Going Nuts for a Hydrogen-Fuelled Future

Gasification process could generate enough hydrogen from hazelnut shells to power 1,000 BMW hydrogen-powered sedans over 30,000km a year.

Published: 07-Dec-2000

IF YOU want to go green, get out your nutcrackers. Scientists in Britain say hazelnuts could provide the hydrogen to power the fuel-cell driven cars of tomorrow. Fuel cells use hydrogen to generate an electric current, and researchers are trying to make them efficient enough to power electric and hybrid cars (New Scientist, 25 November, p 34). But no one has decided how that hydrogen will be best produced.

But now Murat Dogru of the University of Newcastle says hazelnuts could be an answer. He says Turkey, the world's largest producer, incinerates around 250,000 tonnes of shells a year. To see if any useful gases could be extracted from this waste, Dogru and his colleagues fed hazelnut shells into a container called a gasifier. The chamber contains solid fuel lighters and is fitted with an air pump. Once you ignite the fuel, the air pump controls the oxygen supply--and so the heat produced in the gasifier. Controlling the oxygen determines which gases are given off. Dogru says the system is cheap to run. "You don't supply a lot of extra energy. You just ignite it for a few minutes, then the nutshells fuel it," he says.

Hydrogen makes up 15 per cent of the combustion gases. The remaining gas is a mixture of carbon monoxide, methane, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. But Tony Bridgwater of Aston University in Birmingham says these other gases needn't be a problem. Both methane and carbon monoxide can be converted to carbon dioxide and hydrogen by reacting them with water, he says. "Then you can use standard procedures for stripping out the carbon dioxide," he adds.

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