Breakthrough in hydrogen fuel production could revolutionize alternative energy market

Apr 03, 2013
Credit: Virginia Tech

A team of Virginia Tech researchers has discovered a way to extract large quantities of hydrogen from any plant, a breakthrough that has the potential to bring a low-cost, environmentally friendly fuel source to the world.

"Our new process could help end our dependence on fossil fuels," said Y.H. Percival Zhang, an associate professor of engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering. " is one of the most important biofuels of the future."

Zhang and his team have succeeded in using xylose, the most abundant simple plant sugar, to produce a large quantity of hydrogen that previously was attainable only in theory. Zhang's method can be performed using any source of biomass.

The discovery is a featured editor's choice in an online version of the chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

This new environmentally friendly method of utilizes , releases almost no zero , and does not require costly or . Previous methods to produce hydrogen are expensive and create .

The U.S. Department of says that has the potential to dramatically reduce reliance of fossil fuels and automobile manufactures are aggressively trying to develop vehicles that run on . Unlike gas-powered engines that spew out pollutants, the only of hydrogen fuel is water. Zhang's discovery opens the door to an inexpensive, of hydrogen.

Jonathan R. Mielenz, group leader of the bioscience and technology biosciences division at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, who is familiar with Zhang's work but not affiliated with this project, said this discovery has the potential to have a major impact on alternative energy production.

"The key to this exciting development is that Zhang is using the second most prevalent sugar in plants to produce this hydrogen," he said. "This amounts to a significant additional benefit to hydrogen production and it reduces the overall cost of producing hydrogen from biomass."

Mielenz said Zhang's process could find its way to the marketplace as quickly as three years if the technology is available. Zhang said when it does become commercially available, it has the possibility of making an enormous impact.

High yield: Cell-free enzyme cascade makes hydrogen from xylose

"The potential for profit and environmental benefits are why so many automobile, oil, and energy companies are working on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as the transportation of the future," Zhang said. "Many people believe we will enter the hydrogen economy soon, with a market capacity of at least $1 trillion in the United States alone."

Obstacles to commercial production of hydrogen gas from biomass previously included the high cost of the processes used and the relatively low quantity of the end product.

But Zhang thinks he has found the answers to those problems.

For seven years, Zhang's team has been focused on finding non-traditional ways to produce high-yield hydrogen at low cost, specifically researching enzyme combinations, discovering novel enzymes, and engineering enzymes with desirable properties.

The team liberates the high-purity hydrogen under mild reaction conditions at 122 degree Fahrenheit and normal atmospheric pressure. The biocatalysts used to release the hydrogen are a group of enzymes artificially isolated from different microorganisms that thrive at extreme temperatures, some of which could grow at around the boiling point of water.

The researchers chose to use xylose, which comprises as much as 30 percent of plant cell walls. Despite its abundance, the use of xylose for releasing hydrogen has been limited. The natural or engineered microorganisms that most scientists use in their experiments cannot produce hydrogen in high yield because these microorganisms grow and reproduce instead of splitting water molecules to yield pure hydrogen.

To liberate the hydrogen, Virginia Tech scientists separated a number of enzymes from their native microorganisms to create a customized enzyme cocktail that does not occur in nature. The enzymes, when combined with xylose and a polyphosphate, liberate the unprecedentedly high volume of hydrogen from xylose, resulting in the production of about three times as much hydrogen as other hydrogen-producing microorganisms.

The energy stored in xylose splits water molecules, yielding high-purity hydrogen that can be directly utilized by proton-exchange membrane fuel cells. Even more appealing, this reaction occurs at low temperatures, generating hydrogen energy that is greater than the chemical energy stored in xylose and the polyphosphate. This results in an energy efficiency of more than 100 percent—a net energy gain. That means that low-temperature waste heat can be used to produce high-quality chemical energy hydrogen for the first time. Other processes that convert sugar into biofuels such as ethanol and butanol always have energy efficiencies of less than 100 percent, resulting in an energy penalty.

