Meet Percival Zhang and Joe Rollin. They may have just ushered in the era of Jetson’s-style transportation, making clean, nonfossil-fuel travel a reality in coming decades.

But it’s not because they’ve invented the hydrogen-oxidized flying cars or personalized jetpacks that pop futurists have been promising us since the pages of science-pulp fiction magazines blew up with images of air-defying heroes in the 1920s.

It’s because the team has discovered a way to create hydrogen fuel using a biological method that greatly reduces the time and money it takes to produce the zero-emissions fuel– using abundantly available common corn stover – the stalks, cobs, and husks – to produce the hydrogen.

Their new discovery is unique in two ways.

Unlike other hydrogen fuel production methods that rely on highly processed sugars, the Virginia Tech team used dirty biomass — the husks and stalks of corn plants — to create their fuel. This reduces the initial expense of creating the fuel and enables the use of a fuel source readily available near the processing plants, making the creation of the fuel a local enterprise.

The team also increased enzymatic generation rates. This reaction rate is fast enough for hydrogen production in distributed hydrogen-fueling stations. The achieved reaction rate is at least 10 times that of the fastest photo-hydrogen production system.

Hydrogen-fueled cars and machinery would displace dependency on fossil fuels that are associated with climate change.

“We believe this exciting technology has the potential to enable the widespread use of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles around the world and displace fossil fuels,” Rollin said.

Commuting by flying car? Not likely anytime soon, but Zhang and Rollin are already making the clean fuel to combat climate change – and maybe even power a jetpack.