Final Report: Sewage Off-Gas-Driven Fuel Cells to Stimulate Rural Electrification

EPA Grant Number: SU833527
Title: Sewage Off-Gas-Driven Fuel Cells to Stimulate Rural Electrification
Investigators: Clack, Herek L. , Chen, Liwen , Chung, Brian , Gu, Ray , Mehta, Priyanka , Nguyen, Sammy , Sharma, Kaustubh , Shi, Heling , Tu, Chia-Hao , Zhang, Chen
Institution: Illinois Institute of Technology
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: I
Project Period: August 31, 2007 through May 31, 2008
Project Amount: $9,975
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2007) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Energy , P3 Awards , Sustainability


Electrification of rural areas such as Africa, Asia, and South America is vital for economic development, but traditional energy sources are highly polluting, contributing to environmental contamination and global warming. In these regions, problems in waste management are also common for conventional decomposition/anaerobic digestion process produces methane, one of the most detrimental greenhouse gases. With the emergence of highly efficient fuel cell systems, a challenge arises to provide an efficient energy reform from methane to hydrogen fuel for the fuel cell. The objective of this project is to design an integrated system consists of an anaerobic digester/bioreactor and a fuel cell to combat such problems.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

Literature reviews confirmed the feasibility of the system relying on methane to supply the fuel cell and the waste heat from the subsequent fuel cell operation driving the decomposition process. A batch bioreactor and a proton exchange fuel cell at the lab scale are used to construct a physical system that is tested at various temperatures to determine the optimal operating conditions, both individually and separately. Furthermore, system-level thermal and flow analysis is performed after experimentation to establish a final configuration in coupling the two devices. With streamline data collection still in process, it is expected that a complete energy self-sustaining module at the lab-scale will be achieved. Measurements obtained from data acquisition systems combined with analytical models will be utilized to determine the actual energy performance of the constructed design.

Proposed Phase II Objectives and Strategies:
Upon successful completion of Phase I, laboratory studies and model simulation based on the Phase I design will be used to examine the viability of a full-scale implementation of a regenerative waste treatment-power generation system. The actual process of waste treatment-power generation will be thoroughly investigated and changes will be made in the lab model to accommodate large-scale operation.

Supplemental Keywords:

Fuel cells, methane, sustainable energy, anaerobic digester,