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Leeds University Unveils Fuel Cells Running on Sunflower Oil

August 29, 2004 by Jeff Shepard

Researchers at Leeds University in England have found a promising method for producing hydrogen from sunflower oil, a development that could lead to cleaner and more efficient hydrogen production for powering automobile fuel cells as well as homes, factories and offices. The development was unveiled at the 228th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society.

The study’s lead researcher Valerie Dupont, Ph.D., an energy engineer with the University of Leeds in England, and her collaborators developed an experimental hydrogen generator that uses only sunflower oil, air and water vapor along with two highly-specialized catalysts — one nickel-based, the other carbon-based — that are alternatively used to store and then release oxygen or carbon dioxide while producing hydrogen intermittently. The new process does not involve the burning of any fossil fuels.

The sunflower oil used is the same type found on grocery shelves; the process can also work with other types of vegetable oils. In the prototype device, which can fit on a standard lab bench, water and oil are pumped into the unit and passed through a pre-heater to vaporize them. Through a process called "steam reforming," the mixture is broken down in the presence of heat to generate carbon dioxide, hydrogen, methane and carbon monoxide.