Breakthrough turn-on for hydrogen power

Share this article

SCOTS scientists claim they have achieved a breakthrough in efforts to use hydrogen to provide clean electricity.

It has long been thought hydrogen could be used as a fuel, particularly for transport. If the hydrogen is produced from biofuels, its use results in very low carbon dioxide emissions.

However, efforts to produce hydrogen from biofuels have been dogged by difficulties – and currently it is usually created using natural gas in fossil fuels, which produces large amounts of damaging .

Now a team of scientists, led by a professor from the University of Aberdeen, have achieved a leap forward in the process.

Using a catalyst, they have converted ethanol fermented from biofuels into hydrogen.

Although this has been done before, Professor Hicham Idriss, Energy Futures chairman at the University of Aberdeen, said it had never been effective as it had never been achieved without producing waste products, such as carbon monoxide, which is poisonous. It took the team of scientists from across the world, led by Prof Idriss, more than ten years to hone the technique.

The hydrogen could be used to power fuel cells, which can provide clean electricity for vehicles, homes and even large buildings.

Prof Idriss said: "It's quite feasible that we could see the use of this new type of catalysts to generate the hydrogen used in the UK in the future if the necessary changes to public policy were implemented."

The catalyst used by Prof Idriss and his colleagues to convert ethanol into hydrogen is made from the rare metals rhodium and palladium.

Although they are expensive, he said such small quantities were needed this should not be a problem. However, there is still one disadvantage to the process because it requires temperatures of about 500C in order to work.

Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland, said he thought it was a "step forward" but added he believed it would be better to focus on electric cars to provide the transport of the future, rather than those powered by fuel cells.

The research is published in the journal ChemSusChem.


THE process developed by scientists in Aberdeen to produce hydrogen for fuel cells from biofuels starts with fermentation.

Crops are fermented using yeast, producing ethanol and water.

Then a catalyst made using the metals rhodium and palladium is added to the ethanol and water, at temperatures of about 500C.

This converts the ethanol and water into hydrogen and carbon dioxide.

Back to the top of the page