Sugar – to – Hydrogen Technology Could Lead to Fuel Independence
Researchers at Virginia Tech, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the University of Georgia have proposed using polysaccharides, or sugary carbohydrates, from biomass to directly produce low-cost hydrogen for the new hydrogen economy.
According to the DOE, advances are needed in four areas to make hydrogen fuel an economical reality for transportation: production, storage, distribution, and fuel cells. Most industrial hydrogen currently comes from natural gas, which has become expensive. Storing and moving the gas, whatever its source, is costly and cumbersome, and even dangerous. And there is little infrastructure for refueling a vehicle.
Using synthetic biology approaches, the researchers are using a combination of 13 enzymes never found together in nature to completely convert polysaccharides (C6H10O5) and water into hydrogen when and where that form of energy is needed. Polysaccharides are used by plants for energy storage and building blocks and are very stable until exposed to enzymes. Just add enzymes to a mixture of starch and water and “the enzymes use the energy in the starch to break up water into only carbon dioxide and hydrogen,” said Y.H. Percival Zhang, assistant professor of biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech.
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