Scottish Team Claims Breakthrough in Making Hydrogen from Biofuels

By Editors on January 9, 2009 7:29 AM

After a decade of research, a group of scientists at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland say they've found a way to produce hydrogen from renewable biofuel sources. It's an achievement that has far-reaching implications with respect to reducing the world's need for fossil fuels as well as lowering the amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Today, over 90 percent of the hydrogen produced is derived from petroleum-based natural gas in a process that also generates large amounts of CO2. In the new U of A process, hydrogen is produced by the fermentation of various crop stocks into ethanol in a way that is carbon neutral.

Study leader Professor Hicham Idriss, Energy Futures Chair at the University of Aberdeen, explained: "As with traditional methods of hydrogen production, carbon dioxide is still created during the process we have developed. However unlike fossil fuels which are underground we are using ethanol generated from an above the ground source -- plants or crops. This means that any carbon dioxide created during the process is assimilated back into the environment and is then used by plants as part of their natural cycle of growth."

This U of A research also encompassed the creation of the first stable catalyst that can generate hydrogen from bio-based ethanol under "realistic" conditions. Idriss elaborated: "The catalyst is made of very small nanoparticles of metals deposited on larger nanoparticles of a support called cerium oxide which is also used in catalytic converters in cars. At present the generation of hydrogen needed to power a mid-size fuel cell can be achieved using one kilogram of this catalyst."