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Big Advance In Hydrogen Production Could Change Alternative Energy Landscape

Soulskill posted about a year and a half ago | from the or-we-could-keep-burning-dead-dinosaurs dept.

Power 340

An anonymous reader writes "Researchers at Virginia Tech say they've had a genuine breakthrough in alternative energy production that could shake up the world's energy structure. Specifically, they've hit on a way to derive large amounts of hydrogen from any plant source. The method uses renewable natural resources, releases almost no greenhouse gasses, and needs no costly or heavy metals. The key is using xylose, the most abundant simple plant sugar, to produce a large quantity of hydrogen that previously was attainable only in theory."

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Not a replacement yet (5, Insightful)

tech.kyle (2800087) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369729)

At least for use in cars, I believe there's still the problem of storing enough of that hydrogen to get any decent range. Nice to hear we're making progress though. Yay humanity!

Re:Not a replacement yet (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369819)

to store it you use a type IV tank, not the fuel cell nonsense

Re:Not a replacement yet (4, Informative)

polar red (215081) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370167)

converting plant matter into electricity or hydrogen wouldn't be efficient : photosynthesis converts 3-6% of solar energy and converting this chemical energy into hydrogen and theninto electricity won't improve on this; while a decent solar panel reaches at least 10% (more like 14-19%), into electricity.

Re:Not a replacement yet (4, Insightful)

Gabrill (556503) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370283)

The goal is energy storage and mobility. Stored hydrogen is much more efficient than a solar panel at night or under ground, for example.

Re:Not a replacement yet (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43370451)

Whaddya mean?!? I always keep my solar panels underground at night.

Re:Not a replacement yet (2)

jklovanc (1603149) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370303)

The difference is that hydrogen is easier to store and transport without loss. This technology could also be used to transform waste into hydrogen therefore reducing two issues at the same time.

Re:Not a replacement yet (3, Funny)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370391)

You know how I can tell you've never tried to store and transport hydrogen without loss?

It's your lack of esoteric materials and liquid helium coolant tanks.

Re:Not a replacement yet (4, Informative)

Gr8Apes (679165) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370355)

Solar panels are now close to 40%.

What you overlook is that this process uses biomass (ie, waste plant matter) to produce H2 in a process with 100% energy gain (the energy out is more than the energy in) not to mention that the energy put in could be waste heat, resulting in essentially free H2. H2 can be used in portable capacities, such as cars. Solar cannot fulfill these particular needs, although it could be used to create H2, at a much lower level of efficiency.

Re:Not a replacement yet (4, Informative)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370411)

Top-tier solar panels are now close to 19.2%. Solar collectors using polished metal parabolic reflectors concentrating sunlight onto sterling engines are close to 40% (38% actually).

Re:Not a replacement yet (2, Insightful)

cmorriss (471077) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370505)

Solar panels are close to 40% efficient? As in, I can buy one of those now? Tell that to Sun Power that just released a panel with "World Record Breaking" efficiency of 21.5%.

http://www.sacbee.com/2013/04/03/5312696/sunpower-launches-x-series-family.html [sacbee.com]

Re:Not a replacement yet (3, Insightful)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370437)

converting plant matter into electricity or hydrogen wouldn't be efficient : photosynthesis converts 3-6% of solar energy

It is not efficient in terms of watts/m^2, but the more important metric is watts/$. A square meter PV panel costs hundreds of dollars. A square meter of corn, sugar cane, or switchgrass costs less than one dollar.

Re:Not a replacement yet (1)

Farmer Pete (1350093) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370467)

What you're forgetting is cost. Let me give you a car analogy. Let's say you have a choice between buying two identical cars. One gets 30 MPG and costs $30k, and the other gets 60 MPG but costs $60k. Let's assume that you drive 15,000 miles a year, and fuel will cost $4 a gallon. You would have to drive the car 450,000 miles before you would break even in costs. That's assuming that everything else is identical in the car.

So how does that relate to plants vs solar panels? How much does a solar panel cost? How much does a plant cost? Get the picture?

