Promising new solar-powered path to hydrogen fuel production

News Release 1-Aug-2019

Lehigh University team are the first to use a single enzyme biomineralization process to create a solar-driven water splitting catalyst that produces hydrogen with the potential to be manufactured sustainably, cheaply and abundantly

Lehigh University


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IMAGE: Steven McIntosh et al. Enzymatic synthesis of supported CdS quantum dot/reduced graphene oxide photocatalysts

Credit: Courtesy of Green Chemistry

Engineers at Lehigh University are the first to utilize a single enzyme biomineralization process to create a catalyst that uses the energy of captured sunlight to split water molecules to produce hydrogen. The synthesis process is performed at room temperature and under ambient pressure, overcoming the sustainability and scalability challenges of previously reported methods.

Solar-driven water splitting is a promising route towards a renewable energy-based economy. The generated hydrogen could serve as both a transportation fuel and a critical chemical feedstock for fertilizer and chemical production. Both of these sectors currently contribute a large fraction of total greenhouse gas emissions.

One of the challenges to realizing the promise of solar-driven energy production is that, while the required water is an abundant resource, previously-explored methods utilize complex routes that require environmentally-damaging solvents and massive amounts of energy to produce at large scale. The expense and harm to the environment have made these methods unworkable as a long-term solution.

Now a team of engineers at Lehigh University have harnessed a biomineralization approach to synthesizing both quantum confined nanoparticle metal sulfide particles and the supporting reduced graphene oxide material to create a photocatalyst that splits water to form hydrogen. The team reported their results in an article entitled: “Enzymatic synthesis of supported CdS quantum dot/reduced graphene oxide photocatalysts” featured on the cover of the August 7th issue of Green Chemistry, a journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

The paper’s authors include: Steven McIntosh, Professor in Lehigh’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, along with Leah C. Spangler, former Ph.D. student and John D. Sakizadeh, current Ph.D. student; as well, as Christopher J. Kiely, Harold B. Chambers Senior Professor in Lehigh’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering and Joseph P. Cline, a Ph.D. student working with Kiely.

“Our water-based process represents a scalable green route for the production of this promising photocatalyst technology,” said McIntosh, who is also Associate Director of Lehigh’s Institute for Functional Materials and Devices.

Over the past several years, McIntosh’s group has developed a single enzyme approach for biomineralization?the process by which living organisms produce minerals of size-controlled, quantum confined metal sulfide nanocrystals. In a previous collaboration with Kiely, the lab successfully demonstrated the first precisely controlled, biological way to manufacture quantum dots. Their one-step method began with engineered bacterial cells in a simple, aqueous solution and ended with functional semiconducting nanoparticles, all without resorting to high temperatures and toxic chemicals. The method was featured in a New York Times article: “How a Mysterious Bacteria Almost Gave You a Better TV.”

“Other groups have experimented with biomineralization for chemical synthesis of nanomaterials,” says Spangler, lead author and currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Princeton University. “The challenge has been achieving control over the properties of the materials such as particle size and crystallinity so that the resulting material can be used in energy applications.”

McIntosh describes how Spangler was able to tune the group’s established biomineralization process to not only synthesize the cadmium sulfide nanoparticles but also to reduce graphene oxide to the more conductive reduced graphene oxide form.

“She was then able to bind the two components together to create a more efficient photocatalyst consisting of the nanoparticles supported on the reduced graphene oxide,” says McIntosh. “Thus her hard work and resulting discovery enabled both critical components for the photocatalyst to be synthesized in a green manner.”

The team’s work demonstrates the utility of biomineralization to realize benign synthesis of functional materials for use in the energy sector.

“Industry may consider implementation of such novel synthesis routes at scale,” adds Kiely. “Other scientists may also be able to utilize the concepts in this work to create other materials of critical technological importance.”

McIntosh emphasizes the potential of this promising new method as “a green route, to a green energy source, using abundant resources.”

“It is critical to recognize that any practical solution to the greening of our energy sector will have to be implemented at enormous scale to have any substantial impact,” he adds.

