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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 @01:04PM (#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 Coreigh (185150) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:17PM (#43369913) Homepage

    The majority of input energy would be solar, growing the plants. the machinery used to harvest and transport it wouild run on electriciy and fuel cells just like everything else. It is just a matter of A) generating enough plant matter, and B) getting the infrastructure to critical mass to become sel sustaining.

    Sure, it sounds far fetched. But hey, you have to start some where some time. Right?

  • by Gabrill (556503) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:47PM (#43370283)

    The goal is energy storage and mobility. Stored hydrogen is much more efficient than a solar panel at night or under ground, for example.

  • by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:55PM (#43370437)

    converting plant matter into electricity or hydrogen wouldn't be efficient : photosynthesis converts 3-6% of solar energy

    It is not efficient in terms of watts/m^2, but the more important metric is watts/$. A square meter PV panel costs hundreds of dollars. A square meter of corn, sugar cane, or switchgrass costs less than one dollar.

  • by cmorriss (471077) on Friday April 05, 2013 @02:01PM (#43370505)

    Solar panels are close to 40% efficient? As in, I can buy one of those now? Tell that to Sun Power that just released a panel with "World Record Breaking" efficiency of 21.5%.

    http://www.sacbee.com/2013/04/03/5312696/sunpower-launches-x-series-family.html [sacbee.com]

  • by Solandri (704621) on Friday April 05, 2013 @02:54PM (#43371205)

    converting plant matter into electricity or hydrogen wouldn't be efficient : photosynthesis converts 3-6% of solar energy and converting this chemical energy into hydrogen and theninto electricity won't improve on this; while a decent solar panel reaches at least 10% (more like 14-19%), into electricity.

    True in terms of conversion efficiency. But once you look at cost efficiency, the balance flips the other way. You can cover the entire planet in plants for less than the cost of a single solar panel, because plants grow and spread by themselves.

    In fact there's millions of tons of plant matter we already gather (weeds and unused portions of food crops like corn stalks) which we currently burn or bury. All that could be converted into hydrogen essentially for free via a process like this. In that case the conversion efficiency becomes meaningless because the opportunity cost is negative: Right now it costs you to get rid of the waste plant matter. If you convert it into hydrogen instead, that means you get both the benefit of the hydrogen as a fuel and you don't have to pay to dispose of the plant matter.

  • Re:Meh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fustakrakich (1673220) on Friday April 05, 2013 @03:03PM (#43371315) Journal

    Doesn't require a high infrastructure to deal with.

    You ever seen a refinery? The infrastructure for gas and food is actually very fragile. We're pretty lucky that everybody gets along so well to make it work.

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