Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Sugar-powered Cars: World's Most Efficient Method To Produce Hydrogen Developed

Date:
April 10, 2008
Source:
American Chemical Society
Summary:
Sugar-powered cars may be in your future. Chemists report development of a "revolutionary" process for converting plant sugars into hydrogen, which could be used to cheaply and efficiently power vehicles equipped with hydrogen fuel cells without producing any pollutants.

Percival Zhang, a scientist at Virginia Tech, is developing a new process for converting plant sugars into hydrogen that could be used to cheaply and efficiently power vehicles equipped with hydrogen fuel cells without producing any pollutants.
Credit: Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech

Chemists are describing development of a "revolutionary" process for converting plant sugars into hydrogen, which could be used to cheaply and efficiently power vehicles equipped with hydrogen fuel cells without producing any pollutants.

The process involves combining plant sugars, water, and a cocktail of powerful enzymes to produce hydrogen and carbon dioxide under mild reaction conditions. They reported on the system, described as the world's most efficient method for producing hydrogen, at the 235th national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

The new system helps solve the three major technical barriers to the so-called "hydrogen economy," researchers said. Those roadblocks involve how to produce low-cost sustainable hydrogen, how to store hydrogen, and how to distribute it efficiently, the researchers say.

"This is revolutionary work," says lead researcher Y.-H. Percival Zhang, Ph.D., a biochemical engineer at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. "This has opened up a whole new direction in hydrogen research. With technology improvement, sugar-powered vehicles could come true eventually."

While recognized a clean, sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, hydrogen production is expensive and inefficient. Most traditional commercial production methods rely on fossil fuels, such as natural gas, while innovations like microbial fuel cells still yield low levels of hydrogen. Researchers worldwide thus are urgently looking for better way to produce the gas from renewable resources.

Zhang and colleagues believe they have found the most promising hydrogen-producing system to date from plant biomass. The researchers also believe they can produce hydrogen from cellulose, which has a similar chemical formula to starch but is far more difficult to break down.

In laboratory studies, the scientists collected 13 different, well-known enzymes and combined them with water and starches. Inside a specially designed reactor and under mild conditions (approximately 86 degrees Fahrenheit), the resulting broth reacted to produce only carbon dioxide and hydrogen with no leftover pollutants.

The method, called "in vitro synthetic biology," produced three times more hydrogen than the theoretical yield of anaerobic fermentation methods. However, the amount of hydrogen produced was still too low for commercial use and the speed of the reactions isn't optimal, Zhang notes.

The researchers are now working on making the system faster and more efficient. One approach includes looking for enzymes that work at higher temperatures, which would speed hydrogen production rates. The researchers also hope to produce hydrogen from cellulose, which has similar chemical formula to starch, by replacing several enzymes in the enzyme cocktail.

Zhang envisions that one day people will be able to go to their local grocery store and buy packets of solid starch or cellulose and pack it into the gas tank of their fuel-cell car. Then it's a pollution-free drive to their destination -- cheaper, cleaner, and more efficiently than even the most fuel-stingy gasoline-based car. And unlike cars that burn fossil fuel, the new system would not produce any odors, he says. Also, such a system will be safe because the hydrogen produced is consumed immediately, the researcher notes.

Alternatively, the new plant-based technology could even be used to develop an infrastructure of hydrogen-filling stations or even home-based filling stations, Zhang says. But consumers probably won't be able to take advantage of this automotive technology any time soon: He estimates that it may take as many as 8 to 10 years to optimize the efficiency of the system so that it is suitable for use in vehicles.

A scaled-down version of the same technology could conceivably be used to create more powerful, longer lasting sugar batteries for portable music players, laptops, and cell phones, Zhang says. That advance could take place in as few as 3 to 5 years, the researcher estimates.

The study, which is funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science of Virginia Tech, is a collaborative project between Va. Tech, Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn.; and the University of Georgia in Athens, Ga.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Chemical Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

American Chemical Society. "Sugar-powered Cars: World's Most Efficient Method To Produce Hydrogen Developed." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 April 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080409170347.htm>.
American Chemical Society. (2008, April 10). Sugar-powered Cars: World's Most Efficient Method To Produce Hydrogen Developed. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080409170347.htm
American Chemical Society. "Sugar-powered Cars: World's Most Efficient Method To Produce Hydrogen Developed." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080409170347.htm (accessed September 18, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Virtual Reality Headsets Unveiled at Tokyo Game Show

Virtual Reality Headsets Unveiled at Tokyo Game Show

AFP (Sep. 18, 2014) Several companies unveiled virtual reality headsets at the Tokyo Game Show, Asia's largest digital entertainment exhibition. Duration: 00:48 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Apple's iOS8 Includes New 'Killswitch' To Curb Theft

Apple's iOS8 Includes New 'Killswitch' To Curb Theft

Newsy (Sep. 18, 2014) Apple's new operating system, iOS 8, comes with Apple's killswitch feature already activated, unlike all the models before it. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stocks Hit All-Time High as Fed Holds Steady

Stocks Hit All-Time High as Fed Holds Steady

AP (Sep. 17, 2014) The Federal Reserve signaled Wednesday that it plans to keep a key interest rate at a record low because a broad range of U.S. economic measures remain subpar. Stocks hit an all-time high on the news. (Sept. 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space Race Pits Bezos Vs Musk

Space Race Pits Bezos Vs Musk

Reuters - Business Video Online (Sep. 16, 2014) Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' startup will team up with Boeing and Lockheed to develop rocket engines as Elon Musk races to have his rockets certified. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins