Biohydrogen powers future industry and circulation
When our societies and industries look for alternative solutions to fossil energy, it is good to remember that the latter still cover almost 80% of the current global energy needs and 65% of the electricity generation.
Hydrogen gas is one of the most realistic complementary ways to sustain our modern lifestyle. It is the most abundant element in the universe (15%) and applies to industrial energy and processes in its gaseous form. This molecular Hydrogen is increasingly produced as "green hydrogen" by using renewable energy, such as solar or wind, for splitting and liberating it from water. Alternatively, it could be produced in the low-energy route as biohydrogen, exploiting the metabolic potentials of anaerobic bacteria. This method is the most sustainable and can also be used in a localized pattern. This ensures maintenance security for unit plants as biomasses and side streams could be used as raw material sources.
Why has the Hydrogen launch been delayed?
Some fifteen years ago, the US Environmental Protection Agency estimated that in the year 2025, the USA would move into a "Hydrogen economy," meaning that Hydrogen would produce more energy than fossil sources. This has yet to happen since there has been a transition period where numerous sustainable energy sources have been developed. There have also been some issues with, for example, the storage of Hydrogen. However, at the moment it provides a promising solution for energy storage. Hydrogen can also be further processed into methane or methanol. "Green ammonia" can also be produced from green Hydrogen or biohydrogen, and it can be used for storing energy and then being converted back to Hydrogen when needed. In the future, the use of these gaseous compounds will grow intensely. They can also provide solutions for boat, air, and heavy road traffic.
Hydrogen could be produced an energy-efficient way as biohydrogen, exploiting the metabolic potentials of anaerobic bacteria.
The Industrial networks for distributing Hydrogen have already been established in places like the Ruhr area in Germany, the Midwest in England, and industrial Japan. For instance, traffic solutions are also tested and implemented in California and South Korea. In Luleå, Sweden, SSAB Ab started a steel factory in 2020 using Hydrogen gas as the reducing agent.
This is important from the climate point of view since 7% of the global emissions come from steelmaking industries.
Lucrative options for future maintenance and energy security
Compared with the vast energy and chemical needs described above, biohydrogen is in the very first stages of development. However, it could offer a flexible solution for decentralized energy sources that serve unit plants ecologically and sustainably, providing increased maintenance security as the production units can be protected better than pipelines, for example. Moreover, the local biomass raw materials and side streams offer flexible sources for the processes and production. Economically, combining bacterial biohydrogen production with the manufacturing of organic chemicals and fertilizers is easy. Thus, the biohydrogen way could be an essential future avenue for industrial development globally. It could also provide energy and reduce the power needed for recycling materials and cleaning up pollution or contamination in ecosystems, cities, or agricultural fields.
In some countries, biohydrogen production has been started in smaller units like big animal farms or other distributed units. The diminished scale in such cases provides flexibility. In other words, the strong point of microbial biotechnology can be utilized, as the same installation could easily apply various biomass sources. In this sense, biohydrogen production could resemble, for some parts, biogas production, which has been taken into use besides the agricultural or smaller industrial units and the municipal water treatment systems in many places.
Biohydrogen is omnipotent
Since biological materials are found almost everywhere, it is relatively easy to imagine their use for biohydrogen production, which will not produce waste but diminish or shrink its volumes. The numerous bacterial strains could be used in various processes for different organic raw materials. This versatility of planning options of the bioprocess could make biohydrogen the mainstream technology in future. This easiness of planning could make biohydrogen the mainstream technology in future. It could provide multiple industries with flexible and secured energy sources and options for future development.
Finnoflag's biorefinery experience
In recent decades, our R&D company, Finnoflag Oy, has carried out more than ten industrial pilot projects using microbes or their enzymes as biocatalysts. In such trials as the European Union Baltic Sea Biorefinery Project ABOWE, we realized that cohesively with the production of biochemicals, we could obtain significant amounts of biohydrogen.
The numerous bacterial strains could be used for various processes with different organic raw materials.
The project was participated by six countries: Germany, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Sweden and Finland. The movable pocket-sized biorefinery was tested for potato industry side streams in Poland, agricultural and abattoir waste in Sweden, and Paper and Pulp industry side streams in Finland. In all cases, biohydrogen was emitted into the carrier gas in the bioreactors with a maximal concentration of 3-4%. Savonia University of Applied Sciences constructed the movable biorefinery unit in Kuopio under the supervision of the undersigned and Finnoflag Oy in 2013, and its testing in three countries took place in 2014. Besides biohydrogen, many organic acids were formed, such as lactate, butyrate, acetate and valerate, and alcohols or sugar alcohols like ethanol, butanol, propanol, pentanol, and 2,3-butanediol. The residual fraction could be refined into organic soil improvement. The reliable and accurate NMR method (Nucleic Magnetic Resonance) was used for measuring the products by the School of Pharmacy of the University of Eastern Finland.
A few years later, in 2018-19, we produced biochemicals, energy gases, and fertilizing agents from environmentally deposited cellulosic waste in the lake bottom sediment in Tampere, Finland. In these trials, the biohydrogen levels exceeded 1-2% in the outflowing gas. Mälardalen University of Västerås, Sweden, participated in the downstream processing of chemical commodities such as lactate. The gas levels were detected from the airspace of the horizontal bioreactor unit of 15 cubic meters of liquid space. In this case, the gas flow space was even more significant. These production levels could be elevated, and the current productivities are a good start for novel biological process thinking by the Finnoflag method using non-aseptic fermentation. This approach lowers the investment expenses to about 25 % of the traditional industrial fermentation costs at best.
Global hope in biorefining
Most importantly, biohydrogen and its associated products of microbial biorefineries could make it possible to establish various novel industries which would act economically and sustainably. They could be used for cleaning up the environment in ecosystem engineering projects. The biohydrogen approach is also compatible with developing Hydrogen and other energy production, storage, security, transfer and equipment maintenance techniques at any scale.
Elias Hakalehto, PhD, Adj. Prof., Microbiologist,
Biotechnologist, CEO and inventor, Finnoflag Oy
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