In his previous research, Zhang used enzymes to produce hydrogen from starch, but the reaction required a food source that made the process too costly for mass production.

The commercial market for hydrogen gas is now around $100 billion for hydrogen produced from natural gas, which is expensive to manufacture and generates a large amount of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Industry most often uses hydrogen to manufacture ammonia for fertilizers and to refine petrochemicals, but an inexpensive, plentiful green hydrogen source can rapidly change that market.

"It really doesn't make sense to use non-renewable natural resources to produce hydrogen," Zhang said. "We think this discovery is a game-changer in the world of alternative energy."

Explore further: Ionic liquids open door to better rare-earth materials processing

More information: Julia S. Martín del Campo et al. High-Yield Production of Dihydrogen from Xylose by Using a Synthetic Enzyme Cascade in a Cell-Free System, Angewandte Chemie International Edition, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10… e.201300766/abstract

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User comments : 36

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Ober
2 / 5 (5) Apr 03, 2013
WOW, no comments on this???
This sounds awesome!!!!!
Steven_Anderson
1.6 / 5 (7) Apr 03, 2013
This is incredible, anyone actually seen the work and know more details? If this pans out to be true, then it is truley revolutionary. I look forward to reading the comments. Hopefully someone can point to an articlre with more details. http://rawcell.com
NoTennisNow
1.7 / 5 (6) Apr 03, 2013
but, where oh where does the carbon go?
Shakescene21
3 / 5 (6) Apr 04, 2013
@NoTennisNow -- The carbon from the biomass feedstock probably goes into the atmosphere, but this is carbon neutral, since the production of more biomass will strip CO2 from the atmosphere. This is in contrast to the current carbon-positive method, which derives hydrogen from natural gas and spews out large amounts of fossil-fuel-derived CO2.
Koen
1.4 / 5 (18) Apr 04, 2013
There is no such thing as a "greenhouse gas"; no atmospheric gas can stop hot air convection flow like the glas of a greenhouse, which is essential for the greenhouse effect. Secondly, some extra man made CO2 does not cause global warming at all. Statistics should not be confused with the physics of cause and effect.
A replacement of fossil fuel frees us from global dictatorship, so 'they' push the WWIII agenda in order to prevent this. I hope blacklightpower.com can deliver the CIHT cell in time to all of us. Mills and also Don Borghi are right: the hydrino exists and also p e field-energy -> n reactions (creation of neutrons).
Mike_Massen
2.6 / 5 (10) Apr 04, 2013
@Koen
Its not about 'stopping' heat escaping its about reducing it, some gasses are more effective than others, consequently its appropriate to label CO2 as a greenhouse gas 'comparatively' to oxygen and nitrogen. Check the known and well understood properties of CO2 at all levels and according to generation, distribution and rate of increase overall.

Follow the causality, the permutations and the probability, there is a high probability CO2, methane and hydrogen are much more effective in retaining heat than oxygen and nitrogen and we know where a huge amount of CO2 has been coming from for at least two hundreds years...

This is a Science site not a soapbox for your narrow propaganda, ok !
JRi
3 / 5 (2) Apr 04, 2013
The abstract says the yield of H2 is approaching 100%. The process needs water, and CO2 is the side product.
So, if they can keep the cost of the cocktail of required 13 enzymes low enough, this could potentially be something more than just snake oil.
betterexists
1 / 5 (6) Apr 04, 2013
So, wait for 3 years with your fingers crossed. They started with using Starch (Obviously Expensive) and settled on Weed Plants....I mean any plant available. Clean Energy...That is what makes it Lucrative. Enzymes....Key of Life....Alternative to Gigantic, Sophisticated Industries.
Sonhouse
4.5 / 5 (4) Apr 04, 2013
So it looks like hydrogen is going to be an explosive market!
hangman04
1.8 / 5 (5) Apr 04, 2013
Almost too good to be true :).
alfie_null
5 / 5 (3) Apr 04, 2013
There is no such thing as a "greenhouse gas"; no atmospheric gas can stop hot air convection flow like the glas of a greenhouse, which is essential for the greenhouse effect.

