Fuel Cells from Renewable Liquid Fuels

Backed by Matt Vieyra
Rochester, New York
EngineeringMaterials Science
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About This Project

It is increasingly evident that future vehicles will run on electric energy. The current options are batteries and/or hydrogen fuel cells. Hydrogen fuel cells provide longer range and the ability to refuel quickly. However, hydrogen distribution infrastructure is still in its infancy.

Is it possible to bridge the gap between the current fossil fuel infrastructure and the hydrogen economy with hydrogen fuel cells on renewable liquid bio-alcohol fuels instead of pure hydrogen?

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What is the context of this research?

Hydrogen fuel cell cars are technically mature, but economically unfeasible due to low manufacturing volume and challenges of hydrogen storage and distribution. These limitations have created a chicken and egg scenario:

- Mass manufacturing of fuel cell cars will not occur without hydrogen infrastructure.

- Hydrogen infrastructure will not be built until there are more fuel cell cars.

We can break this cycle in an environmentally friendly way by replacing pure hydrogen with low-cost renewable bio-alcohol fuels. Bio-alcohol fuels can be stored and reformed directly into hydrogen on board cars to power the fuel cells. This allows fuel cell cars that currently need expensive hydrogen to operate on bio-alcohol that can be distributed through existing fuel infrastructure.

What is the significance of this project?

This experiment can potentially break the cycle that prevents fuel cell cars from becoming cost-competitive with conventional vehicles. Liquid bio-alcohol fuels can be easily stored and distributed with minimum modifications to existing distribution facilities. It may even be possible to use E85 gasoline as the fuel. At the same time, renewable liquid fuel cell cars will be more economically efficient, very environmentally friendly and carbon neutral, leaving a net zero carbon footprint.

The data from this proof-of-concept experiment can be used to determine if an on board bio-alcohol reforming system can be small enough and efficient enough to either replace the hydrogen system or supplement it for extended driving.

What are the goals of the project?

The first goal is to build a catalytic reformer fueled by bio-alcohol to produce a hydrogen-rich gas. The output gas will contain about 60% hydrogen. It will also contain carbon dioxide, steam and carbon monoxide. Renewable alcohol is carbon neutral and does not provide a net increase in greenhouse gases*.

The second goal is to condition the hydrogen-rich gas and use it to run a small PEM fuel cell stack. We will characterize the performance of the stack on this fuel, and compare it to the stack's original specifications. If the results look good, then a prototype 250 watt fuel cell based generator will be built.

The objective beyond the scope of the project is to eventually create a 10 - 20 kW power system for electric cars.


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These items would allow us to build the prototype and start the testing. In order to realize our experiment, we will use a laboratory provided for free by a small fuel cell company that believes in our project. Any extra materials needed will be funded through our personal funds. The results of our research will be open and available to the public. The personal time we will use for the research will be donated in kind by the team. No funds will be used to pay salaries of any kind to the team members.

Endorsed by

My name is Sam Ghosh. I am very excited to strongly endorse this novel fuel cell project. It is important science and has enormous commercial potential. I’ve known several of the team members for many years and believe they are well qualified for the project. I am the founder and President of RocCera, a specialty ceramics company. I worked at Kodak Research Lab where I was the most prolific inventor having more than 160 US patents. I also taught physics as an Adjunct Professor at RIT. I am looking forward to seeing the results of this research.

Flag iconProject Timeline

We expect to procure materials and build the experimental during the first 2 months of the project. The next 2 months will be used for the experiments. The final 2 months will be used for analysis and making a go/no go decision to move to the next phase. The overall timeline is 6 months.

May 31, 2017

Project Launched

Aug 01, 2017

Project Start 

Sep 01, 2017

Materials delivered

Oct 01, 2017

Prototype/experimental built-Start testing

Dec 01, 2017

Data collection

Meet the Team

Bianca Ballesty
Bianca Ballesty
Associate Scientist
Alvise Pallaro
Alvise Pallaro
Research Engineer
Phillip Hutton
Phillip Hutton
Senior Scientist, Project Leader

Team Bio

We are a group of scientists and engineers with a strong passion for clean energy technologies. Our expertise spans from engineering to chemistry, with years of experience in the industry and in academia. Currently we are working in on clean energy research sponsored by federal and state governments.

Bianca Ballesty

I am an associate scientist with a background in Chemistry and nanomaterials. At the moment, I am focused on tackling one of world's greatest energy pitfalls in the Renewable Automobile market- the Hydrogen Fueling Infrastructure. There is little doubt that the future of vehicles will exist with the use of fuel cells, so now its up to our team to make H2 fueling more efficient, through renewable liquid fuels!

Alvise Pallaro

I am an electrical engineer with experience in renewable energy technologies. Over the years I have developed broad expertise in areas that spans from energy storage to energy generations systems. I earned two M.S. degrees, one in Electrical Engineering and one in Engineering Management. I am passionate about the environment and committed to research in alternative energy solutions.

Phillip Hutton

I'm a Senior Scientist working in clean energy for over 20 years. My experience includes leading projects in gasification of waste materials for energy generation, hydrogen fuel cells, and fuel reformers for renewable energy generation. I have a PhD in Engineering, and Masters degrees in Applied Physics, Chemical Engineering and Polymers. My role in this project will be to provide guidance on experimental design, execution and analysis. I have a lifelong passion for clean renewable energy technologies and I am really excited to have the opportunity to lead this team.

Additional Information

*Renewable bio-alcohol originates from biomass (e.g. agricultural waste and certain "energy crops" such as corn, sugar or switchgrass) and is carbon neutral. While any biomass will emit carbon dioxide during combustion, the net increase in carbon dioxide is zero, since the biomass originally absorbed the carbon dioxide from air during its growth period.

Banner image credit: Zero Emission Resource Organization

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