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This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

From EurekAlert!

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124 thoughts on “Promising new solar-powered path to hydrogen fuel production

  1. Anyone know what quantity of H2O hydrogen vehicles exhaust from their tailpipes? I’m wondering to what degree they would create a road hazard in freezing environments by exhausting water onto roadways.

    • The combustion of hydrocarbons also produces water. For example, methane:
      CH4 + 2 x O2 => CO2 + 2 x H2O

      • The big problem with H2 is containing it. It is so small that it always manages to leak out. Added to the massively high pressure needed and you have a big practicability problem.

        • The big problem with hydrogen is its density, or rather the lack thereof. Even as a liquid its density is quite low compared to other fuels.

          • They are both big problems. A third problem related to Greg”s issue is that it not only leaks through things – it will penetrate materials and make them brittle over time.

            But overall I think this is a better use of solar than the electrical panels because it stores the energy when light is available –
            to be used at a later time which makes the supply much more reliable and predictable then straight to electricity solar panels.

          • Storing and transporting hydrogen is a nightmare. Hydrocarbons have carry more hydrogen per unit of weight or volume than any form of hydrogen. The best use of hydrogen will be to crack real long chain hydrocarbons into octane for cars. We could also use sources of carbon like trash and sewerage to produce fuels.

          • Don said: “The big problem with hydrogen is its density, or rather the lack thereof. Even as a liquid its density is quite low compared to other fuels.”

            This lack of density can be mitigated by combining hydrogen with carbon atoms. Methane is denser than molecular hydrogen, butane can be kept liquid at room temperature under reasonable pressure, octane is a liquid.

          • Metallic sponges have been proposed to store hydrogen, but then the density is not the greatest as the metal is much heavier. Also, to release the absorbed hydrogen gas, the sponge needs to be heated, which just does not sound like a good idea.

            The only upside to hydrogen fuel is that, in a car crash, the gas rises and explosions and flames do not spread laterally.

    • Even just gasoline emits a major amount of water vapor. The big problem is when the stop light turns green and everyone accelerates. In a Saskatchewan winter, you get clouds of ice fog and nobody can see where they’re going for a second or two. For whatever reason, it doesn’t seem to end up on the road, or if it does, it doesn’t seem to make traction worse.

        • someone said somewhere that the Earth is flat !

          It’s the same molecule, so “hydrogen fuel” does not tell us how it is oxydised. If you burn it in an ICE you will get vapour.

          • OK since you were so snarky I had to look it up. This is what this guy says, and he confirms my suspicion.

            The exhaust of gasoline combustion is at a temperature of a few hundred degrees Celsius. So the water comes out as vapor…

            The operating temperature of a hydrogen alkaline fuel cell is 50-250
            degrees Celsius. So the water comes out as a hot liquid or as low temperature steam, to be deposited on or above the roadway.
            So over two times as much low-temperature water per energy released is emitted by a hydrogen fuel cell compared to the high-temperature water vapor emitted by gasoline combustion. This would cause dangerous driving conditions on roads, especially during cold weather.

            http://www.roperld.com/science/GasolineVsHyFuelCell.pdf

          • icisil August 3, 2019 at 10:43 am

            … This would cause dangerous driving conditions on roads, especially during cold weather.

            Burning gasoline produces water vapor. It’s not a problem in Fargo, it’s not a problem in Winnipeg, it’s not a problem in Tuktoyaktuk.

          • The temperature of the water vapor depends on the temperature of the reaction that produced it.

          • Another point is that whatever the temperature of the vapor when it exits the tail pipe. When it hits air that is 20 to 30 (or more) degrees below the freezing point, the vapor will quickly freeze.

        • So the question is – would fuel cells be used for automobiles? Hydrogen burns fine in internal combustion engines which would get really hot.

        • Also when I lived in Iowa there were times when water would pour out of our tail pipe. The muffler didn’t hear up enough between trips to stores for all the combustion H2O to leave in gassiois form.

