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Solar Power Used To Generate Hydrogen From Biomass

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have been working towards developing a system that converts the structures that constitute biomass into hydrogen gas, to make raw biomass more useful.

Up till now, the conversion of lignocellulose – the main part of plant biomass – has only been achieved by a gasification process, a process that uses high temperatures so it can be decomposed fully.

This new technology uses a photocatalytic conversion process where nanoparticles are added to alkaline water in which biomass has been suspended. This is then positioned in front of a light that mimics solar light. Once the biomass has been converted into gaseous hydrogen, it can then be collected – with the hydrogen free of fuel-cell inhibitors like carbon monoxide.

“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,” Dr Erwin Reisner, head of the lab where the technology was developed, said.

This kind of work is likely to become increasingly important over the next few years, especially since National Grid recently revealed that the UK is likely to miss its EU 2050 targets for renewable energy.

The goal is to produce 15 per cent of all energy from renewables by 2050, with a spokesman from National Grid saying that these targets are still achievable but more momentum is required. As such, the government must change tack or the country will fail.

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