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Sunlight helps scientists derive hydrogen from grass

"Our results show that significant amounts of hydrogen can be produced using this method," said researcher Michael Bowker.

By Brooks Hays
Sunlight helps scientists derive hydrogen from grass
Researchers have found a way to derive hydrogen from the grass growing on suburban front lawns. Photo by Michael G McKinne/Shutterstock

CARDIFF, Wales, July 21 (UPI) -- Scientists in Wales see gas in the grass. The green stuff growing in your yard might be an inexpensive source of renewable energy.

With just sunlight and the help of a cheap catalyst, researchers at Cardiff University have found a way to derive hydrogen gas from fescue grass.

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"Hydrogen is seen as an important future energy carrier as the world moves from fossil fuels to renewable feedstocks, and our research has shown that even garden grass could be a good way of getting hold of it," Michael Bowker, a professor at the Cardiff Catalysis Institute, said in a news release.

Hydrogen is plentiful on Earth, but it's not easy to unlock from its geological and biological sources. Many of the current synthesis strategies are expensive and energy-intensive, negating hydrogen's environmental benefits.

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But scientists at Cardiff recently documented the promise of a new strategy called photoreforming, or photocatalysis. During photoreforming, sunlight triggers a catalyst, setting in motion a chemical reaction that converts cellulose and water into hydrogen.

Researchers tested three relatively cheap metal-based catalysts -- palladium, gold and nickel -- and found success with all three.

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"Our results show that significant amounts of hydrogen can be produced using this method with the help of a bit of sunlight and a cheap catalyst," Bowker said.

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The researchers shared their findings in a new paper, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A.

Researchers believe it's the first time lawn grass has been used to turn cellulose into hydrogen.

"This is significant as it avoids the need to separate and purify cellulose from a sample, which can be both arduous and costly," Bowker concluded.

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