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The team used xylose -- a simple plant sugar

Virginia Tech researchers have found a way to produce large amounts of hydrogen inexpensively using a simple plant sugar.

Y.H. Percival Zhang, study leader and an associate professor of biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech, and his team have produced large quantities of hydrogen in an effort to lessen the dependence of fossil fuels.

Zhang and his team used xylose in the study, which is a sugar first isolated from wood. Not only is this form of hydrogen production inexpensive and environmentally friendly, but it can also occur using any source of biomass. 

Up until now, producing hydrogen gas from biomass was a costly process that didn't yield very much in the end.

For this study, Zhang and his team liberated the hydrogen under normal atmospheric pressure and mild reaction conditions at 122 degrees. A group of enzymes -- which were isolated from various microorganisms at extreme temperatures -- were used as biocatalysts to release the hydrogen.

The team used xylose to release the hydrogen, which hasn't been used much in the past because most scientists use natural or engineered microorganisms. These cannot create large quantities of hydrogen because the microorganisms grow and reproduce instead of splitting water molecules for the creation of pure hydrogen.

The energy stored in Xylose splits water molecules, thus creating very pure hydrogen that can be used by proton-exchange membrane fuel cells.

The team separated some of the enzymes from their native microorganisms to create a special enzyme mixture.  When the enzymes were combined with xylose and a polyphosphate, a large amount of hydrogen was liberated from the xylose.

In fact, the team produced about three times as much hydrogen as other hydrogen-producing microorganisms.

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

Source: Virginia Tech News

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Hydrogen is a dead end
By zephyrprime on 4/8/2013 12:00:30 PM , Rating: 2
So long as you are splitting water, you are producing hydrogen AND oxygen. Wasting 50% of your energy producing oxygen is unacceptable. A process that wastes so much of it's energy is never going to revolutionize the world.

RE: Hydrogen is a dead end
By mindless1 on 4/11/2013 11:17:55 PM , Rating: 2
O'Rly? Do you suppose that over 50% of the solar energy striking the earth is turned into that petroleum that, well, revolutionized the world?

We don't have to be concerned about percentages, only about fiscal and environmental sustainability versus the inherent greed of man to choose the cheapest alternative regardless of these.

The real question isn't loss so much as what good is the energy trapped in biomass to us if we don't harvest it? The key is that one way or the other, the sustainable energy we use is coming from the sun. We can't count on finding another planet to rape within the next few hundreds of years, but until then we have several alternatives.

We can continue to use oil and natural gas, there is no impending doom in continuing to use them a few more decades unlike what the greenies suggest, but at the same time research into hydrogen is very important.

Otherwise, if you're burning all that hydrogen and want to keep the environment neutral, don't you suppose we'll need all that waste oxygen floating around to burn it? Seems like we NEED the oxygen to be liberated, it won't work well for long if we could magically turn water into only H2 without the O.

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