Chemical engineers at the University of Wisconsin have developed a nickel-based catalyst that could play a role in the evolution of the hydrogen economy. The Raney-nickel catalyst, named after the scientist who patented the Raney alloy in 1927, can generate hydrogen from common plant sources by converting their by-products to carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen gas (H2). Platinum can also perform this trick, but the precious metal is costly and often in short supply. Motivated by the demand for a lower-cost alternative, the Wisconsin researchers tested more than 300 catalysts before honing in on Raney-nickel, a nickel-aluminium alloy that is 90% nickel by weight. The nickel is alloyed with tin to avoid methane formation. The discovery may provide, for the first time, a cost-efficient means of producing hydrogen for fuel cells using renewable resources. The first applications of this process might be in combination with portable fuel cells to provide power for laptop computers, military equipment, and possibly cars. The research will continue to be developed and commercialised by Virent Energy Systems, which is building a larger scale reactor to test the process.