Importance of Biochemistry

cheap hydrogen produced through corn

Cheap hydrogen through corn


Cheap hydrogen produced through corn :

Hydrogen as a source of clean, efficient energy … and cheap: it could soon become a reality. A team at the Virginia Institute of Technology has developed a method for producing ecological and economical hydrogen from plant residues, in this case maize. A solution that could make it possible to generalize the use of this biofuel and fuel cell vehicles.


For the last ten years, Percival Zhang’s team has been working on developing alternative and economical hydrogen production techniques . Researchers at the Virginia Institute of Technology (USA) are particularly interested in the actions of enzymes (the catalysts of cells) and their ability to release the hydrogen retained in plants.

In a recent issue of the  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , they unveil a low-cost, high-yield production method that exploits sugars in corn .

Why such an interest in hydrogen when its consumption represents only a small percentage of global energy production ? First, because with an energy density of 33 kWh per kilogram , it contains for example three times more energy than diesel and even 2.5 times more than natural gas .

Moreover, used in a fuel cell , hydrogen, which combines with air to produce electricity, rejects nothing but water. It is therefore an ideal fuel for cars of the future. However, conventional generation technologies are still largely based on fossil fuels ( hydrocarbons , natural gas , etc.). They are expensive and emit large amounts of CO 2 . Hence the importance of the work carried out by Percival Zhang’s team.


Extract hydrogen from corn glucose and xylose

There are already methods of producing hydrogen from biomass but they are usually based on a raw material of refined sugars, which already require an energy expenditure for their production.

Researchers at the Virginia Institute of Technology propose meanwhile exploit waste of biomass such as the stalks or envelopes ears of corn (the main cereal grown in the United States). What would reduce costs and imagine a model of distributed energy production that would be both closer to the processing plants and consumers.

Based on a computer model, Percival Zhang’s team peeled up the possible enzymatic reactions to degrade maize residue sugars with hydrogen and CO 2 production .

The researchers have discovered a series of reactions that do not exist in nature but are very effective in extracting the hydrogen contained in both corn glucose and xylose. By acting on these two types of sugars simultaneously, they were able to increase the speed release of hydrogen and up to triple the volume of product more classic.

The team from the Virginia Institute of Technology has also been able to increase the efficiency of enzymatic reactions by a factor of ten over the best known methods today.

 A sufficient level to consider hydrogen production in small facilities,  “similar to traditional gas stations,” say the researchers. Especially since the biological reaction involved does not require the creation of special conditions that would require large technical means. The hydrogen produced can be easily separated from the enzymes in aqueous solution and remains of high quality.

 What to generalize the use of fuel cell vehicles, According to US researchers, and thus reduce drastically the use of fossil fuels and emissions of greenhouse gas .

The team already has the necessary funds to take the next step, that of the realization of an industrial demonstrator.

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