Although the smell of the Orange County Sanitation District’s Fountain Valley waste facility project isn’t for everyone, scientists at the University of California, who started it, say it actually smells like “promise”.
Jack Brouwer, one of the scientists that pioneered the method, says “It smells like money,” because the method for deriving pure hydrogen from human waste, food scraps and other matter flushed could lead to producing the fuel for the fuel-cell cars of the near future.
As automakers see the technology of consuming hydrogen and trashing out the exhaust nothing but water as the immediate successor to the gasoline powered car of today, the Southern California waste facility is already producing hydrogen through this method and drivers of fuel cell cars can refill from it.
“Fuel cells are out of the lab, the experimental stage, but they’re not to the mainstream stage,” said Alan Baum, an analyst at Baum & Associates in West Bloomfield, Michigan, who tracks alternative-powertrain technologies. “Ten years from now this is a significant option.”
Although hydrogen is the universe’s most abundant chemical element, pumps for delivering it to cars are scarce now, as taking California’s example – a US state known for its love of alternative powered cars – only has around 10 public stations in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Although most of the hydrogen today is produced at industrial facilities that break down natural gas, Brouwer and fellow scientists from UC Irvine’s National Fuel Cell Research Center developed the new system to produce hydrogen in a process that starts with a very predictable and dependable flow of waste.