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Grass – The New Source of Cheap Hydrogen Fuel

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Scientists from Cardiff University claim to have found a rapid and affordable way to generate hydrogen using common grass.

Hydrogen fuel is undoubtedly one of the best renewable alternatives to fossil fuels. It has incredible energy content and it does not emit any polluting gasses. Unfortunately, current methods for producing hydrogen are the exact opposite of eco friendly. They are highly polluting, energy intensive and above all, very expensive.

Although this is one reason why hydrogen fuel is not “leaking” from the tap, scientists are nowhere near admitting defeat. Various teams are continuously searching for alternative methods to make the precious gas without harming the environment. Now, it seems one particular team has made a huge progress.

Scientists from Cardiff University, together with colleagues from Queen’s University Belfast, decided to look for possibilities of producing hydrogen in a cheap and clean manner, by exploring the properties of plant cellulose. Of course, there is no better source of this than one of the most available plant species on the planet- the fescue grass (popular cool-season grass for home lawns).

The team focused on testing whether plant cellulose can be converted into hydrogen through the commonly known process of photocatalysis. As the name of the process suggests, hydrogen is produced with the help of sunlight and a catalyst.

The experiments involved testing of three metal catalysts- palladium, gold and nickel. The team paid special attention to the last one. Nickel is one of the most abundant, and readily available metals. Its use, therefore, brings great reduction in process costs.

The scientists mixed the three catalysts with cellulose and placed them under a desk lamp. They then collected gas samples were collected every half an hour in order to measure the production rate. They also repeated the same process but replaced cellulose with raw domestic garden grass.

The results were astonishing. The amount of gas that the scientists measured was significant. The process proved to be highly effective and fully functioning, using only cheap and available materials- garden grass, nickel and a regular light source.

According to the team, this is the first time anyone makes such attempt to produce hydrogen from raw materials. They demonstrated that not only the process of hydrogen production is ‘green-ified’, but also there is no need to even separate cellulose from the plant. This brings the price even further down.

It all looks very promising!

For more details, you can refer to the publication based on the study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A.

Image(c) getty

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