For most of history, fuel cells existed only as laboratory curiosities. As far back as 1839, the English scientist William Grove had the idea that the reactants of a battery could be gases fed into it from external tanks.
Since their humble beginnings, fuel cells have come a far to prove as a viable alternative to combustion. Currently, researchers at the University of Basel are studying how sunlight could split water into hydrogen and oxygen, creating a fuel cell that could produce clean energy from water.
(MORE: Read “Battery and Fuel Cell Technology.”)
Artificial photosynthesis has proven to be one of the most promising tools in producing clean, renewable resources. This process occurs when water is photo-electrochemically, with the aid of sunlight, separated into its H2 and O2 components.
Of the two reactions that occur, water oxidation typically provides researchers with the most hurdles to overcome. The new research works to develop an efficient, sustainable water oxidation catalyst.
This from the University of Basel:
To determine the perfect arrangement of the catalysts, the Basel-based chemists developed a water oxidation model in their current study which, although powered by electricity, generates the same chemical intermediate states as light. To accomplish this, they used compounds of the chemical element ruthenium as a catalyst. The critical feature is the self-assembly of the individual components in a hierarchical structure. The researchers thus succeeded in simulating fuel cells powered by light radiation. This model allowed them to test the position and efficiency of the individual components.