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Big Advance In Hydrogen Production Could Change Alternative Energy Landscape 340

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 polar red ( 215081 ) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:37PM (#43370167)

    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.

  • Re:Meh (Score:5, Informative)

    by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:41PM (#43370225)

    I am sure big oil would gladly shift to a new technology.
    Here is the problem...
    Gasoline offers the following advantages. High Energy Density. Can be stored and shipped easily, relativity safe (compared to other that would kill you at the first smell or explode more violently) Doesn't require a high infrastructure to deal with.

    Now if we can get Hydrogen cheap and fuel cells cheap enough to make affordable cars that people will buy. I can see the big oil companies starting to shift to the hydrogen market. They already have ways of shipping, and retailers for their product. They will just switch products.

  • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 ) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:51PM (#43370355)

    Solar panels are now close to 40%.

    What you overlook is that this process uses biomass (ie, waste plant matter) to produce H2 in a process with 100% energy gain (the energy out is more than the energy in) not to mention that the energy put in could be waste heat, resulting in essentially free H2. H2 can be used in portable capacities, such as cars. Solar cannot fulfill these particular needs, although it could be used to create H2, at a much lower level of efficiency.

  • by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:54PM (#43370411) Homepage Journal
    Top-tier solar panels are now close to 19.2%. Solar collectors using polished metal parabolic reflectors concentrating sunlight onto sterling engines are close to 40% (38% actually).
  • by Bengie ( 1121981 ) on Friday April 05, 2013 @02:38PM (#43370963) []

    Boeing Co., the world’s largest aerospace company, plans to deliver its first commercial scale high-efficiency solar-power cells for Earth-based electricity production in January.

    The concentrating photovoltaic cells, developed by Boeing’s Spectrolab unit for satellites and the International Space Station, can convert as much as 39.2 percent of sunlight into electricity, Chicago-based Boeing said today in a statement.

    Never said it would be cheap.

  • by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Friday April 05, 2013 @02:52PM (#43371193) Homepage Journal

    Holy shit that's a lot of technical problems. If the tank isn't kept ultra-cold (i.e. it's hot outside) it explodes. As you burn hydrogen, pressure drops, the hydrogen in the tank cools the metal ridiculously. And what's with this mass/volume of storage? That's good if you need transport, but not necessarily efficient to produce--gasoline could be 20 times as efficient and it would be 100% useless in space versus 2% efficient hydrogen. How do they compare?

    Storing and transporting hydrogen is just too friggin' complex for econoboxes.

  • by DrHeasley ( 1059478 ) on Friday April 05, 2013 @04:56PM (#43372763) Homepage
    Moving energy around in trucks is wasteful and slow compared to moving it through the already established electrical grid. The only reasons we stay with liquid fuels are that battery and charging technology doesn't yet supply the needed mileage range and quick recharge rate. And to keep oil companies and gas stations in business.

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