Supplanting Fossil Fuels With Hydrogen Fuel
The Virginia Tech football team may be having a tough season, but scientists at the Blacksburg, Virginia institution have been making up for it through the discovery of a new way to extract hydrogen from plants, possibly heralding in a post fossil fuel age.
The group led by Y.H. Percival Zhang has been working on the project since 2006, announced progress in the Angewandte Chemie journal in mid-2013 and yesterday (September 15, 2014) published a paper validating the teams’ approach.
Many multinational companies in the automobile, oil and energy industries are hard at work at developing hydrogen fuel cells and some believe hydrogen has the potential to replace fossil fuels at the center of the world economy. If this is the case the size of the hydrogen market in the United States alone would be $1 trillion per year.
Hydrogen: As Environmentally Friendly As Water
Zhang, associate professor of Biological Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering says “hydrogen is one of the most important biofuels of the future.”
Zhang’s process uses xylose, the second most abundant simple sugar in plants, to produce a large quantity of hydrogen. The breakthrough is environmentally friendly and uses renewable natural resources. At the same time, the process does not release any greenhouse gases and does not require any expensive metals to produce.
Zhang’s team has benefited from their focus on finding “nontraditional” methods of producing high-yield hydrogen at low cost. In their technique, the team liberates hydrogen at 122° and normal atmospheric pressure while biocatalysts are used to release the hydrogen.
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