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Earth Power Science Technology

Researchers Convert Biomass To Hydrogen Using Sunlight (rdmag.com) 106

New submitter omaha393 writes: Cambridge chemists have developed a new catalytic approach capable of converting biomass into hydrogen gas using only sunlight as an energy source. The method converts lignocellulose, one of Earth's most abundant biomaterials, into hydrogen gas and organic byproducts when in a basic water and in the presence of the cadmium sulfide/oxide nanoparticle catalysts. The new method, published in Nature Energy, offers a relatively cheap fuel alternative that researchers are looking to scale up to meet consumer demands at the industrial level. Per R&D Magazine: "'With this in place we can simply add organic matter to the system and then, provided it's a sunny day, produce hydrogen fuel,' says joint lead author David Wakerley. 'Future development can be envisioned at any scale.'" In addition to lignocellulose, the team was also able to produce hydrogen gas using unprocessed material including wood, paper and leaves. Further reading: New Atlas; ScienceDaily
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Researchers Convert Biomass To Hydrogen Using Sunlight

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  • Article is very short on details. How much hydrogen can they extract per ton of biomass? What's the cost of the active ingredients?

    -jcr

    • Article is very short on details. How much hydrogen can they extract per ton of biomass? What's the cost of the active ingredients?

      Not only that, what do they do with the carbon that is left over after the reaction? Biomass tends to be rather heavy in carbon and it has to go somewhere.

      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2017 @12:06PM (#54044007) Homepage

        According to the paper, all CO2 generated by the photooxidation of lignocellulose enters the basic solution as carbonate ions. So it's up to you as to what you want to do with them after that - industrial feedstocks, reaction and sequestration, or even simple exhaustion as CO2, with the knowledge that at least it's a closed fuel cycle (CO2 taken in during growth being released back to the air).

        It's a shame that the process doesn't generate CO rather than CO2. CO + H2 = syngas = great source for synfuels and other petroleum products (CO is relatively stable at normal temperatures and pressures but highly reactive at elevated temperatures and pressures, to the point of even spontaneously breaking down to C + CO2 - so when you have hydrogen in the mix, you have the stage set for the formation of hydrocarbons of varying lengths depending on your environmental conditions). Of course, I guess if they wanted syngas they'd just partially oxidize the lignocellulose directly under heat. In fact, as the paper mentions, that what's already done in biomass gasifiers. They just want the hydrogen.

        • So it's up to you as to what you want to do with them after that - industrial feedstocks, reaction and sequestration, or even simple exhaustion as CO2, with the knowledge that at least it's a closed fuel cycle (CO2 taken in during growth being released back to the air).

          It's probably NOT a closed fuel cycle. You're not considering the entire fuel cycle. Most industrial scale biomass is really a conversion of diesel fuel to the biomass. Farmers use tractors and fertilizers which get their energy from oil pumped from the ground. Sure there is some photosynthesis in there too but the oil derived hydrocarbons are a non-trivial percent of the total carbon footprint. So the fuel cycle isn't closed because the carbon doesn't go back into the ground.

  • by Crashmarik ( 635988 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2017 @03:34AM (#54041955)

    The Photo-catalyst is Cadmium based.

    Solar-driven reforming of lignocellulose to H2 with a CdS/CdOx photocatalyst
    The nanoparticle is able to absorb energy from solar light and use it to undertake complex chemical reactions. In this experiment, it rearranges the atoms in the water and biomass to form hydrogen fuel and other organic chemicals, including formic acid and carbonate

    Yeah can't see heavy metal contamination being a problem with that witch's brew.

    • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2017 @03:54AM (#54041983)
      You eat margarine don't you?
      From that example you should know that toxic catalysts don't always end up in the end product - especially since here the end product is a gas.
      • by aliquis ( 678370 )

        The hydrogen gas is a gas but that doesn't mean there are no solids produced too.

      • From that example you should know that toxic catalysts don't always end up in the end product - especially since here the end product is a gas.

        Umm you are aware that there will be waste and byproducts from the reaction, right? Not the least of which will be the carbon from the biomass. Just because the toxic stuff doesn't end up in the finished product doesn't mean it isn't a problem or can be ignored.

        • by dbIII ( 701233 )
          So you are shifting the goalposts away from cadmium?
          • So you are shifting the goalposts away from cadmium?

            Not remotely. Just pointing out that the argument that just because the toxic stuff doesn't end up in the primary product (hydrogen here) it isn't the end of the discussion. You still have to deal with the waste streams and whatever they contain, whether it be cadmium, carbon, or something else.

