Researchers Say Corn May Be Key For Hydrogen-Fueled Vehicles

One of the requirements still needed to push hydrogen-powered cars into the mainstream is finding a way to economically produce the fuel, and a team of researchers said they have found the solution.

Corn – easy and inexpensive to grow – could be the key that moves fuel cell vehicles (FCV) from fringe technology to a widespread possibility. This report comes from a team of researchers at Virginia Tech, led by recent doctoral graduate Joe Rollin and Professor Percival Zhang (pictured above).

“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,” Rollin said.

The team has developed a method to extract energy using corn husks, cobs and stalks, publishing their research in the in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Virginia Tech Professor Percival Zhang (right) and graduate Joe Rollin. Photo credit: Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech Professor Percival Zhang (right) and graduate Joe Rollin. Photo credit: Virginia Tech.

“Unlike other hydrogen fuel production methods that rely on highly processed sugars, the Virginia Tech team used dirty biomass – the husks and stalks of corn plants – to create their fuel,” the university said.

“This reduces the initial expense of creating the fuel and enables the use of a fuel source readily available near the processing plants, making the creation of the fuel a local enterprise.”

Finding an inexpensive source for the fuel is only one way the Virginia Tech research could lead lower costs for hydrogen production. By developing a more efficient extraction method, the team says it has has cut down on the size of the facility required for production, saving additional construction and operational expenses. These smaller production plants can then be strategically located, it says, reducing costs to transport the fuel.

“This means we have demonstrated the most important step toward a hydrogen economy – producing distributed and affordable green hydrogen from local biomass resources,” said Zhang.

The next step for the team is to step up to a full-sized production model, in order to demonstrate the method in a real-world setting.

SEE ALSO: Hydrogen Could Reach Cost Parity With EVs In 5-12 Years

Calculating the final per kilogram cost of the fuel is also important in determining the viability of this method.

Even if the research doesn’t result in a cost-effective way to commercially produce hydrogen, the team has already opened up some new ideas for alternative energy production, said Lonnie O. Ingram, director of the Florida Center for Renewable Chemicals and Fuels at the University of Florida.

“Although it is difficult to predict cost at this point, this work represents a revolutionary approach that offers many new advantages.”


Photo credits: Virginia Tech

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