LONDON, March 14 (Xinhua) -- Researchers have developed a cost-effective way of harnessing solar power to produce hydrogen from biomass, according to a study released Tuesday by the University of Cambridge.
Biomass has been a source of heat and energy since the beginning of recorded history. Lignocellulose is the main component of plant biomass and up to now its conversion into hydrogen has only been achieved through a gasification process which uses high temperatures to decompose it fully.
A team of researchers at the University of Cambridge designed a new method that could carry out the conversion in a simple and cost-effective way.
The new technology relies on a simple photocatalytic conversion process. Catalytic nanoparticles are added to alkaline water in which the biomass is suspended. This is then placed in front of a light in the lab which mimics solar light.
The solution is ideal for absorbing this light and converting the biomass into gaseous hydrogen which can then be collected and used for power.
"There's a lot of chemical energy stored in raw biomass, but it's unrefined, so you can't expect it to work in complicated machinery, such as a car engine. Our system is able to convert the long, messy structures that make up biomass into hydrogen gas, which is much more useful," said David Wakerley, one of the authors of the study.
The team used different types of biomass in their experiments. The biomass didn't require any processing beforehand.
"Our sunlight-powered technology is exciting as it enables the production of clean hydrogen from unprocessed biomass under ambient conditions. We see it as a new and viable alternative to high temperature gasification and other renewable means of hydrogen production," said another of the study's authors, Erwin Reisner.
The study has been published in the journal Nature Energy.