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Big Advance In Hydrogen Production Could Change Alternative Energy Landscape 340

Posted by Soulskill
from the or-we-could-keep-burning-dead-dinosaurs dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Researchers at Virginia Tech say they've had a genuine breakthrough in alternative energy production that could shake up the world's energy structure. Specifically, they've hit on a way to derive large amounts of hydrogen from any plant source. The method uses renewable natural resources, releases almost no greenhouse gasses, and needs no costly or heavy metals. The key is using xylose, the most abundant simple plant sugar, to produce a large quantity of hydrogen that previously was attainable only in theory."
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Big Advance In Hydrogen Production Could Change Alternative Energy Landscape

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  • by tech.kyle (2800087) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:04PM (#43369729)
    At least for use in cars, I believe there's still the problem of storing enough of that hydrogen to get any decent range. Nice to hear we're making progress though. Yay humanity!
    • by h4rr4r (612664) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:12PM (#43369843)

      You could take that H2 and combine it with some carbon and some oxygen. I believe these new fuels are called hydrocarbons. My understanding is that these revolutionary molecules have a high energy density and combusting them should be a reasonable way to use it to power vehicles.

      • 1. Just how much energy would it take to recombine hydrogen with carbon and oxygen to make hydrocarbons?
        2. Hydrogen still delivers more bang per unit of measure than any hydrocarbon.
        3. Burning hydrocarbons creates greenhouse gases.

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          1. Lots, just like the energy required to liquify the hydrogen.
          2. So long as your unit of measure is not volume.
          3. Not if you get your CO2 from the air.

          • by icebike (68054)

            Just leave out the carbon, problem solved.

            Hydrogen Plus Air = energy + water. Why go the long way around?

            • by h4rr4r (612664)

              Because the whole point is the get the volumetric energy density up to a useful point and to not have to deal with hydrogen embrittling metal.

              Pure hydrogen is a PITA to deal with.

        • by wagnerrp (1305589)

          2. Hydrogen still delivers more bang per unit of measure than any hydrocarbon.

          That depends entirely on your unit of measure. Units of volume are pretty important too, and you have to get compressed hydrogen up to around three thousand atmospheres before it has the same volumetric density as gasoline.

      • by kenaaker (774785) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:50PM (#43370327)
        It's called a Sabatier reaction. It is the reaction of hydrogen and carbon dioxide, under pressure, at 300-400 C, in the presence of a nickel catalyst to produce methane and water. The methane can be transported in the existing natural gas pipeline system or used by a reforming fuel cell. The methane can also be used in one of the variations of the Fischer-Tropsch reactions to make liquid fuels.
    • Hydrogen can be used to create clean electricity....which charges the car's batteries.
      • by icebike (68054)

        Why not just burn the hydrogen and forget the batteries?
        Think smaller.

        • by afidel (530433)

          Because storing Hydrogen is a real bitch, storing it in a useful volume much more so.

    • The Honda fuel cell car can go 240 miles between fillups. That's nothing breakthrough, but it's far enough. You can also refill it in a few minutes at a hydrogen equipped gas station. I know the technology needs to get better, but the technology to use hydrogen is already here. The problem has always been how to get hydrogen efficiently. These seems to have solved that, hopefully.
    • by Motard (1553251)

      We'll get to see the state of the art at LeMans this year (in July). The GreenGT H2 car will be the first hydrogen fuel cell car to participate in the 24 hour race.

    • by FridayBob (619244)
      Indeed, this is not a solution for the fuel-cell problem, but at this point personal transportation is not important. The immediate and most significant aspect of this technology is that it may be a viable replacement for fossil fuels in the not too distant future. If it works, the next problem will be supplying the enormous amounts of xylose needed to maintain the necessary levels of hydrogen production, and that may yet prove to be a challenge regardless of the efficiency of the process.
    • They got the storage down pretty well I think. There's hydrogen cars drive around all over my town. I also know some off-road guys that use it in competition because they get their trucks at crazy angles sometimes and liquid fuel becomes problematic when the trucks at a 90 degree angle.

      http://experimentalev.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/tank.jpg [wordpress.com]

    • Fuel cells give you a decent range and converting gas stations to also store hydrogen is probably going to be easier than revamping the entire electrical system to support any non trivial amount of charging at home.You could also use large home based fuel cells to generate electricity at source avoidiung transmission losses.

      What happens when all the commuters get home and put their cars on charge between 5-7
  • Really? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by slashkitty (21637)
    I find it very hard to believe that they are somehow going to get more energy out of plant matter than biodiesel or simply burning it. Hydrogen may be clean, but it's certainly not convenient. I my area, they can run cars on trash. Trash is burned in a Waste-to-Energy facility, and cars are recharged from the electricty.
    • by felipekk (1007591)

      Even more unbelievable (at least for a "layman" like me) is this claim:

      "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."

      • by jxander (2605655)

        The "more than 100 percent" claim is a bit strange, but might just be poor syntax. Perhaps they meant a more than 100% gain vs simply burning, or just classify biodesel as the 100% starting point, so a 10% increase means we are actually giving 110%

        As for the low temperature bit, isn't that exactly what the first law of thermodynamics dictates? Energy can't simply be created, so the total amount of energy produced will always be constant. If we lost less energy to heat, more energy would be converted to f

      • You are being a little bit pedantic. They are referring to usable energy inputs / usable energy outputs.