Re:Not a replacement yet (1)

icebike (68054) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370531)

But we don't pay anything for sunlight, and plants are going to grow whether we are involved or not.
So efficiency really doesn't come into play here.

Hydrogen is a more mobile fuel source, and battery technology is still a huge problem.

Re:Not a replacement yet (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370549)

The counter is that traditional crystalline silicon panels are expensive to produce, and even cheaper (and less efficient) amorphous ones still require a significant energy input to manufacture. Light sensors and tracking motors need maintenance. The panels themselves can get damaged and need replacement. A simple, robust plant could be grown for comparatively low cost, and even though the percentage of conversion is much lower, requiring much larger swaths of land for energy generation, it could potentially be a cheaper solution. That's the same reason why there is so much interest in thin film polymer cells, even though the best are only capable of a couple percent.

Re:Not a replacement yet (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370427)

Eh? A "fuel cell" is a chemical reactor, that oxidizes a fuel source to produce electricity and exhaust. It has nothing to do with storage.

Re:Not a replacement yet (1)

Matrix14 (135171) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369833)

Not really. Better battery technologies could increase the prevalence of electric cars, and the conversion of hydrogen to electricity can happen offline (i.e., at a power plant).

Re:Not a replacement yet (1)

jellomizer (103300) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370107)

There is battery life. But what we really need is recharge time. You can fill a hydrogen car in about as much time it takes to fill a gasoline car. If you can get 300 miles per charge, and fill it in under 5 minutes, and fuel costs is low enough, it would make it viable.

However if you travel and you go beyond the storage limit even, and it will take you 6 hours to recharge, you will probably not want that car, even though it is only a 5 times a year occurrence.

Re:Not a replacement yet (1)

EvanED (569694) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370181)

However if you travel and you go beyond the storage limit even, and it will take you 6 hours to recharge...

Hell, even the 45-60 minutes of the Tesla's superchargers are, IMO, way too long for how often you have to do it.

Re:Not a replacement yet (1)

robot256 (1635039) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370365)

Today's lithium batteries can be charged to 80% in less than 20 minutes (a normal road trip pit stop)--no matter how big they are--and this will only improve. All we need is the network of DC Quick Charge stations. Building out quick-charge infrastructure is orders of magnitude cheaper than building a hydrogen distribution system. Tesla is already doing it (with their "Supercharger" network), and cost is such a non-issue that they provide it as a free perk for their drivers. With their included solar panels selling back power when not in use, the installations virtually pay for themselves. But if this is still a problem for you, get a range-extended electric vehicle like the Chevy Volt. Your daily commute will still be cheap, low-emissions electric driving, but you always have the option of driving continuously on the gas generator. It's unreasonable to expect society to build out hydrogen infrastructure when it's really just a stopgap until we have better batteries--400 mile range and 10-minute quick-charge time are not that far off. The long-haul trucking industry will come up with their own solution to fuel and carbon prices, but their needs don't have to dictate what daily commuters use.

Re:Not a replacement yet (1)

Farmer Pete (1350093) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370527)

I'm sure the fact that they're trying to use the superchargers to hawk their +$60,000 cars has nothing to do with their giving away energy.

Re:Not a replacement yet (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370423)

Hydrogen has the opposite problem that if you don't drive, you lose power. It leaks. Through a half inch of solid steel.

Re:Not a replacement yet (1)

Zemran (3101) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370475)

Electric cars sound great as long as you do not live in a flat. How do you connect to the power grid if you have to park out on the street? Most people cannot even park outside their own house let alone connect a power lead. If you live on the fourth floor you are not going to hang a power lead out the window :-) I do think that it is great tech but it is very limited.

Re:Not a replacement yet (5, Funny)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369843)

You could take that H2 and combine it with some carbon and some oxygen. I believe these new fuels are called hydrocarbons. My understanding is that these revolutionary molecules have a high energy density and combusting them should be a reasonable way to use it to power vehicles.

