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Hydrogen produced from wastewater using 'electrical bacteria'

Alex Lewis, a doctoral student with the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Education, samples a microbial electrolysis cell to measure hydrogen and proton concentrations. (Credit: ORNL)

A team of researchers from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed a new process that recycles wastewater from biofuel production to produce hydrogen with the main ingredient being “electrical” bacteria. The hydrogen can later be used to convert bio-oil into higher grade liquid fuels such as diesel or gasoline.

“We are solving multiple problems at the same time,” said ORNL researcher Abhijeet Borole, who headed a multi-year project to create the system.

The lab-scale demonstration by the team could create 11.7 liters of hydrogen daily at rates that are essential for industrial applications. Borole observes that even though additional work will be needed to take this technology to the commercial scale, their progress shows the potential of microbial electrolysis to make bio-refineries more efficient and economically feasible.

Similar to a conventional petroleum refinery, the bio-refinery concept aims at conversion of plant materials into higher value products, including chemicals and hydrocarbon fuels.

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