back to article German boffins turn ALCOHOL into hydrogen at low temp

Hydrogen is one of the cleanest-burning fuels known, but storing and transporting it can be a problem – as anyone who's seen footage of the Hindenburg disaster knows. But researchers at Germany's University of Rostock say they've come up with a solution that could make hydrogen fuel safe and practical, by storing it as liquid …


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  1. Tempest8008

    24 litres per second?

    That's gotta be a typo, right?

    Admittedly, this is pulled from Wikipedia, that font of truth and accuracy, but it's reported there that the BMW Hydrogen 7 burns hydrogen at an efficiency of 50L per 100km.

    Unless your engine is planning to propel a vehicle at 50 kilometers per second...don't get me wrong, that'd be pretty cool, but cornering would be a REAL bitch.

    1. Rampant Spaniel

      Re: 24 litres per second?

      It's been along time since I had physics inflicted on me, but wouldn't the pressure the gas was under affect the volume? i.e. 24L at low pressure could contain less hydrogen than 24L at high pressure?

      1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

        Re: 24 litres per second?

        The volume of gases is generally quoted at a pressure of around one atmosphere, so 24L doesn't contain much energy.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

        2. Rampant Spaniel

          Re: 24 litres per second?

          I thought so, but the bmw listed has a 45 gallon tank at 700 bar 153 psi. I'm thinking the 24L ps is at 1 bar and the 50l/100km is at 700 baror something else is amiss like it being a typo :) . Just thinking out loud.

    2. Pet Peeve

      Re: 24 litres per second?

      24L of STP hydrogen, most likely. Hydrogen has absolutely terrible energy content by volume.

      This is a total rathole. Picking a catalyst even more rare than platinum? The idea is to find a catalyst that a) lasts a long time or is at least reusable, and/or b) is reasonably plentiful. Dudes, you're going the WRONG WAY. The lower temperature is interesting, but a 3 week lifespan for the catalyst, for an element that, if all the known reserves were mined, you'd have a cube only 20 meters on a side? Come on!

      1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

        Re: Pet Peeve

        Don't worry, we'll mine it from asteroids!

      2. Katie Saucey

        Re: 24 litres per second?

        You forget about the topper, the CO2 produced (mol for mol) is the same amount as the H2. Which problem does this H2 transportation 'solution' address again? Oh right. Interesting stuff for sure, but definite 'rat-hole' territory for any direct commercial energy product (unless of course they find a catalyst to convert the CO2 to diamonds and O2).

      3. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        Re: 24 litres per second?

        "The lower temperature is interesting, but a 3 week lifespan for the catalyst, for an element that, if all the known reserves were mined, you'd have a cube only 20 meters on a side? Come on!"

        This is V 0.1 tech.

        1. gromm

          Re: 24 litres per second?

          So? It really doesn't look like it's going anywhere.

          The *real* real problem is that just burning the ethanol in an engine is a hundred times more efficient cost-wise (and, very likely also several times more efficient energy-wise) than screwing around with extracting its hydrogen so you can pretend that your car doesn't pollute. As it stands right now, you take an expensive extraction process for the fuel, put it into an expensive storage/transportation process, transfer it to a much smaller, expensive/heavy/potentially dangerous storage container in your car, where it would be funnelled into a large and expensive fuel cell so that it can be converted into electricity that pushes the car. All while still producing exactly the same amount of pollution. Just burning the ethanol (or better yet, natural gas which is easier to come by and about as clean) in a large power plant to charge everyone's battery would result in about the same energy losses over the whole system, while being much cheaper to build and run.

          What for? To save you time charging a battery instead. Because refuelling a fuel cell takes 3 minutes instead of 30 for a battery charge.

          This type of research is a *complete* waste of time and money. Except to prove that it doesn't work (from a science perspective, proving something doesn't work is just as valid as proving something else does, so I guess this research just goes to further that batteries are a better way to go).

    3. EddieD

      Re: 24 litres per second?

      Remembering 30 years ago to school chemistry, the avogadro constant for gases is 22.4 dm^^3 at STP, 24 liters is a fraction over this, so ~2.1g of Hydrogen every second - seems reasonable.

    4. Anonymous Coward

      Re: 24 litres per second?

