Photo: Courtesy of Lee Petersen
 Researchers from Ascent Power Systems examine a large-area fuel cell component.

Could the world's waste--peanut shells from Georgia, coconut shells from the Philippines, pig-farm waste from China, or even left-over gas from Japanese-beer kegs--be the answer to the next energy crisis? Probably not, but a number of companies and individuals are touting the benefits in a variety of ways. Talk abounds about fuel cells and the "hydrogen economy," spurred by recent announcements that cars running on fuel cells will soon reach the market.

"The first fuel-cell cars will be out in the road in six months," says Kelvin Hecht, a consultant for United Technologies Co. (UTC) Fuel Cells in South Windsor, Conn., and chair of the national and international committees for writing safety standards for fuel cells. Although fuel cells are touted as major future sources of energy, powering everything from homes and...

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