California startup HyperSolar and University of Iowa researchers have teamed up to make renewable energy in a way that draws inspiration from plants. Using water and sunlight, they are able to make renewable hydrogen energy. At the end of May, HyperSolar announced a “breakthrough” in efficiency, and the University of Iowa just renewed a year-long research agreement with the startup.

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The two have been laboring on technology to create clean hydrogen energy by using a process similar to photosynthesis. Their technology is important because the sustainable method of creating hydrogen power by splitting water molecules is very expensive. HyperSolar’s way of producing hydrogen power could ultimately be far more cost effective.

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To achieve this goal, they’ve created an electrochemical device that’s solar-powered. The device is placed in any type of water, including wastewater or seawater. When sunlight hits the device, it converts the water to hydrogen, and that can be “stored like a battery.” When that hydrogen is converted back to water, the researchers can harvest power.

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HyperSolar Lead Scientist Syed Mubeen said they’re planning to scale up, and to do so they’ll find ways to cut more costs and strengthen their process. Ultimately, the energy they produce could be used in hydrogen-powered cars or as a source of clean electricity.

Mubeen said in a press release, “Developing clean energy systems is a goal worldwide. 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… If one could develop these systems at costs competitive to fossil fuel systems, then it would be a home run.”

+ HyperSolar

Images via HyperSolar, Syed Mubeen and Wikimedia Commons