      Hmmmmmm That COULD be a typo... but

      Hydrogen is "not much gas" in a large volume....

      A smallish TIG / MIG welding torch flows about 10 - 12 liters of argon per minute..... which grates profoundly as the cost vs. tight arsedness....

      So 24 liters of hydrogen per second, as a combusticator, of a very low density gas, to push an automobubbile at "great speed, faster than the fastest steed" - does not seem unreasonable....

      I suppose I could go read the original or go learn some maths, and look at the voltronicks, of electrocombusticators, but at a stab in the Hindenberg principle, I'd say it might be right.

      I won't shit can the man and his research... and the marginal output of his system....

      It's obvious that as it stands, right now... the result is only effusive, in that it works, it's the volume and scaling that is in need of improvement, which I am sure he is aware of....

      But having made the start, something really good may come of it, or a copy / spin off / variation of the ideas.

      Satan - "Hydrogen plus Oxygen = BOOOOOMMMM!!!!!!!

    5. Yesnomaybe

      Re: 24 litres per second?

      Could be right. A 2 liter engine, spinning at 3000 rpm, tries to suck in ..mumble... (4 stroke engine probably) mumble.... 3000L of air per minute. Divide by 60 gives 50L per second, assume 50/50 air/hydrogen mix. Yeah, that kinda works.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 24 litres per second?

      24 litres of hydrogen at STP is about 2 grammes. If a BMW uses only 4 grammes of hydrogen per 100km, that sounds like thermodynamics just started taking magic mushrooms.

      2 grammes a second = about 7kg per hour. That sounds a bit high; at 70mph my car uses a little under 4kg of petrol an hour.

      So yes I think the number is wrong, but the number quoted for the BMW is not even wrong.

  2. Cartman

    We already have efficient SO fuel cells that burn methane, and gas turbines and lean-burn engines are cheaper and efficient. Hydrogen will always be more expensive, as the cheapest hydrogen is produced from methane.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Not just that

      There is a whole raft of processes which produce methanol cheaply. Cooking coal with hydrogen and/or water (referred to in the article) is probably one of the most expensive ways to do it.

      You can get methanol as a natural result of waste disposal - f.e. by heating up cellulose under pressure. Much easier to produce than ethanol. As far as its toxicity goes - good old petrol is toxic enough as it is even in this day and age when it is not spiked with lead-organics (which are extremely toxic too).

      All in all, I really fail to understand why we continue do d*ck around with hydrogen. It does not make sense at the elementary physics/chemistry level.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      as the cheapest hydrogen is produced from methane.

      You missed the memo where somehow hydrogen was going to be produced by electrolysing water using too cheap to meter wind and nuclear energy. The whole thing has been thought up by people who have never tried electrolysing water on industrial scales or handling hydrogen. I'm reasonably blase about industrial risk; I've worked with radioactive isotopes, cyanides, oxidising agents and other nasties, but hydrogen scares me stiff. Just containing it has challenges known to nothing else. An industrial chemist I once worked with doesn't agree; he thinks mercury is slightly nastier. But it was his company that had to pay for the cleanup, and that affected his viewpoint.

      The proponents of hydrogen as a mobile fuel sound like they should be an unholy coalition of chemical plant makers, rare metal suppliers, scientifically illiterate greens, and IC engine designers who don't care what the problems are, they just like the idea of an engine that doesn't carbonise its valves and cylinder heads.

  3. seven of five Silver badge

    Meanwhile in russia...

    ...boffins found a way to turn hydrogen into alcohol.

    Everyone lived happy ever after :)

    (Yes, I know, methanol is the evil twin which came before...)

  4. Semaj
    Thumb Down

    So it required more rare stuff and produced more CO2 ... swing and a miss guys.

    Good marks for effort though - it's always worth exploring the options.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    produces co2

    not a problem if the methanol came from carbon recently acquired from the atmosphere.

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: produces co2

      Yes, indeed you need the same amount of CO2 to make it from Hydrogen (perhaps extracted from sea water by fusion power?).

      The Catalyst life is a problem though. But can the catalyst be regenerated or is it gradually evaporated into the Hydrogen and then into the fuel cell water?

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: produces co2

        I would imagine it is a case of the caalyst being 'poisoned' by impurities in the hydrogen, and its no-doubt high-surface area structure needed to be an efficient catalyst breaking down / getting clogged up.

