Many consider hydrogen to be a perfect fuel. The waste product produced when it is burned is water. Hydrogen is a component contained in a variety of materials but figuring out how to cheaply extract that hydrogen is what one scientist refers to as the Holy Grail of 21st century energy.
Lanny Schmidt, a Regents professor at the University of Minnesota, has invented such a process. It will produce hydrogen from renewable fuels like ethanol, sugar water, or soybean oil.
The reactor is deceptively simple in design. At the top is an automotive fuel injector that vaporizes and mixes the ethanol-water fuel. The vaporized fuel is injected into a tube that contains a porous plug coated with the catalyst. As the fuel passes through the plug, the carbon in the ethanol is burned, but the hydrogen is not. What emerges is mostly carbon dioxide, burnt carbon, and hydrogen gas. The reaction takes only 5 to 50 milliseconds and produces none of the flames and soot that usually accompany ethanol combustion. The reactor needs a small amount of heat to get going, but once it does, it sustains the reaction at more than 700 degrees C. University of MN
Also, his device is small and portable One of the thorniest economic problems of making biofuel from cornstalks or sawdust has been the cost of transporting the bulky materials to a distant factory. With Schmidt's invention, you wouldn't have to — the "factory" could be located on a farm or at a sawmill.
Converting biofuels into electricity requires fuel cells which generate electricty from hydrogen. Schmidt imagines a 1 kilowatt unit about the size of a washing machine where the electricity comes from a fuel cell powered by hydrogen, derived from ethanol or other biofuels. This could allow developing countries to eliminate the need for expensive powerlines into rural areas.