A recent publication in the journal Angewandte Chemie brings attention to an improved way of generating clean hydrogen. For many years, hydrogen production has proven costly to the environment, as industrial hydrogen production uses partial methane oxidation and fossil gasification. Currently, 95% of the world’s hydrogen is produced through such methods, leading to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. For example, producing one ton of hydrogen emits of seven tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
In a recent experiment conducted by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia, photo-electrochemical cells showed potential for producing pollution-free hydrogen. These cells combine a photo-absorbing gadget such as the solar panels with an electrolysis system to split water atoms and produce hydrogen gas without causing CO2 pollution. Although the concept of electrolysis is not new to hydrogen producers, the cost has always hampered this method.
The most advanced system of electrolysis available involves the separation of hydrogen from water molecules through a photovoltaic current. Although the photovoltaic system has proven effective in generating hydrogen, it is expensive to maintain compared to fossil fuel-based hydrogen production. As a result, many scientists have researched ways to advance photovoltaic technology and reduce the costs involved. The KAUST researchers’ recent experiment may provide a glimmer of hope for this endeavor.
According to Professor Hicham Idriss, the lead researcher, this discovery will significantly lower the cost of producing hydrogen through electrolysis. Contrary to the traditional photovoltaic process, the photo-electrochemical cells can absorb light to produce power that will produce hydrogen without the need for control circuits, connectors and other auxiliary tools that make the process expensive.
While the experiment points in the right direction for future hydrogen production, much work is still needed. Idriss admits that the research team faced many challenges in up-scaling the system for industrial hydrogen production. Although the team is in the initial stages of testing the new technology’s viability, the process is still more expensive than fossil fuel-based hydrogen production methods. Should this new technology be adopted, hydrogen producers will have to balance economic and environmental costs.
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