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Spinach Could Be Used For Hydrogen Fuel 105

An anonymous reader writes "If Popeye had made alternative fuels, he'd have probably come up with something like this. Researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have developed a system that converts solar energy directly into hydrogen using the common spinach plant."
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Spinach Could Be Used For Hydrogen Fuel

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  • How many miles per acre do you get?

  • Where are all the Popeye jokes?
    • Where are all the Popeye jokes?

      There's a 15 year statue of limitations on Slashdot jokes. That's why we don't get Popeye jokes but we do +5 flying chair and BSOD jokes.

      • by c0lo ( 1497653 )

        Where are all the Popeye jokes?

        There's a 15 year statue of limitations on Slashdot jokes. That's why we don't get Popeye jokes but we do +5 flying chair and BSOD jokes.

        [OT] Haven't seen any references to FSM/noodly-appendages in a while, even the occasions weren't missing.
        Right... it's no longer a matter of jokes, it wouldn't be politically correct.

      • statue of limitations

        Is that near Ellie's Island?

      • by lxs ( 131946 )

        Aahhh the statue of limitations. Is that one in the Uffizi gallery or the Louvre?

      • "15 year statue of limitations on Slashdot jokes."

        As Popeye said while wearing a straw wig on Goon Island: "Hair today, goon tomorrow."

    • Pre-empted by the summary. Nobody wants to post a Popeye joke when it's already been done up top.

    • by sqldr ( 838964 )
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Food based fuels are worthless. Extremely low yield and drives food costs up and deletes food supplies, and you need an acre of land to produce a gallon of usable fuel.

    • by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2011 @09:55PM (#35145888)
      I know it's too much to ask you to actually read the article but this method does not convert spinach to fuel. It uses a spinach protein as a catalyst to produce hydrogen. If you recall, catalysts are not consumed, they facilitate reactions. In fact, TFA says that the spinach protein membrane is self healing.

      Popeye was really on to something.

      • If you recall, catalysts are not consumed, they facilitate reactions.

        Just because a catalyst is not consumed in the reaction does not mean that secondary effects from the reaction can't or won't ruin/destroy the catalyst.

        If you're using an organic catalyst, I'd expect it to get broken down somehow as a result of the reaction.

      • Furthermore, "sounds like"'s post is blatant misinformation. Well researched plans on used vegetable oil have been well researched. Essentially used or dead plants can be implemented as a fuel source. The entire negative case is spurious.
    • 1) Take proceeds from myy sugar and corn ETFs that went up from Ethanol;
      2) Sit back and wait for Spinach ETF;
      3) Profit.
    • That won't stop people from trying to discover new alternative fuels, pitied fool.

  • I can convert beans into methane in my large intestine.


  • More info (Score:5, Informative)

    by ThreePhones ( 1878176 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2011 @09:54PM (#35145870)
    Here's the more detailed press release []. They're using proteins extracted from spinach and they plan to eventually produce them synthetically. The spinach doesn't directly produce the hydrogen.
    • Thank you. TFA is one of the most poorly written pieces of drivel I have read in a long time. It barely makes any sense...

      The researchers used an innovative technique called “small angle neutron scattering” at ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor to produce the hydrogen.

      Umm, so this is some kind of nuclear process to produce hydrogen? WTF!?! This is just the worst example from TFA, the whole thing is crappy. Thanks very much for your link, it actually explains what has happened.

      • Here's the actual news summary:

        Scientists glue spinach photosynthesis proteins to a plastic sheet.

        I see no indication, apart from journalists' breathless summaries, that hydrogen is actually being produced. The neutron scattering thing is just the technique used to look at the proteins and their attachment to the plastic.

        • You're right, they haven't produced hydrogen yet. They make it sound like that step is a piece of cake: "These systems would consist of high surface area, light-collecting panes that use the proteins combined with a catalyst such as platinum to convert the sunlight into hydrogen". I doubt that it's that easy or they would have already done it. Nevertheless, it sounds like a promising area of study, which is of course the whole reason for the press release: Get more money!
      • by treeves ( 963993 )

        I'm not sure where you got the quote you posted, but the article I saw said, "Small angle neutron scattering analysis performed at ORNL's High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) showed that the LHC-II, when introduced into a liquid environment that contained polymers, interacted with polymers to form lamellar sheets similar to those found in natural photosynthetic membranes.

        Not to produce hydrogen, but to show how it could work.

        • Yup. That's the from link I thanked ThreePhones for.

          I got the quote from the link in the summary. Have a read. [] It's worth it if you enjoy giving yourself a headache...

          I seriously just had to re read it to try and figure out what the hell the author is getting at. I really wonder how anybody found any information in it meaningful enough to submit it to /. in that form. I also wonder how the hell it got past an editor.