    • Isn’t water vapour considered a GH Gas, with a greater GHE than CO²? That being the case, will hydrogen vehicles be subject to green taxes for emitting GHGs?

      • The amount of water vapor in the air is limited by the saturation curve. In colloquial terms, precipitation.

        • Which means nothing to his point unless you don’t plan on taxing areas that are 100% humidity everywhere else it IS a green house gas that is every model assumes is constant unless increased solely by CO2 temp rise. Main reason models are useless.

        • err yes – the above statement is completely true. Air at a given temperature and pressure can only hold (at equilibrium – supersaturated states do exist but eventually form clouds) a certain amount of water vapor. If you have had a thermodynamics class, it is based on the fugacity of the water vapor. the saturated concentration of water in air may be approximated quite accurately by the following: y(H2O in mole fraction) = vapor pressure of liquid or solid H2O at the air temperature/pressure of the air. Clouds form when warm, wet air rises and cools below the dew point of the air. Dew on your lawn forms the same way.

        • Is this the REAL Steven Mosher?

          I ask because the REAL Steven Mosher subscribes to the hypothesis that it is the amplification by increased water vapor of the small temperature change caused by CO2 that will lead to an immense temperature change – and the “climate apocalypse.”

          No, can’t be the REAL Steven Mosher. Mods, is there any way for you check for a hacked account?

    • Question – how much water vapor is produced by H2 combustion per unit of energy compared to water vapor from gasoline? Anyone have that data?

    • we already see issues on roads in Canada, where the water from tailpipes freezes on the surface. It makes intersections slippery in particular (where cars are idling, and then accelerating)

  2. “The generated hydrogen could serve as both a transportation fuel and a critical chemical feedstock for fertilizer and chemical production.” Pardon me, but surely fertilizers are either carbon based (manure, decaying vegetation or straight forward carbon dioxide), or nitrogen based (eg ammonium nitrate).

    Not too easy to see how hydrogen can be used as a chemical feedstock for fertilizer production.

    OK, some fertilizers are phosphorus or calcium based, but still not hydrogen.

    • Dudley
      Urea is manufactured with Natural gas which takes nitrogen from the air and turns it into urea 46% nitrogen widely used around the world in cropping and grassland farming .
      It is hated by the Greens but billions are fed because of the food it has grown in the last 60 years .
      Without nitrogenous fertilizer there would be wide spread food shortage worldwide .
      Graham

  3. Every time you see concept art for some process that includes biological components that outgas an energy source, you have to ask yourself, Q: How many? What do they eat? What will we need to feed them? What volume and or solar area? What might be the effect of this bioengineered species, or natural species farmed way beyond its natural population? In whose back yard? A: !

    Every time you see concept art for some process that includes a metal tank with the miracle gas ready for easy transport (in this case, hydrogen) you have to ask yourself, Q: how did that gas get in the tank? A: compressor, lot’sa-energy. Q: How does the ultimate energy release compare to how much it takes to get it in the tank? A: Next question. When futurists envision hydrogen creation the VERY FEW few practical ones among them need to imagine floating giant foil party balloons bobbing on strings tied to railway cars. You haven’t heard this until now because there are only a dozen practical futurists out there and they keep quiet about it.

    I am a loud futurist.

    • I think it’s even worse than you described. Hydrogen doesn’t liquify at atmospheric pressure. Therefore, it must be stored in pressure vessels. Even at 10,000 psi, a very dangerous pressure, it occupies 7 times the volume of a container with an equal amount of energy as gasoline. Additionally, gasoline tanks are made to conform to available space in the vehicle. My car actually has two gas tanks, each formed around the driveshaft space. 10,000 psi hydrogen tanks must be cylindrical, with rounded ends. There aren’t too many locations in the vehicle that look like that. The 7x number doesn’t include the volume or weight of the tank material, nor does it include the space inefficiency and the pipes and connectors that would be required for multiple small tanks of hydrogen. Fiber reinforced composite tanks would weigh much less than steel ones, but I’m not sure about what might happen to them in a collision. Think of hitting a vehicle containing a bunch of plastic fuel tanks containing 10,000 psi hydrogen.

