Harvesting hydrogen from tough biomass

Written by Nelly Berg for Chemistry World

US-based scientists have come up with a sustainable way to harvest hydrogen fuel from biomass. Their new electrolytic approach can even release hydrogen from obstinate molecules like lignin and cellulose.

Although hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, it’s so light that Earth’s gravity cannot hold onto it. This is unfortunate, as molecular hydrogen also happens to be the cleanest fuel – burning in air to give just water and energy. Because only trace amounts exist in the atmosphere, most hydrogen fuel today is derived from fossil fuels, using processes called petroleum reforming and coal gasification. It can also be thermochemically extracted from biomass, using high temperatures and expensive catalysts. Other ways to harvest hydrogen from biomass are fermentation, electrolysis and photoelectrochemical conversion, but these methods cannot directly break down the fibrous lignin and cellulose found in wood and grass.

Now, Yulin Deng and his team at Georgia Tech have developed a low-temperature electrolytic technology that can harvest hydrogen fuel from nearly all types of biomass.

Read the full Chemistry World article and original article published in EES:

Wei Liu, Yong Cui, Xu Du, Zhe Zhang, Zisheng Chao and Yulin Deng
Energy Environ. Sci., 2016, Advance Article. DOI: 10.1039/C5EE03019F

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