R. M. Clayton Plant Atlanta Business Chronicle
Friday, July 20, 2007
City sewage plant may produce hydrogen fuel
Atlanta Business Chronicle - by Ryan Mahoney Staff Writer

The city of Atlanta's R.M. Clayton sewage treatment plant is probably the last place that comes to mind in any discussion of clean-burning alternative energy.

The plant, on Bolton Road, gives off some of the foulest odors in metro Atlanta, a byproduct of treating more than 100 million gallons of raw sewage a day.

But a new project at the plant could rehabilitate its rancid reputation, converting some of the methane-heavy gas it produces into enough hydrogen to power a fleet of 50 MARTA buses.

Atlanta startup Cotting Industries Inc. is seeking $1.5 million in funding to install a hydrogen processing facility at the plant.

The facility would filter out impurities such as hydrogen sulfide and chlorine from the gas and refine the leftover methane into hydrogen and carbon monoxide by combining it with steam and heating it to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

That level of purity is sufficient for use in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, said company founder and president Steve Cotting. He hopes MARTA, the city or the state will see fit to use the hydrogen in their fleets.
Fuel cells also provide power for commercial office buildings. The Atlantic Station mixed-use development in Midtown is required to use fuel cells to produce more than 4 megawatts as a condition of its federal bond financing, said Jason Hanlin, director of technology research at the Center for Transportation and the Environment in Atlanta.

"This is an excellent application," said Mike Binder, a hydrogen industry consultant who ran the fuel cell program at the U.S. Department of Defense from 1991 to 2005. "Right now, they just flare it or put it into a boiler and burn it for power generation. This is much better."

Initially, though, Cotting plans to refine the gas even further, stripping out the carbon monoxide to produce pure hydrogen suitable for industrial applications like steel, glass and chemical manufacturing.
With the support of Republican U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, as well as Democratic U.S. Rep. John Lewis, Cotting recently secured $25,000 in seed funding for a pilot project from the Federal Transit Administration.

He plans to rely on venture capital or an industrial gas distributor to cover most of the cost of the facility, which could be in operation by the end of 2007.

His company has a similar deal with The Linde Group for a facility outside Chicago that gets its hydrogen from conventional natural gas.

Cotting believes the facility at R.M. Clayton could represent an important step forward in the creation of America's hydrogen infrastructure, which so far has been slow to develop due to the rising cost of natural gas, the refining process and the expense of outfitting vehicles to run on it.

Because the methane he'll be using is a waste product, Cotting said, "we can produce hydrogen for 50 cents per kilogram, versus $2 from natural gas. And one kilogram of hydrogen has the same energy as one gallon of gasoline. So we could sell it for less than gasoline."

Friday, July 20, 2007
City sewage plant may produce hydrogen fuel
Atlanta Business Chronicle - by Ryan Mahoney Staff Writer

Cotting figures he can create up to 13,500 cubic feet of hydrogen a day.

The holy grail of hydrogen production, however, is the nuclear industry, said Sam Logan, CEO of Roswell-based fuel cell installer LoganEnergy Corp.

While Logan applauded Cotting's facility and efforts to work similar magic with landfill methane, only nuclear power plants can produce hydrogen both cheaply and in mass quantities, he said.

"With power costs as low as they are in the Southeast and in the Georgia Power area, you can't make an economic case for hydrogen right now," Logan said, "especially since Georgia doesn't mandate utilities provide a certain percent of their energy in renewables."

In fact, hydrogen as a fuel is still too expensive anywhere in the country without government subsidies, he said. He noted prototype fuel cell vehicles from automakers such as Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) and General Motors Corp. (NYSE: GM) are still a long way from mass production.

But Cotting aims to make hydrogen more affordable, if only on a small scale, just as Georgia is already doing for another, more prominent alternative fuel: ethanol.

In 2008, Range Fuels Inc. of Soperton, Ga., will open the nation's first plant to make ethanol from wood waste, a cheaper alternative to the usual feedstock, corn. With federal mandates to add more ethanol to the nation's fuel supply, the Soperton plant is being hailed as a way to keep the price of corn -- which undergirds much of the U.S. agricultural sector -- in check.

Hydrogen wouldn't be the first practical byproduct to come out of R.M. Clayton, either. The sludge processed there is made into bricks for use in commercial and industrial construction.

From CH4 to just plain H
How malodorous methane becomes high-quality hydrogen:
*    Step 1: Impurities like hydrogen sulfide and chlorine are filtered out
*    Step 2: The remaining methane is mixed with steam and heated to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit to produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide
*    Step 3: The carbon monoxide is removed by pressurizing the gas, leaving pure hydrogen