Researchers at Virginia Tech have found a way to convert corn sugar into zero-emissions hydrogen fuel, a clean alternative to petrol.
A new way to produce clean fuel from natural plant waste could lead to more hydrogen-powered cars hitting the road — and accelerate the demise of traditional petrol stations.
A study carried out by a team of researchers at Virginia Tech, funded by Shell Oil, has found a way to efficiently create zero-emissions hydrogen fuel by using the sugar stored in “stover”, the stalks, cobs and husks left over from harvested maize.
Up until now, it has only been possible to convert between 30 percent and 60 percent of corn’s sugars into hydrogen, using either fermenting microbes or industrial catalysts. The newly discovered method converts 100 percent of the sugar, and results in no overall increase in carbon dioxide emissions into theatmosphere.
The team, whose findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, believe that the biological method could help to lead the way for the widespread arrival of hydrogen-powered cars on our roads — which are both environmentally friendly and relatively inexpensive to power.
If the process can be commercialised, it is possible that traditional petrol stations might be replaced by a network of roadside’bioreactors’ allowing drivers to stop off and refuel. Though the makers of purely electric cars, which bypass the need for fuel (and maybe companies like Shell…) might dispute that theory.