      • Hydrogen’s triple point is about 14K and a pressure about .07 atmosphere. Its critical point is about 33K and a pressure of about 12.5 atmospheres. Its boiling point at atmospheric pressure is a little over 20K. So, it can be liquid at atmospheric pressure. The issue is that it can’t be liquid at room temperature no matter how high the pressure.

      • Yes, the problem is worse than collecting solar energy via a standard solar cell. If it is hydrogen being produced then you have to effectively a little green house to collect the hydrogen before storing it.

        And if you let it mix with even a little air (or the oxygen necessarily also produced) then you have a horrendous fire/explosion hazard.

        And that is not considering that you have to build in a complete plumbing system to ensure a disperse water supply.

        When you start considering all the little practicalities you quickly realise that this is just one more idea that is going nowhere. As I commented recently, quantum dots were promising everything and delivering nothing when I was a grad student in the 1990s.

      • Time to review The Hydrogen Hoax , by Robert Zubrin (2007) The New Atlantis (https://www.thenewatlantis.com/docLib/TNA15-Zubrin.pdf)

        “…..let us proceed to discuss the problems associated with the hydrogen cars themselves. In order for hydrogen to be used as fuel in a car, it has to be stored in the car. As at the (fueling) station, this could be done either in the form of cryogenic liquid hydrogen or as highly compressed gas. In either case, we come up against serious problems caused by the low density of hydrogen. For example, if liquid hydrogen is the form employed, then storing 20 kilograms onboard (equivalent in energy content to 20 gallons of gasoline) would require an insulated cryogenic fuel tank with a volume of some 280 liters (70 gallons). This cryogenic hydrogen would always be boiling away……

        Compressed hydrogen is just as unworkable as liquid hydrogen. If 5,000 psi compressed hydrogen were employed, the tank would need to be 650 liters (162 gallons), or eight times the size of a gasoline tank containing equal energy. Because it would have to hold high pressure, this huge tank could not be shaped in an irregular form to fit into the vehicle’s empty space in some convenient way. Instead it would have to be a simple shape like a sphere or a domed cylinder, which would make its spatial demands much more difficult to accommodate, and significantly reduce the usable vehicle space within a car of a given size. If made of (usually) crash-safe steel, such a hydrogen tank would weigh 1,300 kilograms (2,860 pounds)—about as much as an entire small car! Lugging this extra weight around would drastically increase the fuel consumption of the vehicle, perhaps doubling it.”

        • And yet there are hydrogen fueled vehicles in service that are safely fueled from hydrogen fueling stations.

        • Hydrogen storage at 5,000 psi can be done quite safely, without a massive pressure vessel. The technology was originally developed for laser inertial confinement fusion, and pioneered by KMS Fusion of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

          KMS’ fusion targets were glass microballoons. They were filled with deuterium and tritium (isotopes of hydrogen) by placing them in an autoclave, and heating them while pressurizing the autoclave with the hydrogen isotopes. Heating caused the hydrogen to diffuse through the glass walls. Upon cooling, the diffusion rate becomes low enough to retain the hydrogen almost indefinitely.

          In the hydrogen fuel world, this method has been explored in great depth, particularly the methods of releasing the hydrogen for use in a fuel cell. Heating works, but isn’t as easy as it might sound. Last I heard, that problem was largely solved by using optically doped glass to assist the heating by light absorption.

          Fill and drain from a car is straightforward using a small amount of fluidizing gas. In an accident, even if the container is ruptured, all one has is a bunch of glass microballoons spilled on the road – easy to clean up, and non-hazardous from the standpoint of fire.

          I’m not sure how Bob calculated the 160 liter (42 gallon) value, but it certainly depends on how the hydrogen is used. With a conversion efficiency >80%, a fuel cell beats any internal combustion engine, and may require less than 42 gallons. I’ll let someone else do that calculation.

