Hydrogen on the highway

Honey, I'm off to fill up the car at the gas station; the hydrogen gas station that is. 'You what?!' Well, as strange as that may sound now, it could become the norm in the not-too-distant future. That's because scientists in the United States of America are developing a new, efficient way of producing hydrogen, using discarded corn biomass.

Honey, I'm off to fill up the car at the gas station; the hydrogen gas station that is. You what?! Well, as strange as that may sound now, it could become the norm in the not-too-distant future. That's because scientists in the United States of America are developing a new, efficient way of producing hydrogen, using discarded corn biomass.

Currently, most hydrogen we use comes from fossil fuels, which makes it less 'green' than some may think it is. The production of the gas from highly-processed fermented sugars is another method used. What makes the Virginia Tech scientists' new development different is that the gas is created from 'dirty', unprocessed biomass, namely the waste products from corn such as the stalks and cobs.

This reduces the expense of producing the hydrogen and makes the process easier so that it can be produced in smaller facilities. The improved production rate with the new way creates more hydrogen in less time. The key breakthrough is simultaneously converting both Glucose and Xylose, something that couldn't be done previously. Reaction rates using the new system were found to be a threefold improvement over previous experiments.

Already manufacturers Honda and Toyota are beginning to produce hydrogen fuel-cell powered cars. However there is still a long time to go before they become the norm. For one, the infrastructure needed for this type of fueling is lacking, with very few stations in existence. But it is believed that this new method in hydrogen production from readily available corn waste will change this situation.

In fact, in time, scientists say that production equipment could be reduced in size to make it fit on the vehicles themselves; similar to the Mr Fusion Home Energy Reactor from the movie Back to The Future, which used banana peels and Miller beer. Life imitating (Hollywood) art you might say.

Prepared by: Jonathan Zur

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