Re:Not a replacement yet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369923)

Someone started Cocktail Hour early this week.

Re:Not a replacement yet (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370185)

1. Just how much energy would it take to recombine hydrogen with carbon and oxygen to make hydrocarbons?
2. Hydrogen still delivers more bang per unit of measure than any hydrocarbon.
3. Burning hydrocarbons creates greenhouse gases.

Re:Not a replacement yet (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370239)

1. Lots, just like the energy required to liquify the hydrogen.
2. So long as your unit of measure is not volume.
3. Not if you get your CO2 from the air.

Re:Not a replacement yet (1)

dino2gnt (1072530) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370317)

3. Burning hydrocarbons creates greenhouse gases.

It would be a carbon-neutral cycle, as you're not introducing previously sequestered carbons into the atmosphere. Burning hydrocarbons doesn't *create* greenhouse gases, it only *retuns them to the atmosphere*

Re:Not a replacement yet (4, Interesting)

kenaaker (774785) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370327)

It's called a Sabatier reaction. It is the reaction of hydrogen and carbon dioxide, under pressure, at 300-400 C, in the presence of a nickel catalyst to produce methane and water. The methane can be transported in the existing natural gas pipeline system or used by a reforming fuel cell. The methane can also be used in one of the variations of the Fischer-Tropsch reactions to make liquid fuels.

Think bigger (1)

arcite (661011) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370003)

Hydrogen can be used to create clean electricity....which charges the car's batteries.

Re:Not a replacement yet (2)

Farmer Pete (1350093) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370017)

The Honda fuel cell car can go 240 miles between fillups. That's nothing breakthrough, but it's far enough. You can also refill it in a few minutes at a hydrogen equipped gas station. I know the technology needs to get better, but the technology to use hydrogen is already here. The problem has always been how to get hydrogen efficiently. These seems to have solved that, hopefully.

Re:Not a replacement yet (1)

Farmer Pete (1350093) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370035)

Forgot to post a link to the Honda FXC Clarity http://automobiles.honda.com/fcx-clarity/refueling.aspx [honda.com]

Re:Not a replacement yet (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370057)

How much does the fuel cell cost?

It is my understanding that they require platinum series metals.

Re:Not a replacement yet (4, Funny)

chill (34294) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370101)

It is my understanding that they require platinum series metals.

Sounds like a couple of women I've dated.

Re:Not a replacement yet (1)

jellomizer (103300) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370127)

"It is my understanding that they require platinum series metals."
So does the catalytic converter, in your gasoline care. which you wouldn't need if you had a hydrogen car.

Re:Not a replacement yet (3, Interesting)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370219)

Yes, but the amounts required are quite different, or have been so far. Has that been fixed yet?

Re:Not a replacement yet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43370151)

catalytic converters for internal combustion engines also require platinum.

Re:Not a replacement yet (2)

Motard (1553251) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370183)

We'll get to see the state of the art at LeMans this year (in July). The GreenGT H2 car will be the first hydrogen fuel cell car to participate in the 24 hour race.

Re:Not a replacement yet (1)

FridayBob (619244) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370417)

Indeed, this is not a solution for the fuel-cell problem, but at this point personal transportation is not important. The immediate and most significant aspect of this technology is that it may be a viable replacement for fossil fuels in the not too distant future. If it works, the next problem will be supplying the enormous amounts of xylose needed to maintain the necessary levels of hydrogen production, and that may yet prove to be a challenge regardless of the efficiency of the process.

Re:Not a replacement yet (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370537)

They got the storage down pretty well I think. There's hydrogen cars drive around all over my town. I also know some off-road guys that use it in competition because they get their trucks at crazy angles sometimes and liquid fuel becomes problematic when the trucks at a 90 degree angle.

http://experimentalev.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/tank.jpg [wordpress.com]

First post (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369731)

Do you want some xylose (sugar) with my frosty piss in the hydrogen?

w00t! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369747)

w00t!

So... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369779)

All the difficulties of bringing ethanol to market cheaply added to the engineering problems of fuel cells.
Brilliant!

