Virginia Tech researchers have created hydrogen fuel using abundantly available corn stover – the stalks, cobs, and husks.
The development could support the arrival of inexpensive hydrogen-powered vehicles.
Unlike other hydrogen fuel production methods that rely on highly processed sugars, the Virginia Tech team used dirty biomass — the husks and stalks of corn plants — to create their fuel. The use of corn stover reduces initial costs and enables the use of a fuel source readily available near the processing plants.
The team used a genetic algorithm, along with a series of complex mathematical expressions, to analyze each step of the enzymatic process that breaks down corn stover into hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The system uses both sugars glucose and xylose at the same time, which increases the rate at which the hydrogen is released.
Hydrogen is separated from aqueous reactants and enzymes. The enzymatic reactions within the Virginia Tech system generate high-purity hydrogen, perfect for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
The initial model increased reaction rates by threefold, decreasing the required facility size to about the size of a gas station. The modest reaction conditions also indicate the feasibility of low-capital requirements for building distributed hydrogen generating and fueling stations based on the technology.
Also: Learn about Hydrogen Measurement in a Cryogen Flow Stream.