CRAZY WEDNESDAY: EGG-STRA, EGG-STRA, EGG-STRA…

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Researchers of the department of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Ohio State University have come up with a innovative idea to improve the process by which hydrogen is manufactured for automotive fuel cells. The real ingenuity, though, is the that three problems are solved for the price of one.

Professor L S Fan and a former doctoral student were looking at ways in which an existing process, called the water-gas-shift reaction, could be made more efficient and economical. The method involves first turning fossil fuels such as coal into gas, to produce carbon monoxide gas, and then combining the carbon monoxide with water to produce carbon dioxide and hydrogen. The problem is then how to get rid of the carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas.

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The new idea is to use eggshells from ordinary chickens to absorb the carbon dioxide. Egg shells are are mostly composed of calcium carbonate, which can be heated to produce calcium oxide, which will absorb carbon dioxide. In fact, from equal starting weights of calcium carbonate and carbon dioxide, the eggshell would absorb 78 percent of the carbon dioxide, which makes it the most efficient absorber ever tested.

That’s pretty clever, but as well as making the hydrogen production process less polluting, but it also finds a commercial use for eggshells, where currently there is none. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the US produced nearly 91 billion eggs in 2006, which means that potentially about 455,000 tons of shell per year that currently end up in landfill could be used in hydrogen production.

Finally, the third effect is that Fan and his team had to come up with an idea for how to remove the membrane inside the eggshell before it can be ground up and used in hydrogen production. Their patent includes a method of removing it using an organic acid. This membrane is about 10 percent collagen, which is very important to the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. Used medically to help in skin regrowth of burns victims, just one gramme sells for about $1000.

So there you are – brilliant, isn’t it? I always thought it was so clever of chickens to lay such lovely objects anyway, and then when they’re so good to eat, that’s even better. Now it turns out there’s almost no end to the egg-cellence of eggs!

Amanda

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