Stanford Scientists Turn Seawater Into Hydrogen Fuel

A prototype device used solar energy to create hydrogen fuel from seawater. Credit: H. Dai, Yun Kuang, Michael Kenney
A prototype device used solar energy to create hydrogen fuel from seawater. Credit: H. Dai, Yun Kuang, Michael Kenney

Scientists found a new way of cost-effective electrolysis that can turn seawater into hydrogen fuel, an alternative to fossil fuels.

Stanford University scientists have experimented on generating hydrogen fuel through the use of solar power, electrodes, and seawater from San Francisco Bay.

Hydrogen fuel from purified water is costly to produce so the team led by Hongjie Dai, a chemistry professor in Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences, developed a prototype device that can definitely separate hydrogen and oxygen from saltwater without corroding the device used for water-splitting.

Read More: Scientist invented a way to produce oxygen for long space travel by split water into hydrogen and oxygen

The researchers published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal. The article, titled “Solar-driven, highly sustained splitting of seawater into hydrogen and oxygen fuels,” shows how researchers made their breakthrough.

The scientists developed a new metal coating for the electrodes used in the experiment that would let them withstand the chemical reaction as it occurs in saltwater.

Because an electrical charge is necessary to actually split the water into hydrogen and oxygen, the scientists tried to make their apparatus as environmentally friendly as possible and powered it with solar cells.

Stanford chemist Hongjie Dai told Fast Company that the system could be rigged to submarines or SCUBA gear.

Hydrogen fuel cells could power the sub or the diver’s gear, while the oxygen generated from the chemical reaction could keep them stocked up with breathable air.

But any practical applications are still far off in the future, as this new research simply demonstrates that the technology could work at all.

“Right now, the need for hydrogen is still relatively limited because the so-called hydrogen economy hasn’t taken off yet, although it’s in its early growing stage,” Dai told Fast Company. “You could imagine there would be more demand for hydrogen.”


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