This process will make it practical to strip the planet of anything green to fuel our cars and trucks. Big improvement over fossil fuel.

Breakthrough in Hydrogen Fuel Production Could Revolutionize Altern...

A team of Virginia Tech researchers has discovered a way to extract large quantities of hydrogen from any plant, a breakthrough that has the potential to bring a low-cost, environmentally friendly fuel source to the world.

"Our new process could help end our dependence on fossil fuels," said Y.H. Percival Zhang,...

Zhang and his team have succeeded in using xylose, the most abundant simple plant sugar, to produce a large quantity of hydrogen that previously was attainable only in theory. Zhang's method can be performed using any source of biomass.

This new environmentally friendly method of producing hydrogen utilizes renewable natural resources, releases almost no zero greenhouse gasses, and does not require costly or heavy metals.

Mielenz said Zhang's process could find its way to the marketplace as quickly as three years if the technology is available. Zhang said when it does become commercially available, it has the possibility of making an enormous impact.

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Very cool.  I have felt for the longest time that hydrogen HAD to be the primary fuel of the future, since any hydrocarbon fuel has the problem of the second half of that term - carbon.  Granted that that logistics of supplying hydrogen on a large scale as the primary reactant for, say, a car is difficult, but not insurmountable.

And frankly, I look forward to the day when I can drive a hydrogen-fuel-cell powered BMW!

Not sure if this will format right, but going to try anyway.

Here is what I think they are probably doing in this reaction.  No idea what kind of magic catalyst it requires, but it seems they are carrying out the carbon dioxide part of combustion in the lab and saving the hydrogen to carry out the water producing part of combustion in a hydrogen fuel cell.

2 C5H10O5 (xylose) + 5 O2 --> 10 H2 + 10 CO2

I checked, and this reaction is exothermic to the tune of about -1800 kJ/mol.  Like I said, there is clearly some magic in there somewhere or the hydrogen would be burning as well.  And I can't imagine it is half as efficient as this formula makes it out to be.  But that is what I imagine the ideal is.

The deal here is that this is carbon cycle neutral only if the process is 100% efficient.  If we have to, say, harvest the plants, ship them to the lab, process them into xylose, and dispose of the waste, we are putting CO2 into the air again, even more than the plants took out while they were alive.

But what if we didn't make as much CO2?  Without adding any oxygen, you might imagine a formula something like this:

2 C5H10O5 (xylose) --> 10 H2 + 5 CO2 + 5 C (graphite)

You might be wondering where the graphite comes from.  Well, the exceptionally pure charcoal you get when you burn sugar in an anoxic environment is basically graphite, and it's easier to find standard data for graphite than sugar charcoal!  If you were to bury this charcoal, or really, use it for anything other than burning, we would in fact be taking carbon out of the carbon cycle, the very opposite of what we do when we burn fossil fuels, potentially reversing the addition of CO2 to the atmosphere and slowing or stopping global warming.

I have no doubt that if this man actually found a way to make this reaction work, he would be the next Nobel prize recipient.  Heck, they'd probably give him the Nobel in Physics, in Chemistry, and in Peace.  But as it is, I can't imagine it working very well, because that reaction is actually endothermic instead of exothermic.

It's not very endothermic.  About 150 kJ/mol.  The energy released by converting a single one of those 10 H2's to water would cover the difference.  But of course, that's only if you can channel that energy with 100% efficiency, and the reaction works with 100% efficiency.  For that to happen, he really would need to have a miracle catalyst!

After reading the article, well, I'm still skeptical of miracles.  But if this is half as good as they say, he may be in for a Nobel after all.

I wonder what the possibilities are for carbon capture during the highly exothermic reaction. 

Perhaps plants could serve as a kind of carbon capture after such a reaction? run the hydrogen and CO2 past a bunch of plants?

Yes, the press is continually trumpeting new technologies as The Answer - and they may not ever be practical. 

I would hate to see the planet stripped of beautiful green growing things, but I highly doubt it will happen.


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