  • They really need to stop wasting time and money researching how to reduce the food supply. It makes a lot more sense to look at potential energy sources that do not reduce the amount of arable land.

  • It is bad enough to have food riots [] for natural reasons... why would you want to take responsibility for helping contribute to food shortages on purpose? Basic R&D is fine, but, for crying out loud, we don't need government subsidies to go into "production" quantities of this stuff, yet.

    Sure, we need a replacement for fossil fuels... eventually, I just don't see how skewing food prices now will be a good thing in the long run.
    • No one intimates that it will skew food prices. No one's suggesting subsidies. It's research. There is no commodity market for spinach. It doesn't trade on the FOREX, CBoT, etc.

      Instead, there's a protein that might seve as a catalyst. We don't know the efficiency. We don't know the cost cycle. We don't have very good hydrogen-based fuel cells for civilians yet. We don't have any business ecosystems for civilian hydrogen distribution system so far.

      So, if I may ask, how do you make the leap of logic to food p

    • RTFA - it's about using proteins, which happen to be found in spinach, to catalyse solar power reactions that produce Hydrogen, not burning the damn spinach. Yeesh.

  • Hydrogen's effects on the upper atmosphere is not yet well known but there are indicators that it is bad, very bad. They only reason sheeple are jumping on the hydrogen band wagon is because:

    Hydrogen Fuel != Fossil Fuel

    Fossil Fuel == Bad

    Therefore (they conclude):

    Hydrogen == Good

    The proponents of Hydrogen Fuel say that the only waste product in the burning of H2 and O2 is H2O but this is NOT true. Because you do not get a 100% efficient burn and because H2 is very leaky stuff even in a fuel cell, the othe

    • The article that you link to doesn't say that hydrogen isn't good or that it isn't green. It simply says that it may not be ideal. IF hydrogen builds up in the atmosphere then there will be some environmental impact, but that is not known. Even if it does build up, there is no analysis of whether that environmental impact is more or less than alternatives.
      Green isn't some philosophical ideal - it's a moving target based on what we can achieve.

    • by Black Gold Alchemist ( 1747136 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2011 @11:03PM (#35146396)
      Please try zinc instead. Zinc-air technology is amazing. It is the most efficient round trip fuel technology I've seen. If we moved all (or even some) hydrogen research dollars to zinc air, it would win. See for example, this bus: zinc air fuel cell bus [].
      • I read through the web page and I am confused. If this is such a good technology, and it was tested successfully; why was the program/project stopped and set to inactive? Either this is a BS way to get people to link to a site for clicks, or y'all got bad marketing folks. To my eye this project does not need research dollars, it needs VC money to get it in the market place. So which is it, bogus site for clicks and giggles or a legitimate project that is being squashed by "the Man".

        • It's a legit project. video []. There are several problems with the idea, and that's why it was stopped.

          1. It's not efficient. Because of inefficiencies in the air electrode and oxygen evolution electrode, the system is only around 54% efficient round trip. Most battery systems are 70-99% efficient.
          2. It requires heavy automation. They had to build a factory to reduce zinc oxide to zinc, and load it in to the cars.
          3. It's expensive, because the air electrodes contain a lot of unobtainium.
      • How about NiZn batteries, or better, NiLi. Fuel cells suck for a number of reasons.
        • Yes. Fuel cells have efficiency and durability issues. Zinc-based batteries also have issues due to shape change of the zinc powder and dendritic growth. Believe it or not, alkaline batteries (MnZn) are actually rechargables, but only for two-five cycles.
    • by mark-t ( 151149 )
      Hydrogen that leaks out into the atmosphere will readily combine with available oxygen to form water again. And although water vapor can indeed deplete ozone, it is worth noting that the process of extracting hydrogen from water also produces oxygen as well, which will typically be released back into the atmosphere, some of which in turn would form ozone during thunderstorms, keeping the system quite balanced.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by pr0f3550r ( 553601 )
        Lightning from thunderstorms produces ozone in the troposphere. Ozone in the troposphere is a pollutant and causes respiratory ailments in animal life. Moreover, it is too volatile to ever hope to make it 'back home' to the stratosphere. Lightning does not build the ozone layer but rather radiation from space. The problem with H2 is that it does NOT combine with O2 unless burned which it cannot do unless it is in concentrations of >4%. It is, however, reactive with ozone and water in the upper atmosphere
        • Hydrogen is not and can not be a replacement for fossil fuels, it is simply not a source of energy. It is only a way store energy.

