How To Extract Hydrogen Fuel from Seawater

It’s possible to produce hydrogen to power fuel cells by extracting the gas from seawater, but the electricity required to do it makes the process costly. UCF researcher Yang Yang from the University of Central Florida (UCF)  has come up with a new hybrid nanomaterial that harnesses solar energy and uses it to generate hydrogen from seawater more cheaply and efficiently than current materials. The breakthrough could someday lead to a new source of the clean-burning fuel, ease demand for fossil fuels and boost the economy of Florida, where sunshine and seawater are abundant. Yang, an assistant professor with joint appointments in the University of Central Florida’s NanoScience Technology Center and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, has been working on solar hydrogen splitting for nearly 10 years.

It’s done using a photocatalyst – a material that spurs a chemical reaction using energy from light. When he began his research, Yang focused on using solar energy to extract hydrogen from purified water. It’s a much more difficulty task with seawater; the photocatalysts needed aren’t durable enough to handle its biomass and corrosive salt.

We’ve opened a new window to splitting real water, not just purified water in a lab,” Yang said. “This really works well in seawater.”

As reported in the journal Energy & Environmental Science, Yang and his research team have developed a new catalyst that’s able to not only harvest a much broader spectrum of light than other materials, but also stand up to the harsh conditions found in seawater.



Super-Efficient Production Of Hydrogen From Solar Energy

Hydrogen is an alternative source of energy that can be produced from renewable sources of sunlight and water. A group of Japanese researchers has developed a photocatalyst that increases hydrogen production tenfold.

When light is applied to photocatalysts, electrons and holes are produced on the surface of the catalyst, and hydrogen is obtained when these electrons reduce the hydrogen ions in water. However, in traditional photocatalysts the holes that are produced at the same time as the electrons mostly recombine on the surface of the catalyst and disappear, making it difficult to increase conversion efficiency.

Professor Tachikawa’s research group from the Kobe University developed a photocatalyst made of mesocrystal, deliberately creating a lack of uniformity in size and arrangement of the crystals. This new photocatalyst is able to spatially separate the electrons and electron holes to prevent them recombining. As a result, it has a far more efficient conversion rate for producing hydrogen than conventional nanoparticulate photocatalysts (approximately 7%).

The team developed a new method called “Topotactic Epitaxial Growth” that uses the nanometer-sized spaces in mesocrystals.
Using these findings, the research group plans to apply mesocrystal technology to realizing the super-efficient production of hydrogen from solar energy. The perovskite metal oxides, including strontium titanate, the target of this study, are the fundamental materials of electronic elements, so their results could be applied to a wide range of fields.

The discovery was made by a joint research team led by Associate Professor Tachikawa Takashi (Molecular Photoscience Research Center, Kobe University) and Professor Majima Tetsuro (Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research, Osaka University). Their findings were published  in the online version of Angewandte Chemie International Edition.


How To Boost Hydrogen Production

Nanometer-scale structures consisting of cheap metal and oxide spheres were recently demonstrated as an excellent catalyst for a hydrogen-production reaction powered only by sunlight. The study was completed by Ming-Yong Han and his colleagues of the A*STAR Institute of Materials Research and Engineering, Singapore, working in collaboration with a team of researchers from Singapore and France. Hydrogen is crucial for the oil-refining industry and the production of essential chemicals such as the ammonia used in fertilizers. It may be also the future of the electric car. Since producing hydrogen is costly, scientists have long searched for alternative, energy-efficient methods to separate hydrogen atoms from abundant sources such as water.

Our work provides insight into mechanisms that will be useful for the future development of high-performance photocatalysts,” says Han. Indeed, Han and his co-workers were able to improve the efficiency of the hydrogen production even further: they increased the area of the metal-oxide interface by using larger gold nanoparticles.
The Janus particles were 100 times more efficient as a catalyst for hydrogen production than bare gold nanoparticles. Moreover, they were over one-and-a-half times better than another common type of plasmonic nanoparticle, core-shell particles, in which the oxide material forms a coating around the metal nanoparticle.