We have all heard the pluses and minuses of using of using corn to create automotive fuel, but what if using corn as a basis for fuel was the right idea and the issue was that we went about it the wrong way?
At Virginia Tech, a team of researchers have discovered a new way to to make hydrogen fuel from the parts of the corn plant not used for food; the stalks, cobs, and husks. By using these waste parts the researchers have removed one of the large objections to corn fuel; using food as a fuel source.
Hydrogen fuel from plant sources is not new. However the Virginia Tech team has found a different method that breaks down two most common plant sugars, xylose and glycose, simultaneously. By working on both sugars simultaneously, the process releases hydrogen 10 times faster than than existing photo based hydrogen production systems. Most current hydrogen production facilities use natural gas, a fossil fuel, as a source.
The process uses a mixture of waste bio-mass combined with a solution of enzymes that convert plant sugar into hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The enzymes were created using genetically engineered bacteria.
How much will it cost? That the researchers cannot answer yet. However, with the increased reaction speed and increased production volume, they predict that a production facility be no larger than a gas station, thus reducing capital costs. This also means that production could be widely distributed, reducing the need to transport the fuel. According to the U.S. Dept. of Energy, there are only 13 publicly available hydrogen fueling stations in the entire U.S.
By addressing the issues of production rate, distribution, and fuel source, these new methods could be the solution to a primary problem facing hydrogen cars.
The selection of hydrogen powered cars is fairly limited, with just Honda, Hyundai, Toyota, and Mercedes-Benz producing vehicles in very limited numbers.