carbon, like the biofuel, is converted into a gas and gets oxidized.

Though this work was based on converting ethanol, Ozkan’s team is now studying how to use the same catalyst with other liquid biofuels. Her coauthors on this presentation included Ohio State doctoral students Hua Song and Lingzhi Zhang.

Our research lends itself to what’s called a distributed production strategy. Instead of making hydrogen from biofuel at a centralized facility and transporting it to gas stations, we could use our catalyst inside reactors that are actually located at the gas stations. So we wouldn’t have to transport or store the hydrogen—we could store the biofuel, and make hydrogen on the spot.

—Umit Ozkan

This research was funded by the Department of Energy.




This is good research since clean drinking water is becoming a scarce commodity; we don't want hydrogen production to compete with water for drinking or irrigation. We have enough competition for corn between food demand & ethanol.


Am I missing something here? Why would we reprocess bioethanol into hydrogen? This is completely idiotic! Ethanol, if it were produced inexpensively and efficiently from non-food feedstocks would be a perfectly good transportation fuel. Hydrogen is not a very good transportation fuel due to problems with storage and transport. Why would we take another energy hit in converting ethanol into hydrogen! Aaahh! I don't understand research like this. Somebody help me see the logic!

Reality Czech

Instead of producing hydrogen at filling stations, this catalyst could be used to convert a fraction of a biomass stream to hydrogen in the field. This hydrogen could be used to hydro-treat the rest of the biomass on the spot and convert it to high-value liquids which can be shipped by pipeline.


I'm with sac, this seems ill conceived. Ethanol is much more valuable than hydrogen because its a liquid fuel.

If you wanted hydrogen from biomass (for whatever reason), it makes much more sense to simply gasify it and shift the syngas to H2. Water gas shift is a very mature technology. Why bother turning it into ethanol first?

Reality Czech

"Other liquid biofuels" could mean anything up to vegetable oils, and probably includes rapid-pyrolysis bio-oil.


Well for one this process likely works on wet ethanol just as well as dry and it likely also works on alot of other biogoops.


Don't get your nether-covers in a twist because this doesn't support your personal, pet method of converting something to something else.

Be glad that as a world or nation we are rich enough to poke around enough to discover such things. We got all kinds of people researching all kinds of stuff.

Don't worry, be happy. And quit pissing in the pool....


Guess i'm a pool pisser but this makes no sense to me either.


I'll place a bet each way,
It would make no sense to build a Hydrogen fuel from biomass per say but Hydrogen stabilised or enhanced specific application products (maybe engine oil) in the fossil free future will be necessary.
N cyder, That there are still people that haven't caught on knickers are bad for health (ask any Scotsman)


I guess rich enough to be wasteful working on things that will go no where is a good thing. That was what the previous statement seemed to imply. I would rather target things that will actually work and use our resources wisely.

K Moore

In the oil industry, folks all agree "oil is king" and no-matter how you use it, it's all good because they all get wealthy! This comment thread, is a good analog as to why it is so hard for alternative fuel folks to move forward. Stop having intellectual pissing contests and start making the alternatives work.If the answer to any given problem was "1" then Car, Houses and Airplanes would all look the same.

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