Meh (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369783)

Meh it sounds nice but unfortunately the big oil companies will bury this so deep no one will think about it for the next 50-60 years minimum.

Re:Meh (4, Informative)

jellomizer (103300) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370225)

I am sure big oil would gladly shift to a new technology.
Here is the problem...
Gasoline offers the following advantages. High Energy Density. Can be stored and shipped easily, relativity safe (compared to other that would kill you at the first smell or explode more violently) Doesn't require a high infrastructure to deal with.

Now if we can get Hydrogen cheap and fuel cells cheap enough to make affordable cars that people will buy. I can see the big oil companies starting to shift to the hydrogen market. They already have ways of shipping, and retailers for their product. They will just switch products.

Really? (1, Interesting)

slashkitty (21637) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369799)

I find it very hard to believe that they are somehow going to get more energy out of plant matter than biodiesel or simply burning it. Hydrogen may be clean, but it's certainly not convenient. I my area, they can run cars on trash. Trash is burned in a Waste-to-Energy facility, and cars are recharged from the electricty.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369905)

Wow, basic understanding of thermodynamics fail.

Re:Really? (2)

felipekk (1007591) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370025)

Even more unbelievable (at least for a "layman" like me) is this claim:

"Even more appealing, this reaction occurs at low temperatures, generating hydrogen energy that is greater than the chemical energy stored in xylose and the polyphosphate. This results in an energy efficiency of more than 100 percent — a net energy gain."

Re:Really? (1)

m2shariy (1194621) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370079)

So they discovered that the first law of thermodynamics is not working anymore? Perpetuum mobile is the next step!

Re:Really? (2)

smg5266 (2440940) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370235)

Not so fast, heat pumps have an effective efficiency higher than 100% (in reality it's because it takes some energy from the surroundings). I suspect something similar here.

Re:Really? (1)

jxander (2605655) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370195)

The "more than 100 percent" claim is a bit strange, but might just be poor syntax. Perhaps they meant a more than 100% gain vs simply burning, or just classify biodesel as the 100% starting point, so a 10% increase means we are actually giving 110%

As for the low temperature bit, isn't that exactly what the first law of thermodynamics dictates? Energy can't simply be created, so the total amount of energy produced will always be constant. If we lost less energy to heat, more energy would be converted to force, or some other part of the reaction

Re:Really? (1)

alexander_686 (957440) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370329)

You are being a little bit pedantic. They are referring to usable energy inputs / usable energy outputs.

As a counter example, look at ethanol. It requires a lot of cooking with natural gas to convert corn into a usable fuel. I have heard arguments that it would be more efficient to run cars on natural gas. (I don’t think that is true anymore – ethanol production can become a lot more efficient.)

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43370463)

Pretty sure they mean that some of the heat applied to the reaction (by 'low' temperature they still mean well above room temp.) also ends up as stored energy in the released hydrogen.

Re:Really? (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370497)

The point is, biodiesel burns dirty and is inefficient. We can burn hydrogen at almost 100% efficiency. The reaction in which they turn the plant material into hydrogen likely happens in a closed cycle. The entire reaction is contained. So they could cycle through the same material several times to get the most out of it. Where-as, with diesel, you combine it with ambient air that's and an unknown temperature, moisture and oxygen content, light it and hope for the best.

How is this a win? (0)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369807)

If I'm reading it correctly, it converts xylose energy into hydrogen energy with a net gain, but you'll still need a massive amount of xylose from somewhere for it to be useful. Presumably xylose production needs energy, if only for harvesting+transportation.

How does this solve any problems?

Re:How is this a win? (4, Insightful)

Coreigh (185150) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369913)

The majority of input energy would be solar, growing the plants. the machinery used to harvest and transport it wouild run on electriciy and fuel cells just like everything else. It is just a matter of A) generating enough plant matter, and B) getting the infrastructure to critical mass to become sel sustaining.

Sure, it sounds far fetched. But hey, you have to start some where some time. Right?