            • by dbIII ( 701233 )
              Yes, but what was your motivation for "just pointing out" the blatantly obvious? We live in industrialized societies FFS!
              • by sjbe ( 173966 )

                Yes, but what was your motivation for "just pointing out" the blatantly obvious?

                You and I might think it is blatantly obvious but there is evidence to suggest that many people do not find it obvious at all. Others simply don't care for various reasons - most of the economic in origin. No offense was intended if it was already clear to you. But I think it's important to keep the issues regarding the waste streams front and center because they matter to all of us sooner or later.

        • We turn the carbon into nanotubes, make a space elevator and toss the other stuff into the sun.

          You're acting like this is hard or something.

      • No, I don't eat margarine. It's full of toxins. Very unhealthy.

      • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

        No. I don't eat margarine. Nothing eats margarine but people. Rats and cockroaches wont eat it. That should tell you something.

      • You eat margarine don't you?
        From that example you should know that toxic catalysts don't always end up in the end product - especially since here the end product is a gas.

        Off your meds again ?

        You see if you had of been reading you might have been able to make it to the end of the line

        it rearranges the atoms in the water and biomass to form hydrogen fuel and other organic chemicals, including formic acid and carbonate

        Now let me ask you make claims of having been associated with mining in Australia ? Just how is it a mining engineer isn't familiar the fact that chemical reactions have byproducts, or at least familiar with the concept of toxic runoff ?

        • by dbIII ( 701233 )
          Ah - doxx guy is doxxing again and got it wrong. The funny thing about large industries is that they employ more than one type of engineer, and a wide range of service industries that also employ more than one type of engineer.
          The funny thing about you is you keep moving the goalposts over and over and over - to what, acid mine drainage now? WTF?
          You didn't even try to understand my incredibly simple example did you and seem proud of your failure to attempt it and then you pretended I don't understand some
          • The funny thing about large industries is that they employ more than one type of engineer, and a wide range of service industries that also employ more than one type of engineer.

            I figured you weren't actually an engineer now I have proof. If you can find an actual engineer that will take pity on you they and explain why.

            • by dbIII ( 701233 )

              now I have proof

              You really think so spamdoxy?
              Pretty thin skinned aren't you spamdoxy?

              • See ya poser

                • by dbIII ( 701233 )
                  So me knowing about a catalyst used in margarine production is proof that I am not an engineer?
                  Please show how that is proof.
                  • So me knowing about a catalyst used in margarine production is proof that I am not an engineer?
                    Please show how that is proof.

                    Awwwe I'm not the engineer that's going to take pity on you poser.

                    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
                      Hey you are the one that brought up that I'm an engineer not me Crashdoxy. I'm not going to tell you any more to help with your ridiculous search for ammo for personal attacks.

                      BTW - I changed my sig just for you. Maybe you should take a look at that book - it might help.
                    • Hey you are the one that brought up that I'm an engineer not me

                      Nope and if you were an engineer you would understand why it's obvious you aren't

                    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
                      Oh do grow up. I went back to university and was teaching engineering students part time for a few years back at the time this site started. If you had tried harder at high school you could have been one of my students.
                    • Oh do grow up. I went back to university and was teaching engineering students part time for a few years back at the time this site started. If you had tried harder at high school you could have been one of my students.

                      Try and try again poser. You see there is a big difference between knowing a little about a field and actually having been a professional in the field.

                      It's really obvious you never were.

                    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
                      Well, you've definitely got it entirely wrong and I really don't know why you are keeping up this petty attempt at bullying. How would you know anyway? What is your background Crashdoxy? Why the obsession with that profession among many other choices? Was it because you wanted to be one but just could not convince someone to give you a chance?
                      Are you attempting to displace your own failure onto myself Crashdoxy?
                    • What is your background Crashdoxy?
                      Well, you've definitely got it entirely wrong and I really don't know why you are keeping up this petty attempt at bullying

                      How un-selfaware. You seem to have the obsession with proving you're an authority

                      . I went back to university and was teaching engineering students part time for a few years back at the time this site started

                      Now who is insecure poser ?

                    • by dbIII ( 701233 )

                      You seem to have the obsession with proving you're an authority

                      No. Like everyone else I'm an authority on things that I am good at - no more, no less. You yourself know enough about the topic being discussed to know that you should not have written your pathetic Fear Uncertainty and Doubt post, but you clearly did it just because you saw something that in the right light looked a bit "green" and it offended your politics.

