Cambridge boffins turn biomass into hydrogen

Scientists have developed a way to use sunlight to turn unprocessed biomass into clean hydrogen. The steps to create the new solar fuel are outlined in a research paper from the University of Cambridge, which says the sustainable […]

By Jonny Bairstow

Scientists have developed a way to use sunlight to turn unprocessed biomass into clean hydrogen.

The steps to create the new solar fuel are outlined in a research paper from the University of Cambridge, which says the sustainable and relatively cheap process could have significant implications for the future of energy generation.

The biomass is suspended in a mixture of catalytic nanoparticles and alkaline water, which is then placed in front of a natural or artificial solar light source.

Scientists say the nanoparticles absorb the solar energy and use it to rearrange the atoms in the water and biomass to form hydrogen fuel and other organic chemicals, such as formic acid and carbonate.

Joint Lead Author of the report, Dr David Wakerley, said: “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.”

A patent application has been filed and talks are currently underway with a potential commercial partner.

Research into solar fuels has recently taken a major step forward, with scientists nearly doubling the number of materials that could be used in the process.