Re:How is this a win? (1)

geek (5680) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369949)

"Xylose is otherwise pervasive, being found in the embryos of most edible plants"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xylose [wikipedia.org]

Doesn't seem to be an issue.

Re:How is this a win? (2)

chill (34294) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370129)

Xylose is otherwise pervasive, being found in the embryos of most edible plants.

Well, that should be enough information to trigger the food crops/fuel crops flame-warriors for the next few years.

Re:How is this a win? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43370345)

Don't say embryos too loudly....

Re:How is this a win? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43370153)

Presumably xylose production needs energy, if only for harvesting+transportation.

How does this solve any problems?

Hmm.. perhaps because harvesting and transporting plants might be easier than harvesting and transporting coal or uranium? But I'm really no expert...

Re:How is this a win? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43370257)

I ate some Del Taco burritos last night, and the massive outgassing of hydrogen from my ass confirms xylose presence in beans.

Re:How is this a win? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43370455)

Holy shit dude. That's as bad as the argument that since the truck that delivers fuel burns fuel to deliver it to you, that the whole thing is crazy and pointless.

Get this: while it takes energy to get and deliver the fuel, there's still a net gain.

It's too bad we can't do this with Helium (0)

thomasdz (178114) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369815)

It's HELIUM that we really need. that stuff is going to be pretty scarce in a hundred years.

Re:It's too bad we can't do this with Helium (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369957)

Yes, because you can drive your car and heat your home using helium.

Re:It's too bad we can't do this with Helium (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43370103)

No, but you can cool an MRI and safely lift airships with it. There are probably a number of other applications for which He is particularly well suited that I'm just not aware of.

We can probably make it in a fusion reactor (doesn't have to be gaining energy, just fusing H), or collect it as a byproduct from various other types of heavy metal reactors. That's expensive and dangerous though. We might get more supply from all this gas fracking. Gas usually has some He in it.

Re:It's too bad we can't do this with Helium (1)

alexander_686 (957440) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370407)

I think that high temperature superconductors are making their way into MRI machines. And while I think blimps are cool there is not much of a market today.

Silicon chips is the industry that you are looking for – lots of helium goes into making computer chips.

Re:It's too bad we can't do this with Helium (1)

sanosuke001 (640243) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370105)

And all those superconducting materials are cooled with ice cubes and happy thoughts.

Not to worry (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370125)

It's HELIUM that we really need. that stuff is going to be pretty scarce in a hundred years.

Not to worry, when you want a high-squeaky voice a hundred years hence, you'll just go down to the local PartyTime store and pay someone to kick you in the nads.

P.S. if you are female, also do not worry - in 100 years there will also be a "Nads For a Day" rental store you can visit first.

Late April Fools Day? (1)

bradgoodman (964302) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369821)

Is it just me - or are all these "miracle science" posts today making me feel like it's April Fool's day or something???

another typical anti-science post (1)

arcite (661011) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370021)

on slashdot...a sign of the times.

Oh Noes! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369827)

What are the people who blow off alternative fuels "because they're mostly made from petroleum so why bother converting to use them" going to bitch about now?

Re:Oh Noes! (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369977)

The fact that hydrogen embrittles metal, it has very low energy density by volume, and is an unholy pain in the ass to handle. Are those enough problems to start with?

Here is another, fuel cells that use it require platinum series metals which are very expensive.

monthly hydrogen perpetual motion posting (0)

peter303 (12292) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369837)

"nothing to see here. move on"
I wonder what happend to the past 20 or so "free hydrogen" breakthroughs posted in Slashdot through the years.

Re:monthly hydrogen perpetual motion posting (1)

tech.kyle (2800087) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369941)

True. It seems almost everyone confuses "free energy" with "can not see where the energy is coming from".

