Enzyme cocktail converts cellulosic materials, water into hydrogen fuel

Feb 11, 2009

Tomorrow's fuel-cell vehicles may be powered by enzymes that consume cellulose from woodchips or grass and exhale hydrogen.

Researchers at Virginia Tech, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and the University of Georgia have produced hydrogen gas pure enough to power a fuel cell by mixing 14 enzymes, one coenzyme, cellulosic materials from nonfood sources, and water heated to about 90 degrees (32 C).

The group announced three advances from their "one pot" process: 1) a novel combination of enzymes, 2) an increased hydrogen generation rate -- to as fast as natural hydrogen fermentation, and 3) a chemical energy output greater than the chemical energy stored in sugars - the highest hydrogen yield reported from cellulosic materials. "In addition to converting the chemical energy from the sugar, the process also converts the low-temperature thermal energy into high-quality hydrogen energy - like Prometheus stealing fire," said Percival Zhang, assistant professor of biological systems engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech.

"It is exciting because using cellulose instead of starch expands the renewable resource for producing hydrogen to include biomass," said Jonathan Mielenz, leader of the Bioconversion Science and Technology Group at ORNL.

The researchers used cellulosic materials isolated from wood chips, but crop waste or switchgrass could also be used. "If a small fraction - 2 or 3 percent - of yearly biomass production were used for sugar-to-hydrogen fuel cells for transportation, we could reach transportation fuel independence," Zhang said. (He added that the 3 percent figure is for global transportation needs. The U.S. would actually need to convert about 10 percent of biomass - which would be 1.3 billion tons of usable biomass).

More information:

The most recent research is published in the Wiley journal ChemSusChem (Chemistry and Sustainability), in the article "Spontaneous High-Yield Production of Hydrogen from Cellulosic Materials and Water Catalyzed by Enzyme Cocktails," by Virginia Tech student Xinhao Ye and post doctoral associate Yiran Wang, both in biological systems engineering; Robert C. Hopkins and Michael W. W. Adams of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Georgia; Barbara R. Evans and Mielenz of the ORNL Chemical Sciences and Biosciences Divisions, respectively; and Zhang. (www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/114278546/home)

Learn more about Zhang's work at filebox.vt.edu/users/ypzhang/research.htm .

Source: Virginia Tech

Explore further: Researchers develop a novel device to image the minute forces and actions involved in cell membrane hemifusion

Related Stories

Hubble observes one-of-a-kind star nicknamed 'Nasty'

May 21, 2015

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have uncovered surprising new clues about a hefty, rapidly aging star whose behavior has never been seen before in our Milky Way galaxy. In fact, the star is ...

Researchers exploring spintronics in graphene

May 06, 2015

Electronics is based on the manipulation of electrons and other charge carriers, but in addition to charge, electrons possess a property known as spin. When spin is manipulated with magnetic and electric ...

The history and development of batteries

Apr 30, 2015

Batteries are so ubiquitous today that they're almost invisible to us. Yet they are a remarkable invention with a long and storied history, and an equally exciting future.

Recommended for you

New chip makes testing for antibiotic-resistant bacteria faster, easier

15 hours ago

We live in fear of 'superbugs': infectious bacteria that don't respond to treatment by antibiotics, and can turn a routine hospital stay into a nightmare. A 2015 Health Canada report estimates that superbugs have already cost Canadians $1 billion, and are a "serious and growing issue." Each year two million people in the U.S. contract antibiotic-re ...

Researchers find 'decoder ring' powers in micro RNA

17 hours ago

MicroRNA can serve as a "decoder ring" for understanding complex biological processes, a team of New York University chemists has found. Their study, which appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, points ...

DNA mutations get harder to hide

20 hours ago

Rice University researchers have developed a method to detect rare DNA mutations with an approach hundreds of times more powerful than current methods.

Use your smartphone for biosensing

22 hours ago

An Australian research team has shown that smartphones can be reconfigured as cost-effective, portable bioanalytical devices, with details reported in the latest edition of the Open Access Journal 'Sensors'.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

DonR
5 / 5 (1) Feb 11, 2009
I would have thought that we could get a greater yield from the bio-mass by producing the hydrogen in 'factories' and then powering the fuel cells with the harvested hydrogen.

This article seems to indicate we'll all have something akin to a "Mr Fusion" (ref: Back to the Future, Part II) attached to our cars.
NeilFarbstein
2.5 / 5 (2) Feb 11, 2009
somebody has suggested using glucose dehydrogenase to make hydrogen from glucose stored in fuel tanks.
That's a lot simpler than using a mix of 14 different enzymes.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.