      • the nuclear energy industry has had to deal with hydrogen storage for years and has developed safe metal hydride and liquid hydride storage systems for hydrogen . look it up.

    • The USA uses ablut 28,641,250,832,000 kWh of energy a year(28 trillion= to save counting decimal places)
      Depending on all the intermediate efficiencies, I’ve seen calculations that it would take an area the size of Kansas, carpeted with solar cells and other infrastructure, as HL says.

    • This process requires sunlight meaning the containment vessel needs to be transparent to sunlight. If the containment is not 100% there is the risk of air ingress and then flammable or even explosive combination. Hydrogen in air has a very wide flammable range and one of the widest explosive range. An interesting fact with explosive mixtures is that ignition sources are free.

      I envisage engineering challenges to scaling up to industrial level but that is a requirement shared with any hydrogen production and/or handling:
      https://driving.ca/toyota/auto-news/news/hyundai-toyota-pause-fuel-cell-sales-over-explosion-in-norway

      The only present technology that provides a renewable energy source is managed forests. An industrial process that can take sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to produce a liquid hydrocarbon like diesel would be interesting although it would not have the visual appeal of trees.

  4. Nowhere does it mention whether it can better photosynthesis of wood – around 0.1W/sq m of mid latitude sunlight

    Ergo my guess is it cant

    • Leo Smith: Nowhere does it mention whether it can better photosynthesis of wood

      There is also a large water cost to photosynthesis, which also requires good soil. I imagine a production facility on rocky terrain in a desert beside a lake or river; if it can be made salt-tolerant, or if the cost of desalination is not to great. I don’t think one would recommend sacrificing good forest or agricultural land be sacrificed to the process, the way forests and farmland have been sacrificed for palm oil and ethanol.

      But I think you make a good point. There are already salt-tolerant mangrove trees and other bushes that can be planted in arid regions by seashores, as in Indonesia (not arid, but with large areas of brackish water where crops don’t grow) and Eritrea.

  5. On the surface, this seems promising. My biggest concern is if the storage and use of hydrogen can be dummy proofed.

  6. Unless we are thinking of Fuel cells, Hydrogen is a difficult to contain fuel.

    What about using it to directly heat water to steam for the turbines of a conventual power station.

    But that would produce the dreaded gas CO2.

    Plus where is the solar energy to come from, open air or a array of mirrows.

    MJE VK5ELL

  7. I would like to see a skeptical scientist replicate this process before I believe it. Preferably three of them

  8. Great. Now just stabilize the hydrogen with carbon, to make methane and maybe even longer-chain liquid hydrocarbon fuels artificially, and you’re making real scientific progress! Don’t get me wrong. Research into photocatalytic nanomaterials is probably good, but I cringe at the repetition of “green” as though the processes were actually that color.

  9. Hydrogen can be made into ammonia, which is way easier to store. There’s a fairly steady stream of new projects which, one way or another, make use of ammonia as an energy currency. example If we were really desperate, we could use ammonia in our internal combustion engines.

    The relatively easy storage of ammonia makes it a candidate for storing energy from windmills and solar PV farms.

    Over the years I’ve followed a number of new energy technologies. They look promising. They get to the pilot plant stage or maybe into small scale commercial production and then they die.

    • They reach the point to where it takes significant investment to implement. If it cannot produce a return on that investment it will not proceed (except in the case of many government funded projects).

    • “The relatively easy storage of ammonia makes it a candidate for storing energy from windmills and solar PV farms. ”
      True . But ….. ever been in an enclosed space with an ammonia leak ?
      Really nasty .Hard on lungs , eyes …. BTDT. Don’t care to do it again .

      • Same here I was caught in a leak on the 5th floor of the ammonia still. I will not go anywhere near anhydrous ammonia without full gear including breathing apparatus like MSA or SCOTT air packs. Once was enough.

    • Ammonia has this one nasty property…it is deadly, if released in air.
      Most refineries have replaced liquid storage with forms of urea or salts because of the dander.
      I certainly don’t want cars running around with ammonia in their tanks.