Bah, negative perspective (1)

Ravaldy (2621787) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370031)

It's another step towards haversting hydrogen. The biggest issue is making it renewable. This allows for renewability.There's always a cost to getting energy out of something. Even solar has a high cost per KW if you start including the cost of manufacturing the actual panel cost, it's inability to be ported...

but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369849)

I thought Hydrogen is difficult to contain since it is so tiny(molecularly speaking). Seems like it could be a hassle to facilitate storage and distribution?

Re:but... (1)

Stormthirst (66538) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369969)

Also petroleum is a surprisingly stable product considering what we use it for.

You'd have to store it another form - make it safer and easier to transport

Dupe (1)

Anonyme Connard (218057) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369853)

http://tech.slashdot.org/story/13/03/30/0312223/new-catalyst-allows-cheaper-hydrogen-production

I hope they make a fortune (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369907)

Since the university seems dead set on building buildings all over campus at a cost of $1000/sq ft they're gonna need some real big donors to step up for the naming rights!

more energy than what is stored (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369947)

Generating more energy than what is stored. Something doesn't sound right.

"....this reaction occurs at low temperatures, generating hydrogen energy that is greater than the chemical energy stored in xylose and the polyphosphate. This results in an energy efficiency of more than 100 percent — a net energy gain..."
Read more at http://scienceblog.com/62111/game-changer-in-alternatve-energy/#mbXlPcht0TwS6F0L.99

What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369987)

The article says, "this reaction occurs at low temperatures, generating hydrogen energy that is greater than the chemical energy stored in xylose and the polyphosphate".

Either that is a very poorly written sentence, or the researchers have managed to accomplish the impossible.

Going Green (1)

a_big_favor (2550262) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369993)

*puts on sunglasses* I guess they took "Green" energy a little too literally!

Was this from April 1? (1)

blastum (772029) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369995)

The article alternately says the energy comes from splitting hydrogen and from xylose. Which? The article says it produces no greenhouse gasses. What happens to the carbon then? The article says it produces more energy than the chemical energy of the components. Uh huh.

Almost no zero greenhouse gas (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43370051)

Anybody else wonder what almost no zero is?

Re:Almost no zero greenhouse gas (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43370135)

From the paper's abstract: "xylose was converted into H2 and CO2 with approaching 100% of the theoretical yield." So nearly all the carbon in xylose is converted to carbon dioxide and this is characterized as "almost no greenhouse gasses". What could be further from the truth?

Re:Almost no zero greenhouse gas (1)

WillgasM (1646719) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370295)

But the net is close to zero. All that carbon came from the atmosphere in the first place.

Efficiency more than 100 percent (4, Funny)

Qwertie (797303) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370115)

TFA says "Even more appealing, this reaction occurs at low temperatures, generating hydrogen energy that is greater than the chemical energy stored in xylose and the polyphosphate. This results in an energy efficiency of more than 100 percent â" a net energy gain." Truly we will have to reexamine the laws of thermodynamics in light of this discovery!

Re:Efficiency more than 100 percent (2)

Gr8Apes (679165) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370485)

They're just talking about energy in vs energy out.

Otherwise, you might want to report those 18 SEER AC units too.

Bring back hemp! (1)

WillgasM (1646719) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370131)

So we can finally make cars that run on marijuana trimmings! We just need to get enough various, concerted industries to team up and choke off Big Oil. Can't you just smell that paradigm shifting.

Accounting of all input sources of energy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43370141)

The claim "generating hydrogen energy that is greater than the chemical energy stored in xylose and the polyphosphate" is interesting, but it is not a true comparison of energy in to energy out. First of all, the reaction does not happen at room temperature but instead at 122 degree Fahrenheit. So that input energy is has not been counted. Second, one has to produce or extract those enzymes and that costs energy. Perhaps one batch can be used repeatedly, but not forever so there is some energy required. Either all these additional sources pushes the efficiency below 100% or it is a fantasy (beyond perpetual motion, infinite energy from a finite source).

Even if you take those additional input sources into account, I am skeptical the situation is a wonderful as the story implies. Let's see some other labs reproduce the result first before getting too excited.

