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Scientists have discovered a catalyst for producing hydrogen from plant material without the need for expensive heavy metals.

Touted as a possible clean fuel of the future, hydrogen can be used to generate electricity with no polluting by-products. But current methods for producing hydrogen itself do not share these qualities, as most hydrogen is produced from non-renewable natural gas and petrol.

Last year, scientists revealed that they had developed catalysts that help convert plant material into hydrogen (with carbon dioxide as a by-product). But these catalysts require expensive precious metals, such as platinum, in order to prevent the formation of unwanted compounds like methane.

The new nickel-based catalyst seems to accomplish the same task, without the expense, report a team of US scientists in this week's Science.

Link to Science research paper

Reference: Science 300, 2075 (2003)