This Fueling Station Fills Vehicles With Clean Hydrogen From Dirty Water

There aren’t very many hydrogen cars on the road these days, but there might be soon. And when there are, it will be possible to take the dirty water from your toilet and turn it into fuel.


Wastewater–the stuff that goes down the toilet when you flush–is often treated and used for everything from creating artificial snow to watering golf courses. But this is perhaps the most palatable option for reusing the stuff that we’ve heard in a while: Hydrogen fueling company Air Products just opened a fueling station that turns methane gas from a local wastewater treatment plant into hydrogen gas that can be used to fill fuel cell vehicles–a first in the hydrogen fuel cell industry.

The Orange County, CA station uses methane gas from the Orange County Sanitation District’s municipal wastewater plant. The methane is funneled into a purification system, where it is fed to a fuel cell and turned into hydrogen. Electricity and heat from the fuel cell is used at the wastewater facility, while excess hydrogen is used at Air Products’ filling station. The station can produce enough hydrogen to fuel up to 50 vehicles each day.

“This is the epitome of sustainability, by taking human waste and
transforming it into electricity which we need, and transportation fuel
that we need, as well as thermal product heat that could serve the
process of transforming the feed waste into productive products,” said
Professor Scott Samuelsen, director of National Fuel Cell Research Center at the
University of California, Irvine, in a statement.

Samuelsen is correct–it doesn’t get more sustainable than this. Scaling Air Products’ wastewater fueling technology, however, may be a challenge. Because for now, automakers are largely focused on electric vehicle technology. There just aren’t enough hydrogen cars to support a network of hydrogen filling stations.

That may change when the fuel cell vehicle market really starts around 2014, when the cars start rolling off production lines. In 2015, the real test begins: GM plans to build a hydrogen fueling infrastructure for Hawaii. And if Air Products’ wastewater fueling station is successful, GM might want to consider adapting the technology in the future.

[Image: Air Products]


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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.