Considering another power source for an alternative energy economy
Hydrogen, natural gas, ethanol: these and other renewable resources are the subjects of intense research as the world works to shift to an alternative energy economy.
Michael J. Antal Jr. would like to add coconut shells, grass clippings and cow manure to the list, as well as other biological wastes. Antal, a professor of renewable energy resources at the University of Hawaii, is developing a fuel cell powered by carbonized charcoal made from such biomass materials.
Antal will describe his prototype “biocarbon” fuel cell during the MU College of Engineering’s annual Bent Lecture, scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday at Ketcham Auditorium in Lafferre Hall, at Sixth Street and Stewart Road.
“Unlike ethanol or biodiesel, biocarbon can be made from any biomass,” Antal said. “Corncobs are good. So are coconut shells, wood chips, grass clippings and cow manure.”
Moreover, biocarbon can be quickly and inexpensively produced, he added. In operation, biocarbon fuel cells can be highly efficient, converting 100 percent of the biocarbon’s energy into electrical power, Antal said.
By contrast, automotive gasoline engines typically convert about 20 percent of gasoline’s energy into mechanical work.
MU’s Galen Suppes, a chemical engineering professor and award–winning alternative fuels researcher, sees “practical potential” for using biocarbon fuel cells in stationary power generators, if not for automobiles.
“It’s a new way of doing a fuel cell,” Suppes said. “I think it might have applications.”