      • Ironically we already have cars running around with urea in a tank.

        Diesels use it as DEF (diesel exhaust fluid) to help their Emissions Control. Mind you, that’s real pollution, not ‘carbon’.

        ~¿~

    • Hydrogen can be made into ammonia, which is way easier to store.

      And the ammonia can be made into fertilizer ……. and the fertilizer and fuel oil can be made into one hellava “bomb”.

  10. This sounds too much like one of the “cold fusion” breakthroughs to me. I will wait to see what the reviews of their claim add up to before thinking more about any of this, especially since my car starts right up and drives me to the golf course every time. See ya!

  11. Hydrogen has really weird problems. To store it in usable quantities for transportation, you have to compress it to many thousand psi. And then it “sneaks” through valve seats and packing. If you get a significant leak from a high pressure source, it can self ignite.

    Not to say hydrogen vehicles aren’t really cool. They win a lot of points on cool factors. But it still has odd problems.

    • Hydrogen sorta works for rockets. Otherwise, the lack of density and tendency to destroy any but exotic materials, as well as leakage, makes it impractical. Hydrocarbons have much more useful density and storage characteristics. Mostly, playing with hydrogen is sucking up to the greens with an irrational aversion to hydrocarbons.

    • Is water not a precious commodity anymore?
      Barely a day goes by without a media public service announcement reminding us to conserve. Can we afford to burn it now, even if a small percentage becomes water again?

      Sure, the oceans are full of it now. Will only saltwater be used or will there be a problem converting it? It might kill the bacteria used in the above method, though there are bacteria that can live in salt. Salt isn’t a priceless commodity anymore and we could end up with a lot of it.

      I don’t think it will take long for the greens to want to abolish the burning of water.

  12. Somewhere in here is the law of unintended consequences. Escaping H2 will immediately start rising to the top of the atmosphere due to it’s low molecular weight, react with any remaining ozone (not consumed by CFC’s) and the Sun’s UV light will kill all life on Earth.

    Let’s think this thing through……

      • Yes, it’s a problem. Without an ozone layer high energy UV would quickly kill most plants. With the rest of us leaving this plane shortly thereafter.

    • The further unintended consequence is that the reaction of hydrogen with ozone produces water, which will freeze into ice crystals in the stratosphere, thus changing the earth’s albedo.

  13. It’s been quite a long time since the last hydrogen breakthrough announcement. We used to get these about quarterly, but it seems like it has been at least a year since the last time we heard there had been a breakthrough and, “Your troubles are over, Nelson!”

    Stay tuned for an amazing battery breakthrough announcement.

    • “Stay tuned for an amazing battery breakthrough announcement”

      There may be an announcement but not a breakthrough. It is well known just how good a battery can ever become, given that we have to work with the existing elements, and that theoretical maximum (unachievable in the real world) is decidedly unamazing.

      • How about Hydrogen On Demand for $3USD ? Abundant materials, no electricity, No GHG’s, No heat. Exothermic. cathode for $30 USD last 7 to 10 years. Is that a Breakthrough?

  14. Another poorly constructed Press release. Why use the plural “How a Mysterious Bacteria …” when clearly “Bacterium” is correct.
    Why use the word “green” repetitively, assuming in these trendy times that the reader gets the meaning, as in “Associated with a political movement with mostly questionable, diverse ideas about natural features.”
    What is the scientific advance in showing how to “reduce graphed oxide to the more reactive reduced graphemes oxide form”?
    What is meant by a “green route to a green energy source”, the latter being mainly water, which until now I thought had more secular, less coloured ownership? Or maybe compounds of Cadmium, which some poor scientists feel implicated in human ingestion, leading to widespread reduction in I.Q. and thus not a candidate for the happy green list.
    What do we make of “toxic chemicals” other than ingrained chemophobia? Hint: All chemicals are toxic. The poison is in the dose.