Your understanding of how thermal energy moves around is flawed. For instance, if by convection, what happens to all that hot air? Where it flows, up towards space, there's nothing to conduct the heat out of all that hot air. Maybe then by radiation (IR). Though, if we allow for IR radiation, we have to allow for reflection. Maybe some substances reflect IR better than others. Maybe some gases do. For the sake of argument, let's call them greenhouse gases.
kanizai
1 / 5 (2) Apr 04, 2013
I'm intrigued that whenever anyone mentions hydrogen as a fuel for cars, they always couple it with "fuel cells." Internal combustion engines can be tooled to run on hydrogen just fine, and prototypes have been doing so for 60 years. You can even convert an existing gasoline-powered engine to use hydrogen. Back in the eighties I had a friend whose pickup truck ran on hydrogen, and I once met an engineer who helped develop one in 1956. He was puzzled that his company (I think it was Ford) chose not to pursue this option, probably because gas was so cheap and global warming hadn't become an issue. No need for fancy fuel cell technology to create hydrogen fuel cars.
Mike_Massen
1 / 5 (4) Apr 04, 2013
kanizai mumbled something like propaganda with
No need for fancy fuel cell technology to create hydrogen fuel cars.
So the fact that hydrogen (gas) displaces air to a rather high degree didnt come into it at all ????

Judgeking
5 / 5 (1) Apr 04, 2013
This all seems dependent on his 'enzymes'. I'd like to see the cost per litre of that before I get too excited.
ScooterG
1 / 5 (6) Apr 04, 2013
The main problem with biofuels in any form is, they do drain the soil from mineral (the sulphur, phosphorus and nitrogen in particular), which must be recycled, or the soil will become depleted,


If the byproduct can be fed to livestock or plowed back in as green manure, we've solved that problem, no??
ScooterG
1 / 5 (6) Apr 04, 2013
This is the type of research we need to be dedicating our limited resources towards, not whether AGW-induced wind in the face of Boston Marathon runners might slow their times.
monger
not rated yet Apr 05, 2013
There is no such thing as a "greenhouse gas"; no atmospheric gas can stop hot air convection flow like the glas of a greenhouse, which is essential for the greenhouse effect. Secondly, some extra man made CO2 does not cause global warming at all.


Tell that to venus.
dabbler
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 05, 2013
I read the published scientific paper and it is too good to be true for instant on-demand hydrogen generation or production. However it is very suited to storage or stockpile production methods which does solve the net energy loss of normal dihydrogen oxide separation to get fuel hydrogen but still leaves us with the storage and volatility issues of that molecular hydrogen. What is going to be the deciding factor of its success and viability is the issue of the necessary catalysts and bio-catalysts. Is the energy production return greater and more economical per unit production versus cost of the required chain or cascade of catalyst or initiators and is the waste products clean-up and recovery sustainable and economical? This bio-reaction does NOT merely produce CO2 and H20 unlike the glossy rosy hype painted in this less than accurate news article as the reaction uses polyphosphates that produce phosphate by byproduct or waste output as part of the chemical reactions.
dabbler
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 05, 2013
Also why do we keep getting all these hyping mentions of the pseudo-science of cold-fusion again and again posed as a detractor to tear down a real-world actual reaction process that does actually produce useful energy potential? I have read some science about lower energy fusion reactions and the real science is a long way from the delusional banter being barfed out here over and over about suppression of the "most revolutionary" energy production method ever crappola etc etc... While there is some real science and studies about apparent anomalous-to-majority-held-conventions of nuclear physics of lower energy nuclear core fusion processes that are real and verified it is very very far far away from anything resembling a self-sustaining positive net energy gain reaction process or methodology. We are going on what 2-3-4 years plus and counting on that A.Rossi and posse's LENR facility charade with no proof or verifications as of yet. Seems to speak for itself in that regards.
katesisco
1 / 5 (6) Apr 05, 2013
What happens to the highly reactive ox?
ScooterG
1 / 5 (6) Apr 05, 2013
The hydrogen also needs to be liquified easily in order to be practical for cost-effective distribution and to serve automotive use, otherwise you have much the same problems as CNG vehicles - limited filling stations and bulky, horrendously expensive high-pressure tanks that offer little range.