                    • No. Like everyone else I'm an authority on things that I am good at

                      Looks up thread, oh yeah you're Mr. Margarine Catalyst LOL

                    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
                      High school level chemistry Crashdoxy.
                    • High school level chemistry Crashdoxy.

                      Nickel is non toxic and isn't in solution. Which just proves your stupid and ignorant.
                      Stupid for talking about something of which you know nothing.
                      Ignorant for not even understanding you are stupid.

                      You could still be both and be an engineer, but the fact you don't understand why makes you a poser.

                    • by dbIII ( 701233 )

                      You could still be both and be an engineer

                      It's kind of irrelevant since it's high school chemistry yet you brought it up as part of your pathetic doxxing attempted bullying.

                      isn't in solution

                      CATALYST
                      Your only "correction" of your dozens of attempts you got right was due to moving the goalposts from Western economics to Chinese Communism - just give up. It's pathetic.

                      Oh, and read that book. You may as well be one of the examples in it, but either way you'll find it both funny and informative. Techy type

                    • Nickel is non toxic

                      Do not eat.
                      http://www.sciencelab.com/msds... [sciencelab.com]

                    • So sad poser

                      Toxicological Data on Ingredients:
                        Nickel metal LD50: Not available. LC50: Not available.

                    • What the hell

                      From your own site

                      Toxicological Data on Ingredients:
                        Cadmium: ORAL (LD50): Acute: 2330 mg/kg [Rat.]. 890 mg/kg [Mouse]. DUST (LC50):
                      Acute: 50 ppm 4 hour(s) [Rat].

                    • CATALYST
                      Your only "correction" of your dozens of attempts you got right was due to moving the goalposts from Western economics to Chinese Communism - just give up. It's pathetic.

                      LOL you can't even realize other people corrected you on your embarrassment there.

                      I have to ask are you some sort abuse gimp poser boy ? You never get shit right.

                    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
                      Read section three loser instead of just choosing the bits you want.
                    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
                      Your "in solution" was an epic fail - just give up.
                    • That's the point I addressed waaaaaaaaaaay above Crashdoxy. In the modern world we use all kinds of very toxic stuff in chemical processes and have a thing called waste management. It's kind of pathetic that you are using that angle just because the process looked a little "green" to you. Oh noes - there can't be anything toxic to deal with in industry you seem to be bleating - fucking pathetic. You are turning yourself into a ridiculous parody of the extremists of the people whose politics you do not l
                    • That's the point I addressed waaaaaaaaaaay above Crashdoxy. In the modern world we use all kinds of very toxic stuff in chemical processes

                      The point you made is you don't know the difference between toxic and non toxic and catalysts that are suspended in solution and those embeded in a matrix.

                      Good job poser.

                      What did you teach janitorial studies ?

                    • Keep on digging.

                    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
                      Wrong, that's just you pretending I do not for the sake of being insulting
                      So - what point has your dozens of errors in all your "corrections" made?
                      Why do you keep on trying and failing to come up to the bar that you insist that all others pass?
                    • Wrong, that's just you pretending I do not for the sake of being insulting

                      LOL poser boy

                      Who are you trying to convince because it sure isn't me ?

                    • by dbIII ( 701233 )

                      Who are you trying to convince because it sure isn't me ?

                      I pointed out your shit and you went for me with doxxing and other ways to attack the man and not the ball, so I did not let that stand.

                      Also why should I be trying to convince you of something that you already know but choose to lie about?

    • Catalysts are not necessarily used up in a process though. They may be completely recycled as part of the process, or they may have to be "scrubbed' periodically as they saturate.

      However, TFA doesn't make it clear which is the case.

      • It is catalyst, I suggest to read on wikipedia what the word means.
        So: no they don't get used up.
        However you could imagine situations, e.g in cement or concrete where you add a 'catalyst' for whatever reason, and when it has hardened out, you obviously can not remove the catalyst anymore.

        • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2017 @09:13AM (#54042931) Homepage

          Rather than spending your time reading Wikipedia, I suggest you spend some time learning about real-world processes. At least read Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry or something similar. In the real world, catalysts do get used up, and frequently even entrained to varying degrees into the product. In fact, it's relatively rare that a catalyst lasts indefinitely (there are some processes where the catalyst does, but most do not). Some processes have a relatively simple step to renew their catalysts. Others require complete replacement of their catalysts with newly produced ones. Sometimes the catalyst is lost by design.

