Researchers at MIT are moving towards their goal of creating an artificial “leaf” made of a silicon solar cell combined with water, sunlight and a catalyst to make hydrogen gas, which could be used to make electricity in fuel cells, or burned as a fuel in internal combustion engines. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles for a mass market have been something of a dream, because using hydrogen to make electricity produces no CO2. However, the big problem has been how to make the hydrogen gas without contributing to global warming and polluting. If the MIT researchers are able to perfect their new technology, they might be on the right path towards creating a green source of hydrogen fuel.
When their artificial leaf is placed in water and exposed to sunlight, oxygen bubbles are drawn out of the water, but they still need to experiment with an additional catalyst, before they are able to draw hydrogen bubbles out of the same water. Their goal is to produce a very low-cost device using a simple glass water container containing water, a solar cell, catalysts and a divider. Such a device could help provide fuel for electricity in parts of the world that currently have none, or unreliable sources. The artificial leaf still exists at the level of a scientific experiment, meaning they are not to the point of creating an engineering design. They hope in about three years they may be at that point.
“It is likely that the solar photon-to-hydrogen technology will ultimately see the light of day - for transportation applications – with the hydrogen internal combustion engine,” said Rajeshwar Krishnan, professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. (Source: MIT News)
One of the researchers, Daniel Nocera, has started a company called Sun Catalytix to create a first generation system based on their project.
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