          • Viewed from that perspective, your only real option is nuclear as a source of energy. Everything else just moves energy from one form to another whereas fission and fusion convert mass into energy. (Even solar energy is ultimately nuclear, no?)
          • And a very inefficient one, at that. At least in general.
    • Because you do not get a 100% efficient burn and because H2 is very leaky stuff even in a fuel cell, the other waste product they fail to mention is the fuel itself.

      The other waste product is the fuel itself? Isn't the fuel hydrogen too?

  • Kimchi is food of the gods. It's fermented cabbage spiced with garlic and chilies. When you order Bul Go Gi (marinated barbecued beef) in a Korean restaurant, they bring you 10,000 little cups with all sorts of cold, pickled roots and vegetables. Kimchi is our favorite, and when the waiter tells us, "be careful, it is very hot spicy!" we have already started devouring the stuff. After the meal, they give you something called soju, which is a kind of rice vodka. The result is that after the meal, with t

    • The massive advantage to using Kimchi as a fuel source is that only the most badass customer would toy with the idea of eating your fuel.
  • by Goldsmith ( 561202 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2011 @10:52PM (#35146304)

    The efficiency of photosynthetic proteins is terrible compared to inorganic photocatalysts. The only advantage biological systems have is that the only reasonable room temperature catalyst for photoconversion of carbon dioxide in air is biological. If you only want to make hydrogen, commercial systems already beat the theoretical highest possible efficiency of biology.

  • Beans could be used for methane fuel.
  • Spinach prices skyrocket. Children worldwide rejoice.
  • by 2Bits ( 167227 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2011 @11:27PM (#35146538)

    I know people are working hard to try to find an alternative to fossil fuel, but I believe using plant as an alternative is probably a lost cause. Whether you try to create methanol from plant (or food) or as the article suggests, use the spinach protein to extract hydrogen from water, is not very efficient way to create fuel. Sure, plants are "renewable", but at what cost? The gain in fuel is not enough to offset the cost, not only the economic cost of producing the fuel, but the environment, societal cost too. You may argue that we simply haven't found an efficient way to do it, that's all, but we eventually will. However, the cost to environment and the ripple that it creates through societies (e.g. rise of food prices) will always be there. Unless, of course, we could harvest plants/food massively, at very low cost, and without effect to the planet. That is a tall order, by itself.

    I believe there are better ways, which we already know now, and which have lower long term cost. Nonetheless, the research project mentioned in TFA is still very cool.

    • I know people are working hard to try to find an alternative to fossil fuel, but I believe using plant as an alternative is probably a lost cause.

      It's called algae. They grow in dirty water or seawater and we have lots of both. HTH.

      Unless, of course, we could harvest plants/food massively, at very low cost, and without effect to the planet. That is a tall order, by itself.

      That's called algae, too. It makes a pretty foul food but fine fuel.

  • Anyone else read that as *Spanish*?

    I wondered if it was some attempt to improve the country's finances and reduce unemployment at the same time.

    Of course if you wanted to drive anywhere between noon and 4 p.m. you'd be SOL...

  • IF Popeye had made alternative fuels? ONRL is simply replicating what you get when Popeye takes a dump.

    s/Popeye/Chuck Norris/g

  • Are we going to send our finest young men and women to conquer the spinach producing countries now?
    • The US is the number 2 spinach producing country in the world and the largest exporter. China produces 85% of the worlds spinach so they will probably benefit more from this technology than we will.

  • Fuel from Olive Oyl?
  • My car was nearing empty so I put some spinach in my tank. The tires bulged up a lot and got some sort of battleship design on them. Then my car took off (luckily, I was able to jump inside) and I made my 30 minute morning commute in just 3 minutes. Of course, it was knocking cars off the road right and left. And I'm not sure how a corncob pipe got stuck in my car's grill.

  • Why should everyone deal with higher food prices especially healthy foods we shouldn't discourage people from eating? Fuck the lazy and make them drive less and build up superior public transportation. It's not like the whole world has too much food and we'd only be converting waste.

    You simply don't need to drive your big ass SUV down the road to the shop. When the petrol runs out then tough luck. Walk more fatties.
    • You're kind of all over the place there Toadwarrier. And I mostly agree with you. But the real problem is that if we reduce the amount of fuel or any other resource we use, it doesn't take too long for increasing population to gobble any savings up. Which is to say that if we feed the world, we'll only have more people to feed.

      I don't know what to do about it, because it's a moral dilemma. But if we support the present rate of population growth, conservation is no solution.

      • While it may be true that we could lose a few people on this planet but it still more unfair to significantly raise the price of a food which will affect more people and probably sop more people from eating veg and living with poorer health.

        Not everyone wastes petrol and drives unnecessarily but a lot of people do. I believe there is less reason to punish people globally by raising fuel prices instead of limiting people's wasteful driving.

Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.