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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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RE: One problem...
By JediJeb on 4/8/2013 6:24:31 PM , Rating: 4
the flammability of hydrogen. This moves forward on the production side of the issue. We still need to deal with how to store it safely.

I have worked with cylinders of compressed hydrogen for over 20 years in the lab and never had any problems. My college professor made a perfect statement about using hydrogen as a fuel for vehicles; if you rupture a hydrogen tank you release the hydrogen and it rises, if it ignites you get a fireball above the vehicle, if you rupture a tank of gasoline you release the fuel and it makes a puddle under the vehicle, if it catches fire, well your cooked.

If either explodes violently you are dead either way. Precautions handling both are similar for keeping things safe. Possibly the biggest worry with hydrogen is that it is both invisible and odorless, which would make a leak more difficult to find, but even in the lab we have leak detection systems for such things.

Fill a balloon with hydrogen and put a match to it(from a distance of course) and you get a loud pop and a flame that lasts a few seconds at most, put a few ounces of gasoline in a gallon jug and do the same, you get a pop that tears the jug apart and you get a flame spread out over everywhere the gas flew that can burn for several minutes until all the gasoline is gone. Of course everyone tries to bring up the Hindenburg fire, but if you look at those films it doesn't burn very long at all, and can you say it is any worse than the fires produced when an airplane crash lands and catches fire? The plane usually burns much longer. The safety aspect of using hydrogen as a fuel for vehicles in either a combustion role or fuel cell role is something that can be overcome with a little engineering, but the public perception of the safety aspect will need lots of media hype to overcome, just like that of nuclear energy.

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