Good News, everyone! Scientists with too much time on their hands from Virginia Tech have discovered a method to produce Hydrogen from a biomass with 100% efficiency. In the past, methods created to extract Hydrogen required lots of energy and weren’t 100% efficient. We can already produce Hydrogen by splitting water molecules using electrolysis but that’s a rather expensive process and requires us to use water sources like the sea to harvest it. In Egypt, some power stations produce Hydrogen, Oxygen and salt as by-products of using sea water to cool down their generators (which the proposed Nuclear power station at Thuyspunt would also do), but this process accelerates corrosion of metals and requires large amounts of heat to be exhausted.
The new method harvests Hydrogen through a low-temperature method known as the “Virginia Tech method”, the exact details of which are unknown. What’s been revealed so far is that the method takes enzymes from micro-organisms created in a lab and then adds that to Xylose and a Polyphosphate (most likely Tripolyphosphoric acid) under a mild heat (122º C) to eventually release Hydrogen with 100% efficiency, meaning that every Hydrogen molecule added into the formula is able to be harvested. The by-products are Oxygen and Phosphorus, with which you can make more Tripolyphosphoric acid by infusing it with Hydrogen.
The impact of this isn’t readily explained on some websites. Xylose is the second most common sugar found in plants, first isolated from a common tree in 1881. Its a sugar that’s found in 30% of all known plants and as a bonus, it’s edible. We can already easily synthesise it in a lab and it’s used in medicine to help doctors determine if you have one or several diseases that affect the kidneys and intestines. Xylose isn’t metabolised by humans, so it passes straight through the system when ingested with water. Its also used to make Furfual, a renewable organic compound used to make some solvents. So, it’s dirt cheap. Combined with the Polyphosphoric acid and Virginia Tech’s extremely efficient process, we can make Hydrogen on a large scale with zero losses.
Hydrogen, on the other hand, is a naturally occurring gas but extracting it on a large scale is a tricky process. Currently the preferred method is through the electrolysis of water, splitting the water molecules using electricity and harvesting the gas at the cathode for storage. A platinum-based cathode is preferred because it does not oxidise and makes the process highly efficient, ranging between 80-94%. This process gives off a lot of heat and since it requires electricity, that means you need large generators and heat extractors if you’re doing this on a large scale.
With the Virginia Tech process on the other hand, you don’t need electricity. You don’t need expensive rods made of platinum. You don’t need heat extractors because the process is done just above the boiling point of water, produces minute quantities of greenhouse gases and is 100% efficient. The fact that all the materials are already easily available and harvesting the Xylose means growing plants that create oxygen for the planet in addition to a source of bio-engineered Diesel fodder, is just the icing on the cake. The ability to extract every Hydrogen molecule in the formula is unbelieveable and considering this can be done literally anywhere in the world, it could mean that we will no longer only see Hydrogen fuel pumps inside of California – they could be everywhere.
Virginia Tech says they’ll have a patented method and will be ready to take this to market in just three years. With an inexpensive, completely renewable and environmentally friendly method to harvest a new fuel source, it could see the beginning of the end of mankind’s reliance on fossil fuels and the traditional internal combustion engine. A greater reliance on liquid Hydrogen-fueled cars will also accelerate development of more efficient Hydrogen-powered cars and instead of the nasty by-product of Carbon Monoxide that cars currently output, we’re instead given the two most beneficial products to our planet – Oxygen (possibly even Ozone) and water vapour.