Scientists Harness Solar Power to Produce Hydrogen from Biomass

A team of scientists at the University of Cambridge has developed a way of using solar power to generate hydrogen from biomass, the U.K. university said last week.

According to the university, the new technology relies on a photocatalytic conversion process — catalytic nanoparticles are added to alkaline water in which biomass is suspended. This water is placed in front of a light in the lab which mimics solar light. The university said that the solution is ideal for absorbing the light and converting the biomass into gaseous hydrogen. The hydrogen is free of fuel-cell inhibitors, such as carbon monoxide, which allows it to be used for power.

David Wakerley with the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, joint lead author on a new research paper published in Nature Energy, said: “There’s a lot of chemical energy stored in raw biomass, but it’s unrefined, so you can’t expect it to work in complicated machinery, such as a car engine. Our system is able to convert the long, messy structures that make up biomass into hydrogen gas, which is much more useful. We have specifically designed a combination of catalyst and solution that allows this transformation to occur using sunlight as a source of energy. With this in place we can simply add organic matter to the system and then, provided it’s a sunny day, produce hydrogen fuel.”

The team used different types of biomass — wood, paper and leaves — in the experiments.

The university said that a U.K. patent application has been filed and talks are under way with a potential commercial partner.

Lead image credit: University of Cambridge


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