Corn by-product could make hydrogen fuel cheaper and more widespread

7 Apr 2015

New developments in the production of hydrogen fuel could make it considerably cheaper and more readily available with the help of corn stover, which are leftovers found following the harvesting of corn.

This marks a major improvement on current methods, which follow a similar process, but where refined sugar would be used, which is not only more expensive but limits its use on a wider scale.

However, by using corn stover, the team from Virginia Tech (VT) can use what is a dirty and readily available biomass and make the fuel much cheaper, as well as facilitating local creation close to corn-processing plants.

According to VT’s release on the breakthrough, Joe Rollin, lead author on the team’s paper, developed a genetic algorithm that would also speed up the production process by allowing the fuel to be harvested more efficiently by being able to break down both sugar glucose and xylose, which has not been achieved before.

Using this model, the speed at which the chemical reaction is achieved is three times faster than current models, which also allows for a major reduction in the size of the facilities needed to create it, down to a size equivalent to a petrol station.

Likewise, the reaction rate is considered fast enough for hydrogen production in distributed hydrogen-fuelling stations at a rate 10-times faster than the current fastest photo-hydrogen production system.

Speaking of the project, Rollin is very optimistic about the breakthrough, “We believe this exciting technology has the potential to enable the widespread use of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles around the world and displace fossil fuels.”

Corn field image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic