Researchers at Virginia Tech University have discovered a way to derive large quantities of hydrogen from any plant. This technological breakthrough could mean a significant leap in lowering the cost of hydrogen fuel cells, but also lower the carbon footprint of hydrogen extraction.
The researchers found that the key lies in xylose, a simple plant sugar which is most abundant in plants. The researchers found a way to use xylose to produce hydrogen, a previously considered theory that now has been put into practice. Because xylose comprises as much as 30 percent of plant cell walls, this new process can attain hydrogen from any type of biomass.
According to the university, the process can be done at low temperatures, generating more hydrogen energy than the chemical energy stored in the xylose and polyphosphate and creating an energy efficiency of more than 100 percent. This means that low temperature waste heat from other processes could be used to produce hydrogen using this method, making it even more environmentally-friendly.
“It really doesn’t make sense to use non-renewable natural resources to produce hydrogen,” lead researcher Y.H. Percival Zhang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering said. “We think this discovery is a game-changer in the world of alternative energy.”