Re:Accounting of all input sources of energy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43370331)

I agree completely. I looked up Dr. Zhang and he appears to have more than 100 peer-reviewed articles to his name. But those "peer-reviewed journals" are garbage like International Journal of Energy Research and Analytical Biochemistry, and this gem the Journal of Applied Microbiology. This guy is a hack. I'd tell you exactly where he fails, so hard, but I can't be bothered to read ANYTHING BUT A BLURB FROM A SCIENCE BLOG!

Jesus, the guy has stellar credentials a mile long and the Slashdot tard wagon arrives to tear him down using scienceblog and completely ignoring the actual paper. I'm sure Dr. Zhang earned his tenure at Virginia Tech by ignoring the basic laws of thermodynamics.

energy positive; storage friendly (1)

condition-label-red (657497) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370189)

From the article, it seems this is an energy positive process:

The energy stored in xylose splits water molecules, yielding high-purity hydrogen that can be directly utilized by proton-exchange membrane fuel cells. Even more appealing, this reaction occurs at low temperatures, generating hydrogen energy that is greater than the chemical energy stored in xylose and the polyphosphate. This results in an energy efficiency of more than 100 percent â" a net energy gain. That means that low-temperature waste heat can be used to produce high-quality chemical energy hydrogen for the first time. Other processes that convert sugar into biofuels such as ethanol and butanol always have energy efficiencies of less than 100 percent, resulting in an energy penalty.

Also it is suited for use in a fuel cell. One possible automotive implementation might be: a slurry of plant matter + enzymes => hydrogen + fuel cell => electricity => electric motors. This would avoid the hydrogen storage issues and provide an easily stored (i.e. slurry) energy source.

Hmm....

I must be old. (1)

BLToday (1777712) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370201)

Been hearing this for so long that I think I'll be dead long before hydrogen or nuclear fusion is commercially viable.

Real problem: Photosynthesis Efficiency (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43370211)

The problem is not how to get hydrogen out of biomass. The problem is photosynthis has a abmysal bad efficiency of around 0.5%, compared to 15-20% of a PV-module.

Re:Real problem: Photosynthesis Efficiency (1)

lobiusmoop (305328) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370273)

You're missing the point. PV modules are expensive, plants are free.

The victory of hydrogen over batteries inevitable (2)

SuperKendall (25149) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370215)

Electric cars are a given; they simply have way to many enticing benefits (tremendous power, simplicity).

No matter how much batteries improve, we'll simply not be able to fill them as conveniently we do normal vehicles. Putting plugs everywhere is totally impractical.

Hydrogen solves all of the issues with batteries while still giving us electric cars. Sure there are some issues now but as articles like this show, over time there will be advances in both generating and storing hydrogen. It's only a matter of time before hydrogen cars totally replace electric cars because of simple utility, and (sadly) the ability to have a more normal taxing structure applied to fuel.

Hydrogen is valuable NOT as a fuel source (3, Interesting)

Billy the Mountain (225541) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370301)

While hydrogen can be used as a fuel, it makes more sense for it to be used in ammonia production. The #2 most-produced chemical is ammonia and it is most commonly produced using natural gas which produces CO2 as a by-product.

Ultimately, the true test of this new process is how do the costs compare to steam-reforming of natural gas into hyrdogen?

Whole process (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370387)

The team liberates the high-purity hydrogen under mild reaction conditions at 122 degree Fahrenheit and normal atmospheric pressure. The biocatalysts used to release the hydrogen are a group of enzymes artificially isolated from different microorganisms that thrive at extreme temperatures, some of which could grow at around the boiling point of water.

How much energy will it take to produce the biocatalysts and will that reduce the EROEI [wikipedia.org] to less than 1?

How long until market? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43370419)

The article says 3 years, but like a vaccine in a banana, things like this seem to disappear.

This will change everything if it makes it out into widespread use.

Free Market (1)

andydread (758754) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370533)

I thought this stuff should be left up the scientists at big oil to pioneer this research? We don't need no more gubmint funded research at educational institutions. too much big goverment is bad. Bad I say.
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