BIOMASS BASED HYDROGEN POWER
In 2006-2007 I was the major contractor for a US Forest Service funded study and traveled over 15,000 miles to visit and evaluate gasifiers throughout the country. The company I considered way ahead of everyone else was Cetna Energy. They had a pilot plant in Mississippi capable of rapidly producing ethanol, jet fuel and diesel fuel from gasification of biomass. A gasifier breaks down biomass by burning it with a limited supply of oxygen. As biomass is broken down gases including hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide are produced. A process known as Fischer-Tropsch is used to recombine these gases into other products including ethanol, jet fuel and diesel. The FT process requires expensive catalyst, blowers, and other equipment plus water and a qualified work force. A plant producing hydrogen, ash and carbon products could be built and operated at a cost less than that of a plant with the FT process.
Cetna has used chicken manure and cattle manure as feed stock to produce liquid fuels by gasification. They have proven that their technology works. In the process of producing these liquid fuels they were producing hydrogen but were not separating it from the gas stream and purifying it for the hydrogen market. A proof-of-concept plant processing 20 tons dry weight of biomass, cattle manure or wood chips, per day would cost about $5 million to $6 million and would take 6 to 8 months to build. At the yield of 125 kilograms of hydrogen per ton of feedstock this 20-ton/day plant should produce 2,500 kg/day. A production sized plant based on modules requiring 50 tons of manure per day would cost about $10 million. Production costs are projected to be less than $4 per kilogram. The wholesale price of hydrogen can be as low as $4 per kilogram in some locations for large volume purchases and considerable higher in other locations. In California, the retail costs of hydrogen was $16 per kilogram in September, 2019.
Data from USDA-NRCS reports cattle in feedlots produce about 59 pounds of manure per day per 1,000 pounds of body weight. Manure from feedlots is about 69% moisture; therefore, a 1,000 pound beef animal produces just about 18 pounds of dry manure per day. Twenty tons of dry manure per day would require (40,000 lbs./18 lbs.) 2,222 animals weighing 1,000 pounds each. It appears that a 50,000 head feedlot could produce 450 dry tons of manure per day and potentially yield 56,250 kg of hydrogen per day. The return at $4 per kilogram could be $225,000 per day and significantly more at higher prices.
In reality, a CAFO licensed for a 50,000 head capacity will typically have 30,000 to 35,000 head weighing 450 to 1,200 pounds. Manure is removed from each pen in a feedlot once every 3 or 4 months. CAFO operators remove about 1.5 tons of manure per head of cattle per year. The average capacity of a CAFO is about 32,500 head and manure removed would be about 48,750 tons per year for an average of 133 tons per day. Moisture content would vary depending upon the weather conditions at time of removal. Were moisture content to average 25% then the average manure dry weight per day would be 100 tons per CAFO. At 125 kg per ton of dry manure the hydrogen production would be 12,500 kilograms per day. Valued at $4 per kilogram this would gross $50,000 per day. This number based on the experience of CAFO operators is probably more realistic than the number based on a feedlot with a full capacity of 50,000 head weighing 1,000 each.
Hydrogen is used extensively in manufacturing many comedies such as pharmaceuticals, plastics, low-sulfur diesel and steel, in agriculture to produce fertilizers, herbicides, and oils and in food to produce hydrogenated oils, and salad dressings. In a 2016 the hydrogen market was reported to be over 50 million tons valued at $108.1 billion based on a report produced in 2018. Internationally, about 50% of the hydrogen is produced by steam reforming of natural gas, about 30% is produced in refineries or from off gassing of petroleum products and 17% is produced from gasification of coal. The remaining 3% is produced by electrolysis of water and by other means. Hydrogen produced by electrolysis or by gasification of biomass, including manure, wood chips, and crop residues, is considered by EPA to be cellulosic and renewable. These sources add no new carbon to the atmosphere but simply recycle atmospheric carbon through plants, and in the case of manure through animals and then back to the atmosphere. The hydrogen market seems to be expanding and it is likely that a non-fossil fuel source of hydrogen could warrant a premium due to its environmentally friendly nature. As hydrogen fuel cell vehicles including commercial trucks, trains, scooters and motorcycles become more available they will need fuel. Panhandle Sustainable Energy and Cetna Energy are ready to assist CAFO operators, regional communities, and operators of fleet vehicles and forklifts to produce non-fossil fuel hydrogen and to operate hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicles with zero carbon emissions. The only emission from hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicles is water vapor.