(Graphic by Tribune News Service)
(Graphic by Tribune News Service)

Researchers from Virginia Tech have discovered a way to create hydrogen fuel using bio sources that reduces the time and cost it takes to make the zero-emissions fuel.

The new method uses the stalks, cobs and husks of corn to produce the hydrogen fuel. Unlike other hydrogen fuel production that rely on highly processed sugars, researchers at Virginia Tech used the dirty husks and stalks of corn plants, which reduced the cost of making the fuel.

Joe Rollin, lead author of the paper that was published in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” used a genetic algorithm with a series of mathematical expressions to analyze each step of the enzymatic process. This process breaks down the stalks and husks into hydrogen and carbon dioxide.

This new system can use both glucose and xylose at the same time, which increases the release rate of hydrogen. Usually in biological conversions, glucose and xylose can be used one after the other but never at the same time. Because of this, previous systems of biological conversion was more timely and expensive.

One of the largest challenges in making hydrogen fuel is the cost required to produce the fuel in large facilities. Currently, the method of creating hydrogen fuel involves natural gas, which can be expensive to produce and distribute and also causes carbon emissions.

Rollin’s method increase reaction rates by threefold, which decreases the required facility size to roughly the size of a gas station, thus reducing cost. This would allow hydrogen to be produced at their own fueling stations.

With this cost efficient method, it could help spread the interest in hydrogen-powered vehicles.

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