Researchers from the Laboratory of Organic Electronics at Linköping University have developed a fuel cell that uses lignin, a cheap by-product from paper manufacture and one of the most common biopolymers.
Approximately 25% of a tree is lignin — a biopolymer that glues the cellulose fibers together to form strong and durable wood. During the chemical manufacture of paper pulp, this lignin is dissolved in either the sulfate or sulfite process, since the cellulose is the desired component for making paper. Lignin is cheap and readily available. It is a biopolymer that consists of a large number of hydrocarbon chains woven together, which can be broken down in an industrial process to its energy-rich constituent parts, benzenediols. One of these, catechol makes up 7% of lignin. Researchers at the Organic Energy Materials group at LiU, led by Professor Xavier Crispin, have discovered that this type of molecule is an excellent fuel for use in fuel cells.
The fuel most often used in tradition fuel cells is hydrogen gas, which reacts with oxygen from the air. The chemical energy is converted in the fuel cell to electricity, water, and heat. However, 96% of the hydrogen produced worldwide is from non-sustainable sources and is accompanied by carbon dioxide emission.
Read more: A super green fuel for fuel cells
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