May 21, 2003
Hydrogen power for India’s villages?
John has sent a link from where an informative interview with Van Ooetegham can be heard [ click here . Real Audio Player required. These audio files may be available only for another month. After that time search Google with these keywords: Thermotoga neapolitana, hydrogen, Van Ooetegham].
What emerges is an exciting option for India. The bacteria is widely found. The feed-stock to keep them producing needs to be a glucose centred waste; so sugar cane, beet and starch based agricultural waste can be used. Sanitary and sewage wastes may be converted to hydrogen too. The strategy is not to bother with storage of hydrogen but to lead the generated gas into small fuel cells to generate electricity that would be convivial and environmentally benign. These would be truly autonomous locally sustained systems doing away with power lines and losses. There are other synergies too. One of the problems with fuel cells is the excessive heat they generate, resulting in just 40% efficiency. It so happens the Van Oetegham process requires the bio-reactor to be kept at 75 deg.C so the fuel cell heat can be put to use raising overall efficiency. Also this requirement can be made to serve as a switch: lower the temperature and production stops, raise it and the bacteria kick in again.
The piece-de-resistance for India is the financial scale of things. For six years now the Van Oetegham team has been working on an annual budget of just $150,000 a year and a team of six. She believes that with just $2 million and four years the whole idea of naturally generated hydrogen can go industrial scale. It is widely believed that in India where comparable skills are available, costs are usually a third of what they are in the West. So these are sums of money many Indians can come up with.
The Van Ooetegham discovery seems precisely targeted at India.