A team of researchers from the United Kingdom say that a new form of clean, cheap and renewable energy could be sitting in our front and back yards. Garden grass, or more specifically fescue grass, could hold the answer to a new alternative to fossil fuels.
Experts and researchers from Cardiff University‘s Cardiff Catalysis Institute claim that a cheap catalyst and sunlight can unlock a large amount of hydrogen from fescue grass. It’s a new discovery with a lot of potential for the fuel industry since hydrogen has a lot of energy and doesn’t release greenhouse or toxic gases when burned.
According to Prof. Michael Bowker, one of the study’s co-authors from the Cardiff Catalysis Institute at Cardiff University, this would really be a green energy source. He adds that the world is replacing fossil fuels with feedstocks that are renewable and that hydrogen is a vital energy carrier for the future. The research shows that getting a hold of hydrogen through garden grass is viable.
Hydrogen can be found in abundance in a variety of organic materials including hydrocarbons and water. Until this point it has been a challenge finding the solution to harvesting the hydrogen in a sustainable, efficient and cheap way from these organic sources. Hydrogen can be found in cellulose, which is an organic compound in plants and is recognized as the Earth’s most abundant biopolymer.
The research team examined how cellulose could be converted into hydrogen with the use of a catalyst and sunlight. Photocatalysis or photoreforming is a process that involves activating the catalyst with sunlight to then convert the water and cellulose into hydrogen. The catalysts studied were nickel, gold and palladium.
In the first experiment all of the 3 catalysts were combined with cellulose and put in a flask under a desk lamp to collect light. The samples were collected and analyzed every half-hour to see the amount of hydrogen produced with this method. The researchers then used fescue grass as part of the experiment, which was retrieved from a domestic garden.
Photocatalysis as a means of reducing hydrogen from plant cellulose hasn’t been studied extensively according to Professor Bowker. The results have proven that a cheap catalyst combined with sunlight can yield a large amount of hydrogen. He also adds that the fescue grass was the first raw biomass used for this type of hydrogen production. While purifying and separating cellulose can be difficult and expensive, the process can be avoided by using this method.
The team, which also consists of researchers from Queen’s University Belfast, published their findings in the Royal Society journal Proceedings A.