        It is also worth noting that 'reserves' of an element generally refer to the mineral deposits that are surveyed and known about, so there could be a lot more than the 'known reserves', and that ruthenium is one of the fission products in uranium burning nuclear reactors, so conceivably could be extracted during fuel reprocessing.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: produces co2

          I suggest you look at the cost of nuclear fuel reprocessing, where anybody is still doing it, and creep away silently.

          Here's a good idea: never allow anything which requires large amounts of very rare metals. Only the hedge funds will make a profit.

  6. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    The attraction is Methanol is *easy* to handle.

    Room temperature liquid.

    Easy to make/move/store.

    Question is does this need less than the Platinum of the Ballard Methanol FC's they were touting a few yrs ago?

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Re: The attraction is Methanol is *easy* to handle.

      Key problem is preventing ignorant people from stealing and drinking it...

      1. JimmyPage

        Re: The attraction is Methanol is *easy* to handle.

        @Vladimir Plouzhnikov:

        I think you'll find that's a self-limiting problem ...

        1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

          Re: The attraction is Methanol is *easy* to handle.

          It remains to be seen how self-limiting may a headline like this may be: "Teenage celebration party turned tragedy - 25 youngsters dead 3 critical in a toxic fuel-from-hell mass poisoning."

          1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

            Re: The attraction is Methanol is *easy* to handle.

            " "Teenage celebration party turned tragedy - 25 youngsters dead 3 critical in a toxic fuel-from-hell mass poisoning.""

            And this would stop adoption in America because.............?

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: The attraction is Methanol is *easy* to handle.

      The trouble is that it has carbon in it, which manipulates the carbon cycle. Since most methods of making methanol on the necessary industrial scale aren't carbon-negative and since most processes that convert methanol to energy release CO2 as a byproduct, making it carbon-positive, you hit a bugbear in that using methanol is essentially carbon-positive and bad for the environment. At least pure hydrogen is carbon neutral when you use it (no carbon in it).

  7. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    *potentially* very good indeed.

    Lots of routes to produce Methanol, including carbon neutral if you start from fast growing biomass. Yeast make Ethanol, which is more complex. for example

    No insane levels of compression/cooling needed to store Hydrogen, requiring c3x the energy to make the H2 in the first place.

    Temperature/pressure levels well below historical systems giving big savings in hardware construction. Those values are well below continuous maximum use temperatures of several plastics.

    Hydrogen consumed as it is made. That 25L/sec IE 1 mole/sec would never be seen in practice and there would be no 25L tank of GH2 on the vehicle.

    Catalyst life is poor (so far) but note catalysts are "poisoned" they are not destroyed and in industry "regenerating" a catalyst bed is SOP, as is recovery and recycling of spent catalyst.

    The joker is how much Ruthenium do you need for a reasonable sized vehicle.

    Same as a catalytic converter? OK. Same as a gold bar. Not OK.

    Thumbs up for some tricky chemistry which might make Hydrogen a more viable fuel.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: *potentially* very good indeed.

      Starve the world by growing crops for fuel instead of food, ban the use of any genetically modified food strains, and then ban the use of pesticides and fertilizers most of which are derived from oil.

      That'll sort the world out.

      1. ian 22

        Re: *potentially* very good indeed.

        Hobson's choice. Power my thirsty car or down my pint(s). While it may reduce drink driving, I'm not in favor of this idea at all.

      2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Thumb Down

        AC @ 12:50

        Methanol has many options for it's production.

        One would be a microorganism route. Requiring something like a lager factory rather than a rain forest.

        The rest of your rant is irrelevant to the subject.

  8. Longrod_von_Hugendong
    Thumb Up


    So much easier to just burn the methanol... which my V8 will use (give or take)

    - or, just thinking out loud here -

    what i would really like is a methanol (Alcohol) powered car, with a hydrogen powered fuel cell for city driving (Where my car is not overly efficient, ahem), then just run my V8 for country roads / off road where power is required. Bingo, problem solved.

    1. M Gale

      Re: So..

      Once you have a fuel cell with enough kilowattage, you'll find electric motors are damned potent things. More potent than internal combustion (even a big V8) for less weight, and torque all the way from 0RPM up to max. Problem is a 50kw+ PEM fuel cell is rather pricey right now.

