Researchers at Virginia Tech said they have succeeded in using xylose, the most abundant simple plant sugar, to produce a large quantity of hydrogen in a method that can be performed using any source of biomass.
"Our new process could help end our dependence on fossil fuels," Y.H. Percival Zhang, a Virginia Tech professor of biological systems engineering, said. "Hydrogen is one of the most important biofuels of the future."
This environmentally friendly method of producing hydrogen utilizes renewable natural resources, releases almost no zero greenhouse gases and doesn't require costly or heavy metals, a university release reported Wednesday.
Other researchers say the discovery has the potential to have a major effect on alternative energy production.
"The key to this exciting development is that Zhang is using the second most prevalent sugar in plants to produce this hydrogen," said Jonathan R. Mielenz at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, who is familiar with Zhang's work but not affiliated with the project.
"This amounts to a significant additional benefit to hydrogen production and it reduces the overall cost of producing hydrogen from biomass."
Most hydrogen for the commercial market is presently produced from natural gas, which is expensive to manufacture and generates a large amount of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, researchers said.
"It really doesn't make sense to use non-renewable natural resources to produce hydrogen," Zhang said. "We think this discovery is a game-changer in the world of alternative energy."