Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have developed a new method for producing hydrogen from water using solar energy. If successfully developed, their approach would make it possible to produce hydrogen in a centralized manner at the point of sale such as at a fueling station for hydrogen-powered cars.
In principle, hydrogen is an ideal energy carrier because it can be produced from water without depending on non-renewable natural resources, it reduces our dependence on fossil fuels, and the only emission from hydrogen combustion is water. However, there need to be economical, environmentally friendly, and scalable ways to obtain hydrogen. Current methods require large amounts of electricity which is still mostly produced by polluting processes.
The Technion researchers are developing a photoelectrochemical or PEC cell that uses solar energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen directly without any additional power source. The technical challenges for doing this are keeping the hydrogen and oxygen from recombining, collecting the hydrogen from the PEC cells, and transporting the hydrogen to where it will be used.
Their solution uses two separate cells – one that produces hydrogen and one that produces oxygen. With this intrinsic separation, it is then straightforward to collect the hydrogen. The researchers estimate that their method can compete with existing water splitting methods and provide a cheap and safe platform to produce hydrogen at high pressure and with unprecedented efficiency.
The study was led by a doctoral student named Avigail Landman who recently won first place in the Three Minute Thesis competition held in Australia. The new hydrogen technology is now in its pre-industrial development stage.
Photo, posted March 5, 2009, courtesy of AJ via Flickr.