COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The stinky smell of garbage and sewage is hydrogen sulfide: a mixture of hydrogen and sulfur.

At Ohio State University, engineers are working on a chemical looping technology to separate the two elements, creating a clean fuel that can be used by industry and in cars.

The smelly by-product from garbage dumps and sewer treatment plants is often burned, creating the pollutant sulfur dioxide.

Dr. Liang-Shih Fan, Distinguished University Professor in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and his team created a chemical looping technology that separates out hydrogen sulfide into its components hydrogen and sulfur.

On their own, both elements are useful.

“Hydrogen sulfide, if you burn, it will produce sulfur dioxide, and that becomes a pollutant,” Fan said. “So what we are doing in this general scheme of the chemical looping technology, is to separate out hydrogen sulfide, and convert the hydrogen sulfide to sulphur and hydrogen.”

In Japan, there are already plans to use these fuel cells as clean energy in cars.

All animal products, including fossil fuels, contain sulfur. Separating out the hydrogen allows it to be used in fuel cells, which create the harmless by-product of water.

“Now there are some car companies already starting to commercialize using hydrogen to replace fossil fuels but it’s at the beginning stage still,” Fan said. “There are lots of technical challenges to solve, to realize using hydrogen as a fuel.”

There are potential industrial partners showing interest in the chemical looping process developed by the research team.

“The hydrogen is considered as a very interesting, very useful clean energy for the next generation because it will generate water, but burning fossil fuels makes sulfur dioxide,” said Lang Qin, Research Associate 1-Engineer, Chemical, and Biomolecular Engineering Lecturer, Engineering Education.

Ph.D. student Kalyani Jamgam said the chemical looping process creates a breakthrough.

“We can take that gas and put it into our system and specifically convert hydrogen sulfide out of it,” Jamgam said.