Novel Production Process for Renewable Hydrogen from Animal and Human Waste

Lead Research Organisation: Coventry University
Department Name: Ins for Future Transport & Cities


The development and upscaling of renewable hydrogen sources are a prerequisite if the UK is to effectively help solve the energy 'trilemma' of reducing emissions from electricity generation, improving security of supply and reducing costs. Hydrogen is seen as an alternative clean energy source to replace polluting traditional fuels however, 95 % of the world's hydrogen is derived from non-renewable fuels. Alternative renewable sources of hydrogen are required. This feasibility project brings academia and industry together to develop a combined biological / electrochemical process to convert animal and human waste to renewable hydrogen. It will focus on removing technical barriers which are limiting scale up and commercialisation. Success will lead to significant electricity generation from abundant, low value, polluting waste streams and the development of the process will open the way for the technology to be exploited in other overseas markets and other industry sectors such as food manufacturing and processing.

Planned Impact

Success of this project will provide new information to allow the partners to determine if each of the processes involved can be improved sufficiently to produce an economically, environmentally and socially attractive source of renewable hydrogen.
It will enable academic and industrial process developers to identify any further developments necessary to optimise the physical, bio-, electrochemical and mass transfer processes occurring. Project results will guide both academic researchers and commercial equipment designers and fabricators in modifications needed for each hardware.
It will provide further information to commercial system integrators and vendors about the capabilities required from implementable installations and of the commercial opportunity. Businesses with waste streams will learn more about how they can benefit from increased management of these to reduce costs and improve competitiveness. Overall this project will lead to improvement in the understanding by all partners of the sustainability opportunities presented by utilisation of a particular renewable, low cost, energy feedstock.

Outside the project and the academic audience the project results will be of interest to
1. The farming community and it supporting organisations (such as DEFRA, National Farmers Union, National Pig Association), which can benefit from reductions in its own energy requirements and from new or increased revenues from feeding hydrogen derived electricity into the grid.
2. Animal welfare groups , including the UK governments Animal and Plant Health Agency, because the reduction of ammonia levels around pigs is expected to also reduce the occurrence of respiratory illnesses and as a consequence reduce the requirement for antibiotics - this is also a financial and human health consideration
3. Environmental groups as the impact of the release of unprocessed waste will be reduced.
4. Other Water Utilities businesses and its supporting organisations (such as British Water and the Future Water Organisation) which can benefit from reductions in their own energy requirements and increase their generation of renewable energy.

Pig farming and water treatment are global activities. There are opportunities, especially in livestock farming, to spread the benefits commercially or as Aid and support (or as 2nd generation and cheaper technology) to developing countries through DFID activities - countries in South East Asia (eg Cambodia) and also China have very large pig production industries.


10 25 50
Description We have discovered through this funded research that:
(1) UK wastewater treatment generates significant quantities of ammonia which is expensive to destroy
(2) UK agricultural sector also generates substantial quantities of ammonia which is emitted during storage and spreading onto the land
(3) Ammonia is a potential hydrogen source
(4) A process for converting ammonia to hydrogen is feasible if the correct end use for hydrogen is targeted.
Exploitation Route Findings are of great interest to the UK water treatment and agricultural sectors. End users in the project are keen to pursue further development of the technology to demonstrator level so that an improved full techno-economic assessment can be made. Members of the consortium are working together to pursue further funding opportunities so that higher TRLs can be achieved.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Energy,Environment

Description We have found that it is possible to generate hydrogen from municipal and agricultural waste streams. The associated technology is currently the subject of a patent application.
Description CE-SC5-04-2019 REWAISE REsilient WAter Innovation for Smart Economy
Amount € 14,984,657 (EUR)
Funding ID EU869496 
Organisation European Commission H2020 
Sector Public
Country Belgium
Start 07/2020 
End 07/2025
Description Match funded PhD studentship with Severn Trent Water 
Organisation Severn Trent Water
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution I am the Director of Studies for the research project and the second supervisor is the Research Associate who was employed on the H-AM project. We have used the expertise and intellectual knowledge we acquired from the H-AM project to establish the collaboration with Severn Trent and set-up this first match-funded PhD between the two companies. The PhD researcher is in their first year of study and the outcomes of the H-AM project have given them a good foundation to start their PhD research. The supervisory team has trained the researcher in electrochemical techniques, electron microscopy and electrochemical cell engineering and the equipment procured for the H-AM project is been used to support their experimental activities. The DoS also sends the partner occasional updates, articles and papers which he feels are relevant and of interest.
Collaborator Contribution An industrial supervisor from Severn Trent Water sits on the supervisory team. They attend PhD update meetings when they can and provide expertise on the water treatment process where it is needed to support the project work. Their attendance also demonstrates the importance of the project and the fit with their strategic program. Severn Trent Water also organised a tour of their largest municipal water treatment facility for the supervisory team which provided a useful insight into the water treatment operation and highlighted the need and potential benefits of the research project. Severn Trent also invited us to join the REWAISE consortium. This has been successful and has been funded by the European Commission.
Impact H2020 funding from European Commission EU 869496 REWAISE Project
Start Year 2019
Title Methods of manufacturing hydrogen 
Description A method of manufacturing hydrogen comprises the steps of: (a) converting urea from the excreta of livestock into ammonia; and/or providing human sewage and/or food waste containing ammonia; and/or converting urea from human sewage and/or food waste into ammonia; (b) stripping ammonia from the livestock excreta, human sewage and/or food waste; and (c) converting the ammonia to hydrogen via electrolysis. Preferably, the livestock is pigs. A ureolytic enzyme, such as urease 12, may be used to convert urea to ammonia. The human sewage and/or food waste can comprise ammonia in the form of ammonium ions in solution. The ammonia may be stripped in step (b) using a desorption process. The electrolysis may comprise electrooxidation of ammonia coupled with electrolysis of water. The electrolysis may be performed in an electrolyser 24 comprising a metal oxide film anode and a steel-based or nickel-based cathode. The electrolyser can be connected to a micro fuel cell 30, wherein the fuel cell may be capable of converting hydrogen produced in the electrolyser into electricity 32 and heat 34. 
IP Reference GB2571413 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2019
Licensed No
Impact Other patents applied for.