    The paper, we hope, is better than this publicity. If it fills the expectatations of the authors, so far as we can make out, it could be significant and of global importance. But such breakthroughs are rare. Geoff S

    • Geoff – ‘bacterium’ is obsolescent or even already obsolete. Even if a ‘science journalist’ were well educated enough to know the singular, then his editor would change it to bacteria. It’s gone. Same with larva. There are no more singular grubs, all are larvae. As more and more people get university educations, they seem to know less and less. An interesting phenomenon. I mean phenomena.

      • DaveW,
        My Science degrees emphasised chemistry and accuracy. Every letter in a word can count. “Insulin” is far from the same as “Inulin”.
        Consequently, I resist attempts of the modern era to round off and claim that “Near enough is good enough”. Often, it is not.
        Geoff S

    • Danger! According to the classification provided by companies to ECHA in REACH registrations this substance is fatal if inhaled, is very toxic to aquatic life, is very toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects, may cause cancer, causes damage to organs through prolonged or repeated exposure, is suspected of causing genetic defects, is suspected of damaging fertility or the unborn child and catches fire spontaneously if exposed to air.

      This substance is manufactured and/or imported in the European Economic Area in 1 000 – 10 000 tonnes per year.

      https://echa.europa.eu/substance-information/-/substanceinfo/100.028.320

      I wonder how much hydrogen that would make in quantum dots? We have no info on the productivity of the catalyst, only an assertion that at some level it produces a detectable quantity of hydrogen.

  15. Hydrogen is vastly over-rated as a fuel – it has very low energy density and is dangerous to store because it is a very small molecule and leaks through the tiniest openings.

    In a hydrogen-powered car crash – it won’t be pretty.

    If instead we use hydrogen to upgrade heavy oils via hydro-cracking or to upgrade coal to produce energy-dense liquid fuels, that would work much better…

  16. The proper use of this technology , if it is cheaper than molten salt nuclear power (which I seriously doubt) would be to use the hydrogen to power electric generators and supply the grid. Locate the hydrogen producing machines close to the electrical generators. The fleet is transitioning over to electric vehicles and the notion of distributing hydrogen is absurd – no infrastructure exists and hydrogen is just about the worst candidate for widespread distribution. The whole idea of a hydrogen distribution network and a fleet of hydrogen powered cars is absurd. Notice the complete lack of cost estimates for producing the hydrogen. Nothing like a network of highly combustible fuel pipe. Hydrogen is hard to keep bottled up and must be purged from a car’s gas tanks.
    But the morons that fear nuclear power will probably (and ignorantly) embrace this far more dangerous energy system

    • Yes for electrical generation. Sun to split water=>store compressed H2 in bottles/battery=>fuel cell=>power house or charge car battery.
      Something like the Joule Box Power Station promoted by http://eco-genenergy.com/

  17. Commenters here have mentioned hydrogen as a general fuel. OK. (Boom!)
    Specifically, people have mentioned hydrogen (Boom!) as a vehicle fuel.

    I Was Thinking: (everybody runs for cover)
    Tesla, by now has spectacular problems with their batteries. The batteries have generally been considered to be safe and appropriate for the task. However, hey have been known to:
    1) Ignite after a crash.
    2) Reignite after a battery fire has been extinguished.
    3) Spontaneously ignite while charging.
    4) Spontaneously ignite while simply parked.
    5) Spontaneously DETONATE!, with a real live BOOM! and the expected property damage. (Reported recently in Canada)

    All this with a power source generally considered to be safe.

    Now let’s try this:
    Swap out the batteries and put in a hydrogen system: A system known to be hazardous under the best of conditions. And a system well known for undesirable properties which add to the troubles the substance presents. After we have considered the results of having large numbers of battery powered cars, we can now contemplate the expected results of a similar number of hydrogen powered cars.
    Would you park one in your garage, or even next to your house?
    Have A Nice Day.

    • At least hydrogen fires are easy to “put out”. The hydrogen either burns or escapes rapidly so they don’t last long. They also need oxygen in the air and can be stopped with cooling, the usual ways we deal with fires.

