Using Sunlight, Water to Make Clean Energy

University of Iowa researchers have teamed up with California-based startup HyperSolar to progress the science in producing clean energy from sunlight and water. The goal of this research is to develop a way to efficiently and sustainably produce low-cost renewable hydrogen for commercial use.

Hydrogen has huge potential as an alternative form of energy. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, hydrogen has the highest energy content of any fuel we use today (carbon dependent fuels included).

But hydrogen is not a naturally occurring element on this planet, so it needs to be produced. Currently, most hydrogen is produced via steam reforming – a process using fossil fuels and creating carbon dioxide. While the end produce is clan, renewable energy, the means of getting to that product were carbon dependent. The new study hopes to help move hydrogen production away from the traditional means of creation and toward electrolysis, which requires only electricity and water to create hydrogen.

“Developing clean energy systems is a goal worldwide,” says Syed Mubeen, HyperSolar’s lead scientist and chemical engineering professor at the University of Iowa. “Currently, we understand how clean energy systems such as solar cells, wind turbines, et cetera, work at a high level of sophistication. The real challenge going forward is to develop inexpensive clean energy systems that can be cost competitive to fossil fuel systems and be adopted globally and not just in the developed countries.”

This from the University of Iowa:

The researchers have created a small solar-powered electrochemical device that can be placed in any type of water, including seawater and wastewater. When sunlight shines through the water and hits the solar device, the photon energy in sunlight takes the water (a lower energy state) and converts it to hydrogen (a higher energy state), where it can be stored like a battery. The energy is harvested when the hydrogen is converted back into its lower energy state: water.

Read the full article.

“Although H2 can be used in many forms, the immediate possibility of this renewable H2 would be for use in fuel cells to generate electricity or react with CO2 to form liquid fuels like methanol for the transportation sector,” Mubeen says. “If one could develop these systems at costs competitive to fossil fuel systems, then it would be a home run.”


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