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New Process Produces Hydrogen from Any Biomass

Virginia Tech University researchers have discovered a process for producing large quantities of hydrogen from virtually any plant material, making it a very real possibility that the cheap clean fuel of the future is hydrogen.

An associate professor at the university, Y.H. Percival Zhang, along with his team, has successfully used xylose, a plant sugar, to produce hydrogen in large quantities, a method possible using any source of biomass.

“Our new process could help end our dependence on fossil fuels. Hydrogen is one of the most important biofuels of the future.” – Zhang

While the process was possible in theory before, the process has now been proven to be viable, and could help usher in the “hydrogen economy”.

Other attempts at hydrogen production have ended up creating greenhouse gasses and being expensive, but this new process is not only less costly, but uses a reaction that occurs at low temperatures:

“The energy stored in xylose splits water molecules, yielding high-purity hydrogen that can be directly utilized by proton-exchange membrane fuel cells. Even more appealing, this reaction occurs at low temperatures, generating hydrogen energy that is greater than the chemical energy stored in xylose and the polyphosphate. This results in an energy efficiency of more than 100 percent — a net energy gain. That means that low-temperature waste heat can be used to produce high-quality chemical energy hydrogen for the first time. Other processes that convert sugar into biofuels such as ethanol and butanol always have energy efficiencies of less than 100 percent, resulting in an energy penalty.” – VaTech

With the commercial market for hydrogen now sitting at around $100 billion for hydrogen produced from natural gas, (expensive to manufacture and generates a large amount of carbon dioxide), the introduction of a plentiful and clean source of hydrogen could have a big impact.

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