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Scientists unlock ‘green’ energy from garden grass

A team of UK researchers, including experts from Cardiff University’s Cardiff Catalysis Institute, have shown that significant amounts of hydrogen can be unlocked from fescue grass with the help of sunlight and a cheap catalyst.

They say it is the first time that this method has been demonstrated and could potentially lead to a sustainable way of producing hydrogen, which has potential in the renewable energy industry due to its high energy content and because it does not release toxic or greenhouse gases when it is burnt.

This really is a green source of energy.Hydrogen is seen as an important future energy carrier as the world moves from fossil fuels to renewable feed stocks, and our research has shown that even garden grass could be a good way of getting hold of it.

– Professor Michael Bowker, Cardiff Catalysis Institute
Credit: Ralf Hirschberger/dpa

The team, which also includes researchers from Queen’s University Belfast, have published their findings in the Royal Society journalProceedings A.

Hydrogen is contained in enormous quantities all over in the world in water, hydrocarbons and other organic matter.

Up until now, the challenge has been devising ways of unlocking hydrogen in a cheap, efficient and sustainable way.

A promising source is the organic compound cellulose, which is a key component of plants.

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.

The researchers studied the effectiveness of three metal-based catalysts – palladium, gold and nickel.

The researchers combined the three catalysts with cellulose and subjected the mixture to light from a desk lamp. At 30 minutes intervals the researchers collected gas samples from the mixture and analysed it to see how much hydrogen was being produced.

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.

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

– Professor Michael Bowker