It seems that, in almost every newspaper or news magazine you pick up these days, you'll find a new energy technology. With billions of dollars invested into finding an alternative to fossil fuels-or more likely, many alternatives-we're caught in the midst of a race to discover a cost-effective system for powering the gigantic transportation industry.
Who knows which technologies will ultimately become as commonplace as gasoline? The question is truly still up in the air...maybe literally, when it comes to hydrogen.
Hydrogen carThe hydrogen economy is often depicted as an ideal futuristic scenario where cars could run indefinitely on the most abundant element in the universe: hydrogen. However, there are still many hurdles to overcome in order to fuel an entire society with hydrogen, mainly because collateral costs (for such needs as production, storage and transportation of hydrogen) are still very high.
One of the latest innovations in hydrogen fuel research is the discovery that 13 enzymes found in nature, when added to water and some kind of starch (biomass material such as wood and plants) break down the water into hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The enzymes are found in such diverse areas as plants, rabbits, bacteria, and yeast.
Even though hydrogen is so abundant, it's rarely found isolated in nature. This method, then, is perhaps one of the simplest sounding ideas yet to isolate hydrogen on a large scale.
The excess carbon dioxide is then released back into the atmosphere; since the plants that were used as starch once took carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, this carbon dioxide byproduct just replaces that amount, making this a carbon-neutral and environmentally-neutral process.
The most intriguing part of this method is not just the production, though. The 13-enzyme technique also solves the storage and transportation problems: unlike other methods which require massive amounts of storage and transportation costs, this method allows the hydrogen to be safely produced, bought off the shelf, and added to your car when needed. This is the advantage of lightweight storage, while other storage materials usually consist of heavy metals.
The researchers, led by Percival Zhang from Virginia Tech, predict that 4 kilograms of hydrogen produced in this method would cost about $8, and could fuel a car for about 300 miles.
Like all technologies at the moment, there are improvements that must be made prior to marketing this technique. Finding enough enzymes in nature at a low cost, finding enough biomass (usually requiring land to grow it on), and making the enzymes work dependably at high temperatures will require more investigation.
If all goes well, the scientists hope that hydrogen-fueled cars may be on the road in 8-10 years. Before then, there will certainly be many more interesting discoveries in hydrogen energy and other fuel alternatives.
Via: New Scientist Environment