        As a counter example, look at ethanol. It requires a lot of cooking with natural gas to convert corn into a usable fuel. I have heard arguments that it would be more efficient to run cars on natural gas. (I don’t think that is true anymore – ethanol production can become a lot more efficient.)

      • The idea is that you put in plant matter and X amount of energy, and you get X+Y worth of usable hydrogen energy out of it (due the the conversion of plant matter to hydrogen).

        Previously, you put in plant matter and X amount of energy, and you got X-Z worth of usable hydrogen energy.

    • The point is, biodiesel burns dirty and is inefficient. We can burn hydrogen at almost 100% efficiency. The reaction in which they turn the plant material into hydrogen likely happens in a closed cycle. The entire reaction is contained. So they could cycle through the same material several times to get the most out of it. Where-as, with diesel, you combine it with ambient air that's and an unknown temperature, moisture and oxygen content, light it and hope for the best.

  • Is it just me - or are all these "miracle science" posts today making me feel like it's April Fool's day or something???
  • Since the university seems dead set on building buildings all over campus at a cost of $1000/sq ft they're gonna need some real big donors to step up for the naming rights!

  • by Qwertie (797303) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:34PM (#43370115) Homepage
    TFA says "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 â" a net energy gain." Truly we will have to reexamine the laws of thermodynamics in light of this discovery!
    • by Gr8Apes (679165)

      They're just talking about energy in vs energy out.

      Otherwise, you might want to report those 18 SEER AC units too.

    • by Chirs (87576) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:13PM (#43370661)

      There is energy in the plant mass. The full equation is

      plant mass + input energy = output hydrogen energy + waste plant mass

      Entropy is still preserved in the overall system.

    • I don't think they're claiming to violate the laws of thermodynamics; it appears they're just using an inappropriate reference value. Based on the rest of the quote, it looks like they are using the 100% efficiency energy output from burning the biomass as the reference and comparing it to the net energy output using this method. I base that on the context from the rest of the quote:

      ...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.

    • That's because they're giving it 110%.

  • So we can finally make cars that run on marijuana trimmings! We just need to get enough various, concerted industries to team up and choke off Big Oil. Can't you just smell that paradigm shifting.
  • From the article, it seems this is an energy positive process:

    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 â" a net energy gain. That means that low-temperature waste

  • Been hearing this for so long that I think I'll be dead long before hydrogen or nuclear fusion is commercially viable.

  • Electric cars are a given; they simply have way to many enticing benefits (tremendous power, simplicity).

    No matter how much batteries improve, we'll simply not be able to fill them as conveniently we do normal vehicles. Putting plugs everywhere is totally impractical.

    Hydrogen solves all of the issues with batteries while still giving us electric cars. Sure there are some issues now but as articles like this show, over time there will be advances in both generating and storing hydrogen. It's only a matter of time before hydrogen cars totally replace electric cars because of simple utility, and (sadly) the ability to have a more normal taxing structure applied to fuel.

    • Actually we could give them transponders and put electrical infrastructure in the roads for inductive chargers, whereby your car could report your account to the utility company and the utility could charge for your power usage.

      Alternately, we could just let the Government do it, but when you renew your registration you have to turn in your mileage, and they forward that to your utility, and bill you.

  • by Billy the Mountain (225541) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:49PM (#43370301) Journal
    While hydrogen can be used as a fuel, it makes more sense for it to be used in ammonia production. The #2 most-produced chemical is ammonia and it is most commonly produced using natural gas which produces CO2 as a by-product.

    Ultimately, the true test of this new process is how do the costs compare to steam-reforming of natural gas into hyrdogen?
  • For those dedicated enough to speak Chem (and maybe German!)

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ange.201300766/abstract [wiley.com]

  • 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.

    How much energy will it take to produce the biocatalysts and will that reduce the EROEI [wikipedia.org] to less than 1?

  • I thought this stuff should be left up the scientists at big oil to pioneer this research? We don't need no more gubmint funded research at educational institutions. too much big goverment is bad. Bad I say.
  • But if they think it's a "game changer," I suggest that the researchers quickly engage in a remedial math course. Plants are very inefficient solar collectors, land area is limited, using "natural" sources will quickly lead to the destruction of every natural environment if we were so silly as to try and replace the 160 exajoules per year provided by petroleum.

    So, useful for small things. Maybe, one day, if the process is cheap enough and energy positive. Third world countries may benefit. Industrial scale

  • by idji (984038) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:12PM (#43370645)
    If you take H away from sugars the carbon has to go somewhere. Does it become charcoal, buckyballs, hydrocarbons, alkenes or an aromatic nasty?
  • ...Big Advance In Hydrogen Production Changed Alternative Energy Landscape

    Seriously, how many "big advancement" stories come out like this each year, then vanish to never be heard from again?
  • by ElitistWhiner (79961) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:30PM (#43370855) Journal

    A Hydrogen economy STOPS green house gas emission from transportation, litters our roadways with H2O instead of oil and disrupts power in the Middle East.

    SO...

    What are we waiting for? We could extract our asses out of the deserts of the world with simple plant processing now

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