University of Cambridge Researchers Use Solar Power to Produce Hydrogen from Biomass

A team of researchers at the University of Cambridge has developed a method of using solar power to generate a fuel that is both sustainable and relatively cheap to produce.

Lignocellulose is the main component of plant biomass. It is made of strong, highly crystalline cellulose fibers, that are interwoven with lignin, and hemicellulose which act as a glue. This rigid structure gives plants and trees mechanical stability. Up to now, its conversion into hydrogen has only been achieved through a gasification process, which uses high temperatures to decompose it.

The new technology relies on a simple photocatalytic conversion process. Catalytic nanoparticles, which are capable of absorbing energy from solar light and using it to do complex chemical reactions, are added to alkaline water where the biomass is suspended. This is then placed in front of a light which mimics solar light. The solution then absorbs this light and converts the biomass into gaseous hydrogen which can then be collected.

The team used the method on different types of biomass in their experiments such as pieces of wood, paper and leaves. All biomass didn't require any processing beforehand.

A UK patent application has now been filed and talks are under way with a potential commercial partner.


This article is part of the Crop Biotech Update, a weekly summary of world developments in agri-biotech for developing countries, produced by the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology, International Service for the Aquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications SEAsiaCenter (ISAAA)

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