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Hydrogen production at winery becomes reality

October 7, 2009  ByMarg Land


October 7, 2009 — The
first demonstration of a renewable method for hydrogen production from
wastewater using a microbial electrolysis system is underway at the Napa Wine
Company in Oakville.



October 7, 2009 — The
first demonstration of a renewable method for hydrogen production from
wastewater using a microbial electrolysis system is underway at the Napa Wine
Company
in Oakville.

The refrigerator-sized
hydrogen generator will take winery wastewater, and using bacteria and a small
amount of electrical energy, convert the organic material into hydrogen,
according to a Penn State environmental engineer.

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“This is a demonstration
to prove we can continuously generate renewable hydrogen and to study the
engineering factors affecting the system performance,” said Bruce E. Logan,
Kappe professor of environmental engineering. “The hydrogen produced will be
vented except for a small amount that will be used in a hydrogen fuel cell.”
Eventually, Napa Wine Company would like to use the hydrogen to run vehicles
and power systems.

Napa Wine Company’s
wastewater comes from cleaning equipment, grape disposal, wine making and other
processes. The company already has on-site wastewater treatment and recycling
and the partially treated water from the microbial electrolysis system will
join other water for further treatment and use in irrigation.

“It is nice that Napa Wine
Company
offered up their winery and facilities to test this new approach,” said
Logan. "We chose a winery because it is a natural tourist attraction.
People go there all the time to experience wine making and wine, and now they
can also see a demonstration of how to make clean hydrogen gas from agricultural
wastes.”

The demonstration
microbial electrolysis plant is a continuous flow system that will process
about 1,000 liters of wastewater a day. Microbial electrolysis cells consist of
two electrodes immersed in liquid. Logan uses electrode pairs consisting of one
carbon anode and one stainless steel cathode in his system rather than an
electrode coated with a precious metal like platinum or gold. Replacing
precious metals will keep down costs. The wastewater enters the cell where
naturally occurring bacteria convert the organic material into electrical
current. If the voltage produced by the bacteria is slightly increased,
hydrogen gas is produced electrochemically on the stainless steel cathode.

The demonstration plant is
made up of 24 modules. Each module has six pairs of electrodes.

“The composition of the
wastewater will change throughout the year,” said Logan. “Now it is likely to
be rather sugary, but later it may shift more toward the remnants of the
fermentation process.”

The project is supported
by Air Products & Chemicals, Inc., the Water Environmental Research
Foundation Paul L. Busch Award
and other donors. Brown & Caldwell, an
environmental engineering consulting firm, was contracted to build the
demonstration plant. The Napa Wine Company is donating its facilities and
wastewater for the demonstration.


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