What we need is easily liquified natural gas, for the same reasons mentioned above - unless you're one of those who believe in the whole AGW thing.
Mike_Massen
1 / 5 (4) Apr 05, 2013
ScooterG mumbled more propaganda
...unless you're one of those who believe in the whole AGW thing.
Its not about belief as if there is a deity and an arbitrary canon. Its above evidence, start with the very well known properties of CO2 and other associated so called greenhouse gasses and extrapolate, its maths and modelling...!

This is a Science site, propose your arbitrary dogma elsewhere please, unless you have clear evidence current insolation is the dominant factor for warming when its clear insolation has reduced yet warming continues.
ScooterG
1 / 5 (7) Apr 05, 2013
ScooterG mumbled more propaganda
...unless you're one of those who believe in the whole AGW thing.
Its not about belief as if there is a deity and an arbitrary canon. Its above evidence, start with the very well known properties of CO2 and other associated so called greenhouse gasses and extrapolate, its maths and modelling...!

This is a Science site...


Huh???? You claim this is a science site, yet you claim [climate science] is "above evidence". LMAO

True science is all about evidence. That's the problem with AGW - it's not based on true science. AGW is above true science. It's "above evidence" (as you say). It's a faith-based phenomenon.

(The climate change portion of) Physorg is definitely a biased presentment in favor of AGW - this is proven by the complete lack of AGW-contrary articles..."Science site" my ass
Mike_Massen
1.8 / 5 (5) Apr 06, 2013
Sorry ScooterG I meant to say 'about evidence' *not* "above evidence", obviously nothing in any science is "above evidence" makes no sense as I explicitly refer to the EVIDENCE re the properties of CO2 (doh), you would have noticed that had you looked without a knee jerk reaction which appears typical of propagandists who claim AGW is a lie, its "About Evidence", so look at the evidence not just the gasses but also the distribution, sources etc etc.

I'm on several forums, iirc at the time I was also replying to an issue about "..the above evidence.." in respect of a post and slipped.

We all have feet of clay but, really ScooterG what idiot whether in Science or otherwise would ever say "Above Evidence" FFS ?

Shakes head !
Steven_Anderson
1 / 5 (6) Apr 07, 2013
Just in case anyone is interested I have added an article on this subject. My article contains a lot more information. For instance the process is 99 percent efficient and is able to produce 7.5 KW of power on 7KG of raw material. They also have a solution for Hydrogen storage and transport by using Carbohydrate storage. It's an excellent read. You wont be disappointed. http://rawcell.co...e-on-me/ It is a consolidation of articles from a dozen sources and is pleasantly written.
lonewolfmtnz
1 / 5 (3) Apr 07, 2013
IF 'true', Exxon-Mobile (et al) hit-teams have been vectored to Blacksburg, Virginia. Meanwhile, the Chinese have already 'made-off' with their copy of the formula.

EyeNStein
1 / 5 (6) Apr 07, 2013
If this process releases the C as CO2 then why make hydrogen? Leave the C in the final product and make fuel hydrocarbons. With a higher calorific value than hydrogen alone. At least the energy released `producing the CO2 propels the car.
_traw_at
1 / 5 (1) Apr 07, 2013
Use the C for use making nanocarbon materials and the like.
_traw_at
1 / 5 (1) Apr 07, 2013
When Carbonic acid (CO2-saturated water) is run through very finely ground Mg-rich olivine (fosterite) ((Mg,Fe)2,SiO4 ) heated to a relatively low temperature, the CO2 is absorbed by the metals in the mineral to create magnesium carbonate, silicon dioxide, and some iron oxides. The magnesium carbonate, etc, can be filtered out and used to produce a stronger form of concrete.
Research is ongoing on how to use Mg-rich olivine for carbon sequestration.
http://en.wikiped.../Olivine

