It might even work on Bud Light

Honda has rolled out a limited number of mid-sized sedans running on a hydrogen fuel-cell stack, an impressive bit of technology that misses being ready for prime time, partly because you can’t just ease into a 7-Eleven and get a fresh load of hydrogen, but also because there being no actual hydrogen lying around in usable form, the current practice is to subject water to electrolysis, a process requiring a pretty fair amount of electricity, which is not getting any cheaper.

So this looks promising indeed:

Gerardine Botte of Ohio University may now have found the answer, using an electrolytic approach to produce hydrogen from urine — the most abundant waste on Earth — at a fraction of the cost of producing hydrogen from water.

How it works:

Urine’s major constituent is urea, which incorporates four hydrogen atoms per molecule — importantly, less tightly bonded than the hydrogen atoms in water molecules. Botte used electrolysis to break the molecule apart, developing an inexpensive new nickel-based electrode to selectively and efficiently oxidize the urea. To break the molecule down, a voltage of 0.37V needs to be applied across the cell — much less than the 1.23V needed to split water.

I had to look at the molecular structure to make sense of this. The hydrogen atoms in a molecule of urea are bonded to nitrogen atoms (in the two NH2 groups), and nitrogen has substantially less electronegativity than does the oxygen in good old H2O, making for a weaker bond.

And, let’s face it, we’re never going to run out of urine.

(Via AutoblogGreen.)


  1. McGehee »

    5 July 2009 · 12:04 pm

    Too bad Oldsmobile is gone — this would be a natural for them.

    </oblique reference to an old joke>

  2. Jeffro »

    5 July 2009 · 1:49 pm

    So Howard Hughes was indeed ahead of his time.

  3. fillyjonk »

    5 July 2009 · 3:02 pm

    If nothing else, it means people will need to make fewer stops on long road trips… refueling and, um, “offloading” can probably be both done at highway speeds….

  4. Lisa Paul »

    5 July 2009 · 3:28 pm

    Hey, San Francisco is recycling dog poo to a methane plant which now provides fuel for heating all the city’s schools. So anything is possible. Waste not, want not as my New England Grandmother used to say.

  5. McGehee »

    5 July 2009 · 3:42 pm

    They could arrange for tank refills to be made while the car is moving, but how to wick the replenishment out of the cabin and into the tank? Is it really possible to do that “up a rope?”

  6. fillyjonk »

    5 July 2009 · 4:04 pm

    I’m thinking of something along the lines of the combined potty/recliner that Homer Simpson invented on one episode of that show. (Of course, I’m also female, and I now realize that there’s a bit of a flaw in the plan for the male half of the population…)

  7. CGHill »

    5 July 2009 · 4:25 pm

    Some years back, the nutballs at Car and Driver attempted to drive a diesel Jetta cross-country without stopping to refuel. This required some modifications to the Vee Dub — notably, an auxiliary fuel tank which was bigger than the standard tank — and one addition for driver comfort: a length of plastic tubing for, um, drainage purposes, which exited somewhere near the fuel filler.

    Beyond that, deponent saith not, especially this close to dinnertime.

  8. Kirk »

    6 July 2009 · 5:16 pm

    This is what I get for going on vacation and not reading my usual blogs: all the good snarky comments about long road trips are already taken!

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