Man the Solver: cheap, clean hydrogen fuel a step closer

Australian scientists split seawater to produce hydrogen

Australian scientists split seawater to produce hydrogen

by Kieron McFadden

In the effort to develop alternative fuels that are both plentiful and efficient, one major stumbling block has been the hitherto fruitless search for  an efficient method of splitting seawater so as to produce hydrogen.

However,  scientists at the University of Wollonging’s (UOW) Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) have developed an innovative method of turning sea water into hydrogen using a process that requires relatively little input of energy, thus releasing a sustainable and clean fuel source.

They  have developed a light-assisted catalyst that requires less energy input to activate water oxidation, which is the first step in splitting water to produce hydrogen fuel. This enables as little as five litres of sea water to produce enough hydrogen to power an average-sized home and an electric car for one day.

The research team, led by Dr Jun Chen and Professor Gerry Swiegers, have produced an artificial chlorophyll on a conductive plastic film that acts as a catalyst to begin splitting water.

The use of flexible polymer means it could be used in a wider range of applications and it is more easily manufactured than metal semiconductors and provides the opportunity to develop devices and applications that use sea water as the hydrogen source, including the possibility of portable hydrogen-producing devices.

The flexible plastic film soaks up and uses the energy from sunlight to oxidize the seawater. the film’s synthetic chlorophyll molecules harnessing the energy of the sun in the same way the leaves of many plants do.

This efficient method could greatly reduce the cost of hydrogen fuel, allowing it to be a competitive alternative fuel to gasoline in the future.

 

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