Move over sun and wind, grassoline is on its way! According to a team of researchers, the solution to our energy needs can be as simple as growing garden grass. The team, including experts from the Cardiff University, has shown that significant amounts of hydrogen can be unlocked from fescue grass with the help of sunlight and a cheap catalyst.
It is the first time that this method has been demonstrated and could potentially lead to a sustainable way of producing hydrogen, which has enormous potential in the renewable energy industry due to its high energy content and the fact that it does not release toxic or greenhouse gases when it is burnt.
Co-author Michael Bowker said: “This really is a green source of energy,” adding “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.”
A promising source of hydrogen is the organic compound cellulose, which is a key component of plants and the most abundant biopolymer on Earth.
In their study, the team investigated the possibility of converting cellulose into hydrogen using sunlight and a simple catalyst – a substance which speeds up a chemical reaction without getting used up.
This process is called photoreforming or photocatalysis and involves the sunlight activating the catalyst which then gets to work on converting cellulose and water into hydrogen.
The researchers studied the effectiveness of three metal-based catalysts – Palladium, Gold and Nickel.
Nickel was of particular interest to the researchers, from a practical point of view, as it is a much more earth-abundant metal than the precious metals, and is more economical.
Bowker continued: “Up until recently, the production of hydrogen from cellulose by means of photocatalysis has not been extensively studied. 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.”
He added, “Furthermore, we’ve demonstrated the effectiveness of the process using real grass taken from a garden. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that this kind of raw biomass has been used to produce hydrogen in this way. This is significant as it avoids the need to separate and purify cellulose from a sample, which can be both arduous and costly.”
The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A.