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Science Museum introduces bio-hydrogen production from wastewater

     Many energy experts predict that hydrogen will replace fossil fuel as the main source of energy supply in the near future as it is an ideal fuel that produces only water upon combustion. To enable the public to learn more about this technology, the Hong Kong Science Museum launches a new exhibition entitled "Bio-hydrogen production from wastewater" at its Science News Corner from today (September 23) to January 17, 2010. The exhibition, with information provided by Professor Herbert H P  Fang, Chair of Environmental Engineering of the Department of Civil Engineering at The University of Hong Kong, introduces the use of biological technology to produce hydrogen from wastewater. 

     Hydrogen is an ideal and environmentally friendly energy source. It has very high fuel value and produces only water upon combustion. Many economists and scientists believe that the economy of the 21st century will be powered by hydrogen, just as petroleum did in the 20th century and coal in the 19th century. Although petroleum had been used since the early 20th century for motor vehicles and airplanes, it took about 50 years for petroleum to overtake  coal as the main energy source for the world economy. Currently, using hydrogen is only at the embryonic stage. It is, however, believed that hydrogen will eventually replace petroleum as the main energy source for the world economy.

     Hydrogen can be used directly as fuel for internal combustion engines. Hydrogen cars and buses are already in use in Europe and America. It can also be used for airplanes as demonstrated by the Russians in the 1960s. Furthermore, converting hydrogen into energy is a mature technology in which hydrogen reacts with oxygen producing electricity at an ambient temperature. The full scale application of hydrogen as fuel is presently hampered by the lack of technologies for its safe storage and an infrastructure for its convenient supply to users. Today, hydrogen is mostly produced by gasification of fossil fuel or by electrolysis of water.

     Hydrogen can also be produced anaerobically by microorganisms under proper conditions. However, people can hardly detect hydrogen in the natural environment because the hydrogen produced is readily consumed by many hydrogen-consuming microorganisms which have developed the appetite. Researchers found that if engineers can control the anaerobic reactor condition to suppress the bioactivities of the hydrogen-consuming microorganisms, they should be able to harness hydrogen from wastewater.

     Energy and environmental protection are two of the most significant issues for sustainable development today. Hydrogen-producing treatment technology is still in its infancy. Environmental microbiologists are looking for new microorganisms with substantially higher energy recovery efficiency. Meanwhile, many research teams are developing various hybrid two-stage processes - generating bio-hydrogen from wastewater at the first stage and using phototrophic bacteria for further hydrogen production or the well-established methanogenic process at the second stage. A lot of work remains to be done, which may take another 10 to 20 years, for bio-hydrogen production from wastewater to become a widely accepted treatment technology.  

     The Science Museum is located at 2 Science Museum Road, Tsim Sha Tsui East. It opens from 1pm to 9pm from Monday to Wednesday and on Fridays, and from 10am to 9pm on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. It is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays). Admission is $25 with half-price concession for full-time students, people with disabilities and senior citizens aged 60 or above. Admission is free on Wednesdays.

     For enquiries, call 2732 3232 or visit the Science Museum's website at (

Ends/Wednesday, September 23, 2009

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