  9. Andy The Hat Silver badge


    To clarify the above statements, 24l/s of H2 at STP liberates 286KW.

    A hydrogen powered Panda was made which is 60KW, does over 80mph and 0-60 in 5 seconds. Assuming only 50% efficiency then we're still looking at some mean performance to use 286kW!

    For an 'eco car' you can easily half that required volume so perhaps 12l/s is more sensible?

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: 24l/s?

      286kW at 100% efficiency perhaps: An automotive IC engine is at best 30% efficient (yes, I know engines can get slightly better but only under constant load)

      Having said that, at motorway cruise the average car is expending somewhere between 2-5kW, so 24l/sec sounds like a slipped decimal point somewhere along the line.

      24litres at STP, plus allowing sufficient air (O2 content ~20%) to allow it to burn, translates to a 2 litre engine spinning at ~80-100revs/second - 4-6000rpm. Allowing for 25% efficiency that's about 65kW and you really only need that for a few seconds at at time.

      1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

        Re: 24l/s?

        But you probably won't be burning it but passing it through a fuel cell and generating power directly so the efficiency calculation is completely different ...

    2. Katie Saucey

      Re: 24l/s? : A hydrogen powered Panda was made ...

      So this will save the pandas now too...doubleplus green!!

  10. TheDillinquent

    Am I Missing something here?

    Isn't methanol a more practical fuel than hydrogen anyway?

    If so, why would you want to make hydrogen (+CO2) from methanol using an impossibly rare, unstable catalyst and lots of heat?

  11. Boothy Silver badge

    What, no Futurama Bender comments?

    Come on, beer powered robots.

    Beer for obvious reasons...

  12. Eenymeeny

    I'd just like to say: hydrogen is not a fuel but an energy carrier, since it does not exist as a free liquid or gas.


  13. Steve Crook

    Hindenburg + Hydrogen = ?

    As far as I was aware, the Hindenburg was undone by the aluminium paint that was applied to its fabric covering. Static discharge from the tethering pylon caused the coat to burn (turns out it burns really easily). AFAIK there's no such thing as a hydrogen fire, it's generally a bang rather than flames...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hindenburg + Hydrogen = ?

      Whether it is a fire or an explosion is just a matter of where you put the dividing line on the flame velocity scale. A lot of people think that the petrol/air mix in a car explodes, but vehicle engineers are well aware of the difference between explosion (detonation) and the desirable controlled burn.

      If the volume of hydrogen is big enough that it cannot mix with the air instantly, hydrogen will burn. I used to demonstrate this by blowing big hydrogen bubbles, which burn impressively but quietly, and very much smaller hydrogen/air bubbles, which leave ringing eardrums.

      A hydrogen filled airship burns.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    All I know is I can turn beer into water, sodium, and potassium at room temp at a rate of 16oz per 1/2 hour.

    1. Matt Piechota

      "All I know is I can turn beer into water, sodium, and potassium at room temp at a rate of 16oz per 1/2 hour."

      That rate seems a bit slow, slacker.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Yeah, I'm getting old......

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Since when has a MeOH catalyst been news?

    What makes this catalyst different to standard DMFC tech?

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      Re: Since when has a MeOH catalyst been news?

      "What makes this catalyst different to standard DMFC tech?"

      Let me see.

      DMFC 1% methanol in solution. New cell 100% Methanol

      DMFC low efficiency at 1 atm/lowish temp . New cell Good efficiency at those conditions.

      DMFC non intermediate H2 generation. New cell reforms Methanol into H2 at 1/2 the temperature and 1/20th the pressure.

      The internet is a remarkable mechanism for increasing anyone's knowledge about almost any subject.

      Perhaps you might try using it, otherwise you'll be posting AC for some time to come.

  16. This post has been deleted by its author

  17. ecofeco Silver badge


    Cheap? Have they priced beer lately?!

    Oh, and I can do the same trick but it's methane.

    But for some reason it only seems to work on elevators....

  18. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Following on from the point that producing hydrogen is for feeding fuel cells - is it more efficient/cost-effective to strip the hydrogen from methanol, or simply to burn the methanol? You're going to release carbon either way.

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