Hydrogen easily extracted from plants in boon for fuel cells


Fuel cells are powered by hydrogen, which can be difficult and environmentally messy to produce. Researchers at Virginia Tech have found a way to extract hydrogen from plants in a simple, non-polluting way. They expect it to be on the market within a few years. If so, this would mainstream fuel cell vehicles.

A team of Virginia Tech researchers has discovered a way to extract large quantities of hydrogen from any plant, a breakthrough that has the potential to bring a low-cost, environmentally friendly fuel source to the world.

Volkswagen says fuel cell vehicles not possible at reasonable cost


While other automakers continue to develop fuel cell vehicles, which are powered by hydrogen and have no harmful emissions, Volkwswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn says they are impossible to build at a “reasonable cost.” Even if they could be, then huge numbers of hydrogen fueling stations would need to be built to fuel them, which seems improbable at best.

Fuel cell vehicles could still have futures as forklifts, buses, and short-range delivery trucks, where they would be re-fueled at a central location. However, electric vehicles can also be used for these purposes and the fueling systems (electricity) are already in place.

Fuel cell station powered by wind

Credit: SourceOne

By building a wind turbine to power a hydrogen production and fueling station, a little hamlet in Long Island is positioning itself as the bellwether for carbon-neutral transportation.

The hydrogen will power two Toyota fuel cell Highlanders and a fuel cell / gas bus. Thus, Hempstead NY may become an important test area for fuel cell vehicles, which use hydrogen to create electricity. Byproducts are water, heat, and microscopic amounts of emissions.

Off planet energy source? Think small

Electron microscope image of the microbe, Geobacter sulfurreducens, the core of the microbial fuel cell-based system. (NRL photo)

That’s what the U.S. Navy Research Laboratory (NRL) is doing these days.

Integrating the NRL developed technologies in microrobotics, microbial fuel cells, and low power electronics, space robotics scientist Dr. Gregory P. Scott at NRL’s Spacecraft Engineering Department inspires a novel autonomous microrover, weighing in at nearly one-kilogram and powered by an advanced microbial fuel cell (MFC) technology.

“The goal is to demonstrate a more efficient and reliable energy source for use in powering small robotic vehicles in environments where the option for human intervention is non-existent,” said Scott. “Microbial fuel cells coupled with extremely low-power electronics and a low energy requirement for mobility addresses gaps in power technology applicable to all robotic systems, especially planetary robotics.”

This research is still in its early days, but it’s a new way to approach the problem of powering equipment far from home.