Is Hydrogen Energy The Next Big Thing?
Hydrogen forms a perfect alternative source of energy for more reasons than one. Apart from being the most plentiful gas in the atmosphere, hydrogen does not emit harmful gases such as CO2. Due to this, any breakthrough in commercial use of hydrogen would be great news to the whole world. Looking at research strides made in recent years, a practicable hydrogen technology solution is apparent.
Problems with Use of Hydrogen Energy
Until now, attempts to adopt hydrogen energy solutions have met major challenges. The most practical hydrogen production method is through fossil fuels yet this is a non-renewable and expensive method. On the other hand, the reactive nature of hydrogen makes it very expensive to produce and store the gas safely. Finally, converting to a hydrogen energy economy would need massive infrastructural adjustments.
Photosynthesis and Xylose May Help
For decades, scientists have tried to extract oxygen and hydrogen at different times to avoid explosions. In a study published in the Nature Chemistry Journal on 15th April 2013, a group of scientists have discovered how to solve the dangers of explosions. The University of Glasgow researchers have developed a new hydrogen production method which uses the photosynthesis concept. Although they still apply the conventional electrolysis method, the “electron-coupled proton buffer” technique ensures oxygen and hydrogen are released at different times, so chances of explosions are minimal. As the scientists argue, this photosynthesis-based method is both safer and more cost-effective.
In another breakthrough, a team of biological systems engineers from Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences recently found what could be the most viable method to harness hydrogen. Different from the electrolysis method, the proposed approach is less expensive and faster.
In this experiment, the scientists designed enzymes to act on xylose and produce hydrogen.
After several years of research, the group came up with certain enzymes that react to produce great quantities of hydrogen.
Xylose is abundantly found in plants, forming up to 30% of the cell walls. So, the possibility of using plants and their waste matter specifically for hydrogen is looming.
The methods highlighted here are reminiscent of the long standing attempts to biologically produce hydrogen for commercial use. The University of Glasgow method is safer and faster while the Virginia Tech technique approach is applicable at any temperature.
A Step Closer To the Energy Economy
The latest discoveries give solutions through efficient production of hydrogen from renewable resources. As it stands, there are still challenges on storage of the potentially dangerous gas and establishment of infrastructure to cater for consumer demand.
With some governments such as the US supporting this market, there are signs of hydrogen energy success in the near future. Stakeholders in the auto-mobile world have also shown renewed interest in the great potential presented by hydrogen energy. Considering that the hydrogen market is already worth more than $100 billion, it is just a matter of time before the hydrogen economy becomes a universal reality.