          The way in which catalysts become "used up" varies greatly. Sometimes, analogous to your "concrete", it's lost by design into the product stream, such as with most plastics polymerization. So for example, with polyethylene, you may get something like 5000 grams of PE per gram of catalyst, but then the catalyst is gone. Usually there's no recovery step. In some processes, catalysts are lost by being poisoned, either by impurities or by side reactions. Catalysts can be "gunked up" and lose their reactive surface area - for example, by coking in petrochemical refining. Catalysts can also erode - for example, in the Ostwald process for making nitric acid, there's almost always a catalyst recovery stage downstream, because platinum and rhodium are very expensive, and erosion rates are high. Even the process of erosion varies - for example, in some cases it might be substrate attack, or active surface attack, or formation of dendrites which break off, or all sorts of things.

          In general, in industry you call it a catalyst if it catalyzes a significant number of reactions, rather than being used up in the first reaction (the latter being considered a feedstock). There is no requirement that it be able to catalyze an infinite number of reactions. Technically things which catalyze a "small number" of reactions should be called initiators, and those which catalyze a "large number" should be called catalysts, but the distinction isn't always clear, and the language overlaps.

          • good lucking getting the cadmium out of a sh*tty pile of biomass
            • by Rei ( 128717 )

              What pile of biomass? The whole point of the process is to eliminate the biomass, turning it into hydrogen and CO2. It's an oxidation reaction.

              • Right. Because your source of biomass is 100% pure and the reaction 100% efficient. I suppose a green unicorn will be monitoring the process as well...
          • Well, imho if it really gets used up in the sense that it reacts with other chemicals participating in the reaction, then it is nto a catalyst.

            Catalysts can also erode - for example, in the Ostwald process for making nitric acid, there's almost always a catalyst recovery stage downstream, because platinum and rhodium are very expensive, and erosion rates are high. Even the process of erosion varies - for example, in some cases it might be substrate attack, or active surface attack, or formation of dendrites

        • Without reading Wikipedia, I can tell you exactly what a catalyst is, at least in the realm of chemistry. It is a substance or material which provides an intermediate state to a chemical reaction, lowering the overall energy required by that process and increasing the reaction rate.

          Most chemical reactions have an intermediate stage, which is not always shown when we right the simplified reaction. For example, we might write a chemical reaction like this:

          A + 2B => Z

          What this implies is that 3 (1 A and 2 B

  • Uses toxic Cadmium (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    "The system operates under visible light, is stable beyond six days and is even able to reform unprocessed lignocellulose, such as wood and paper, under solar irradiation at room temperature, presenting an inexpensive route to drive aqueous proton reduction to H2 through waste biomass oxidation."

    It uses Cadmium compounds in water. With the use of such an environmental toxin, I sincerely hope it's stable for a lot longer than six days.

  • The ancient boffins of Jupiter experimented with this just before someone left one switched on.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    So they set up a mulch pile.

    • So they set up a mulch pile.

      Minus the methane. Even more Kaboom per cubic millimeter (or inch or your volume measurement of choice).

  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2017 @08:04AM (#54042619)

    The new method, published in Nature Energy, offers a relatively cheap fuel alternative that researchers are looking to scale up to meet consumer demands at the industrial level.

    Whether it is cheap or not depends on how expensive it was to create the biomass. Since most biomass used commercially is basically a conversion of diesel fuel to biomass, it's not immediately clear whether or not this technology would actually be cheap. Perhaps as a means of using excess/surplus biomass that would otherwise be wasted it could be useful but even then it's not entirely clear. WAY too much glossing over details and naively optimistic future projections in the article.

    I would also be curious what they do with the carbon in the biomass since that is a nontrivial component of any biomass. Conveniently they do not mention that little detail

    • The ability to do this with bulk lignin might be the key here. Presumably all you would have to do is chop things up to get more surface area (faster! faster would be better!). Most other biomass conversion processes need other Nasty Chemical pretreatments or dumping the stuff in vats of weird enzymes.

      We'll see.....

  • Future development can be envisioned at any scale.

    How many past discoveries were advertised as the solution to [insert problem] only to be found that in fact they did not scale.

  • So ... (Score:5, Funny)

    by PPH ( 736903 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2017 @11:34AM (#54043767)

    The research team used different types of biomass in their experiments including pieces of wood, paper and leaves

    ... they invented a goat.

  • by Bodhammer ( 559311 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2017 @11:46AM (#54043869)
    "The process is 5-10 years away from commercially viable production but has the potential to change the world as we know it."
  • https://theouterlinux.com/2016... [theouterlinux.com] Yes, it's my website, but there are links on this page to research papers.

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