According to a report frm Reuters, researchers have found a "relatively easy way to extract the clean fuel source hydrogen from a glucose solution." By heating a sugar solution to 392 deg F (200 deg C) and then passing the solution over a platinum-based catalyst, the solution breaks down into hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The hydrogen could be diverted into a fuel cell, which is a cleaner alternative to power cars that will hopefully be widely used soon. The carbon dioxide can be released into the atmosphere to be reabsorbed by growing vegetation and photosynthesized back into oxygen.
"The beauty of our process is that it is fairly simple, and at fairly mild temperatures, with no harmful by-products,” Jim Dumesic, leader of the research team at the University of Wisconsin, told Reuters by telephone. The process does not even produce excess carbon dioxide, which would have been released anyways by the biodegradation of the plants from which the sugar was derived. Glucose is obtainable from a variety of renewable sources.
“We are at the (laboratory) bench experiment stage so far, but it works,” Dumesic added, and he noted that the process was more efficient and quicker than the alternative, which uses bacteria to break down plant material such as maize to generate hydrogen. Much work still has to be done to prevent the catalyst from degrading and to improve the efficiency of the conversion process. “Our goal in a perfect situation would be to achieve a process where 25 percent of the hydrogen would be used to heat the solution with the remaining 75 percent free to be used as fuel,” Dumesic told Reuters. “But we are a long way from that.” Present testing shows that half of the product from catalyzing glucose solutions is hydrogen, and hopefully further refining of the sugar sources will raise that percentage.
Of course, the implications of this research are potentially huge. The search has been on for some time to find a renewable and environmentally friendly source of energy and to get away from oil based fuel. Several major car manufacturers, including DaimlerChrysler and Ford, are experimenting with hydrogen fuel cells whose only by-product is water.
“We are not talking about spooning glucose into your car to make it go.” Dumesic told Reuters. “We have a lot more bench work over the next few years to do to see the potential.”