Tuesday, 7 April 2015

New Hydrogen fuel research breakthrough could end dependence on fossil fuels

Researchers from Virginia Tech have discovered a
new biological way of creating hydrogen fuel that
takes a lot less time and is much cheaper, which
could be a breakthrough to help end the human
race's dependence on fossil fuels.
Hydrogen fuel is a green fuel that has almost zero
carbon emissions, and at the moment, it is
produced primarily using high processed sugars.
It costs a great deal to produce the gas in large
enough quantities for it to be used in fuel cell
vehicles, and it is also a challenge just to transfer
the gas into fuel cells.
Instead, the Virginia Tech method involves using
dirty biomass, i.e. the husks, cobs and stalks of
corn plants in order to create the fuel. This
means that it is much cheaper to produce the fuel
and means that processing plants that make other
corn-based products could also make the fuel
and use it to power their operations.
Using glucose and xylose simultaneously
The researchers' findings, entitled " High-yield
hydrogen production from biomass by in vitro
metabolic engineering: Mixed sugars coutilization
and kinetic modeling " are published in the journal
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
"This means we have demonstrated the most
important step toward a hydrogen economy –
producing distributed and affordable green
hydrogen from local biomass resources," said
Percival Zhang, a professor in Virginia Tech's
Department of Biological Systems Engineering.
Zhang's former doctoral student Joe Rollin used a
genetic algorithm along with a series of complex
mathematical expressions to analyse each step of
the enzymatic process that breaks down the
unwanted parts of the corn plant into hydrogen
and carbon dioxide.
He was able to make the system make use of
both glucose and xylose at the same time, which
increases the rate at which the hydrogen is
released. Typically in biological conversions,
these two sugars can only be used sequentially,
not simultaneously, which adds time and money
to the process.
Much faster than hydrogen production today
Using Rollin's method, the new system for
creating hydrogen fuel increased reaction rates
threefold and the system requires a facility about
the size of a petrol station, which is much smaller
than hydrogen fuel production facilities today.
Also, by using a cell-free artificial enzymatic
pathway, the researchers were able to increase
and break the natural limit of hydrogen-producing
microorganisms threefold, and also increase
enzymatic generation rates so that reaction rates
were 10 times faster than the fastest photo-
hydrogen production system currently in the
The next step for the researchers will be to
increase production of the hydrogen fuel using
their method to a demonstrable size to prove the
costs work out for mass production.
"We believe this exciting technology has the
potential to enable the widespread use of
hydrogen fuel cell vehicles around the world and
displace fossil fuels," said Rollin.
Picture: Virginia Tech researchers Joe Rollin (left) and
Professor Percival Zhang (right) have discovered
a much cheaper way to produce hydrogen fuel
that could revolutionise the cars of tomorrow
(Virginia Tech)


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