Virginia Tech researchers liberates 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. This discovery is a game-changer in the world of alternative energy.
Hydrogen is conventionally produced by steam reforming natural gas, a process that wastes some of the energy stored in the gas while releasing large amounts of CO2. Zhang’s discovery is endorsed by Jonathan R. Mielenz, the group leader of the bioscience division at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory:
“The key to this exciting development is that Zhang is using the second most prevalent sugar in plants to produce this hydrogen,” Mielenz told VT. “This amounts to a significant additional benefit to hydrogen production and it reduces the overall cost of producing hydrogen from biomass.”
Mielenz predicts Zhang’s process could reach the existing $100 billion hydrogen marketplace in three year. It could achieve a potential of a trillion dollar market in the US alone.
The researchers chose to use xylose, which comprises as much as 30 percent of plant cell walls.
New ways to store hydrogen for cars and transport hydrogen through pipelines
Hydrogen is being pursued as a sustainable energy carrier forfuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) and as a means of storing renewable energy at utility scale. Hydrogen can also be used as a fuel in stationary fuel cell systems for buildings, backup power, or distributed generation. Blending hydrogen into the existing natural gas pipeline network has been proposed as a means of increasing the output of renewable energy systems such as large wind farms. If implemented with relatively low concentrations, less than 5%–15% hydrogen by volume, this strategy of storing and delivering renewable energy to markets appears to be viable without significantly increasing risks associated with utilization of the gas blend in end-use devices (such as household appliances), overall public safety, or the durability and integrity of the existing natural gas pipeline network. However, the appropriate blend concentration may vary significantly between pipeline network systems and natural gas compositions and must therefore be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Any introduction of a hydrogen blend concentration would require extensive study, testing, and modifications to existing pipeline monitoring and maintenance practices (e.g., integrity management systems). Additional cost would be incurred as a result, and this cost must be weighed against the benefit of providing a more sustainable and low-carbon gas product to consumers.
Cella Energy (UK) has microbeads for storing hydrogen in fuel tanks. .The Cella technology is based around the encapsulation and nano-structuring of chemical hydrides in plastic. This means that they can be handled in air, and allows the hydrogen to be released quickly and cleanly upon heating. We make them into plastic like pellets; heating one gram of Cella’s pellets will produce one litre of hydrogen (at normal pressures and temperatures).
H2 was produced from xylose and water in one reactor containing 13 enzymes (red). By using a novel polyphosphate xylulokinase (XK), xylose was converted into H2 and CO2 with approaching 100 % of the theoretical yield. The findings suggest that cell-free biosystems could produce H2 from biomass xylose at low cost. Xu5P=xylulose 5-phosphate, G6P=glucose 6-phosphate.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.