Corn could pave way for cheaper hydrogen-powered vehicles

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Alternative energy has been an area of research with many ups and downs and one of the biggest hurdles in moving forward with such energy sources has been the cost factor. However, new discovery by Virginia Tech scientists has led to production of cheaper hydrogen fuel using abundantly available corn stalks and husk thereby paving way for cheaper hydrogen-powered vehicles.

The new method discovered by Virginia Tech scientists could help speed up the arrival of the hydrogen-powered vehicles as it produces emission-less hydrogen in an inexpensive way.

“This means, we have demonstrated the most important step toward a hydrogen economy, producing distributed and affordable green hydrogen from local biomass resources,” said lead researcher professor Percival Zhang.

The team has already received significant funding for the next step of the project, which is to scale up production to a demonstration size.

“We believe this exciting technology has the potential to enable the widespread use of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles around the world and displace fossil fuels,” said co-researcher and lead author of the paper Joe Rollin.

The dominant current method for producing hydrogen uses natural gas, which is expensive to distribute and causes fossil carbon emissions.

But the Virginia Tech team used biomass — the husks and stalks of corn plants — to create their fuel.

This not only reduces the initial expense of creating the fuel, it also enables the use of a fuel source readily available near the processing plants, making the creation of the fuel a local enterprise.

Rollin’s model increased reaction rates three-fold and decreased the required facility size to about the size of a gas station, which reduces associated capital costs.

The team also increased enzymatic generation rates. This reaction rate is fast enough for hydrogen production in distributed hydrogen-fuelling stations.

The achieved reaction rate is at least 10 times more than the fastest photo-hydrogen production system.

The findings appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.