Another process is to pump the CO2 into tall clear towers or ponds full of seawater and blue-green algae: being plants, the algae feed off the CO2. They can then be filtered out and dried or composted for use as a soil supplement. Plants to do this are already in operation in Spain, and there are now a number of commercial solar algae ponds in the US Southwest producing algae for conversion to biofuels.
I think the later will eventually fail because of water evapouration rates.
Steven_Anderson
1 / 5 (6) Apr 07, 2013
_traw_at / EyeNStein that is an interesting method of coming up with a net negative CO2 output. When we consider that the plants used to create the H2 absorb the CO2, with that added feature we would have a negative CO2 footprint. There was a similar idea to use steel ash to make concrete that lasts for 50 years and is something like 10 times stronger. It would make sense to pave the roads with concrete, it would outlast easily the blacktop the US currently uses. http://rawcell.com
Osiris1
1 / 5 (3) Apr 08, 2013
Yes, internal combustion engines can be 'tooled to work with H2 fuel....' But why do that when fuel cells are so much more efficient. The fresh air carnot cycle for internal combustion engines like the Otto Cycle engines in use today are about 5% efficient. That is a terrible number! Yet it is straight out of my thermodynamics classes at university! Fuel cell tech is far more efficient so is the way to go. Even with very cheap h2, we are releasing heat into the environment as a waste product with the Otto Cycle internal combustion engine.
EyeNStein
1 / 5 (6) Apr 08, 2013
(If the CO2 can be recovered to make stronger concrete then the place to do that is at the cement works where huge amounts of CO2 are driven off from limestone to make cement powder.)
Shootist
1 / 5 (7) Apr 09, 2013
@NoTennisNow -- The carbon from the biomass feedstock probably goes into the atmosphere, but this is carbon neutral, since the production of more biomass will strip CO2 from the atmosphere. This is in contrast to the current carbon-positive method, which derives hydrogen from natural gas and spews out large amounts of fossil-fuel-derived CO2.


Which is turned into life which is sequestered into the mantle where, on the way it it turned into coal, petroleum, limestone and natural gas.

"The polar bears will be fine." - Freeman Dyson
Mike_Massen
1.8 / 5 (5) Apr 10, 2013
Shootist lumbered through complete misunderstanding of relative time scales for natural processes with this bark
Which is turned into life which is sequestered into the mantle where, on the way it it turned into coal, petroleum, limestone and natural gas.

"The polar bears will be fine." - Freeman Dyson


So you guess its ok to burn 200 million years of fossil fuels in a few hundred years and have no short or long term consequences such as:-
- rising sea levels
- plants shifting their equilibrium to produce cyanogens affecting food supplies
- acidification of the sea also affecting food supplies
- greater energy in storm systems affecting habitats and food supplies
etc etc
Anthony E_E_
1 / 5 (6) Apr 10, 2013
I'll bet anyone on here any amount of money that the oil industry will suppress this information and it will never leave the laboratory. This will be the one and only time you ever even hear about it before they remove it from the web and bury every record of this ever happening. So take what information from this that you can and find a way to produce it on your own. It will never make it to commercial production, at least not in the United States of Exxon
Mike_Massen
1 / 5 (4) Apr 10, 2013
Anthony E_E_ got influenced so easily by the crap he reads on the net with
I'll bet anyone on here any amount of money that the oil industry will suppress this information and it will never leave the laboratory.
It can't be suppressed, did you notice its 'rather well' disclosed.

Can we keep mindless internet crap about things like suppression out of here please, this is not a place to discuss obviously bad thermodynamics like the water pill, pogue carbie and all the other transparent red neck claims by people who dont understand economics or simple physics of energy content etc (shakes head)...

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