      • Hydrogen fires are also invisible. So you can walk right into a flame with no warning. We carry IR sensors at work for that reason.

    • Li-ion batteries don’t really detonate. They sometime burst with a bang during a thermal runaway. Which is admittedly is rather bad since the result is often a small but nasty flamethrower when the hot inflammable electrolyte comes into contact with oxygen.

      Lithium batteries have to use hydrocarbon-based electrolyte since water+lithium really does detonate.

      And that Li-ion batteries occasionally have thermal runaways, mostly during charging, is nothing new. It has always been one of the main drawbacks of this battery type. Personally I never ever leave a charging Li-ion battery unattended.

    • It was discovered long ago that it wasn’t the hydrogen that was the Hindenburg incident’s problem but the myth persists.

      • Myth? Have you seen the video? I doubt it would have burned like that in under a minute if it was full of Helium like it was originally designed for.

        The US had 2 Airships that were effectively flying aircraft carriers, Akron and Macon, built in the early 30’s, that were filled with helium. The both eventually crashed, but neither manage to burn up in a minute like the Hindenburg.

        ~¿~

    • Someone long ago made a very good point. The Hindenburg did not explode. It went down in flames, but it was the hysterical eyewitness radio report that made it memorable.

      “Hydrogen fires are less destructive to immediate surroundings than gasoline explosions because of the buoyancy of H2, which causes heat of combustion to be released upwards more than circumferentially as the leaked mass ascends in the atmosphere; hydrogen fires are more survivable than fires of gasoline or wood. The hydrogen in the Hindenburg burned out within about 90 seconds.”
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindenburg_disaster

      For special effects, use propane, it is heavier than air.

      • Indeed, the Hindenburg fire was spectacular, but you also need to remember that the majority of those aboard that doomed airship survived. What you see burning in the pictures of that tragedy is the nitrocellulose-doped fabric that formed the “skin” of the airship.

  18. The more they push how “green” it is, the more suspicious of it I get. Cheap compared to what? Sounds too good to be true, so probably is.

  19. The best way to store hydrogen is by attaching it to carbon atoms. Muchly improved energy density. If attached to over 5 chained carbons, it is liquid at room temperature, which makes it much easier and safer to store than other energy storage methods. …yes sarc…

  20. Seems like this process would have the same problems as solar photovoltaic energy production with the upside of storage of one of the products (H2) and maybe the other one (O2, although oxygen production is probably cheaper through the cryogenic process). Lots of water will be needed for the process and in a area that gets a lot of sunshine on a steady basis; i.e., water to the desert.

    Also, what are the things that will poison the catalyst? Will the process essentially have to be at lab conditions for the process to work on an industrial scale? In other words, will the water need to be pure water, only H2O, and, if not, what impurities, and to what extent, will be allowed for acceptable catalyst life?

    Lots and lots of questions need to be answers for this process.

    And for the above, the Haber process (or it’s later improved cousins) for NH3 production uses methane, CH4, for it’s source of hydrogen.

    Take care,

  21. Ballard Power, based in Vancouver, was the big deal in hydrogen and fuel cells.
    The stock ran from something like 5 to 210 in the Stock Mania that blew out in 2000.
    Many institutions and individuals “bought” the story.
    Municipal buses tested the system, etc.
    Then down to 50 cents in 2013.
    The company is still spinning dreams and to stock is up to 5.

  22. Hydrogen makes for a poor battery…which is all it really is when you think about it. Hydrogen likes to migrate into metals (making them brittle), would have to be under enormous pressures, and would have to be transported in mass quantities just like gas is today but more dangerous (because of the pressure, or possibly liqiud hydrogen).

    To make hydrogen from water, you need distilled water. Impurities will destroy the catalysts ability to interact with water over time. Or you have to continually replace the catalysts. In either case, you are using a lot energy (and money) to make this idea work. There are a lot better uses for distilled water.

    Far better is an energy storage breakthrough for a new battery that can be charged using electricity from a nuclear power plant. Until that breakthrough, there is always the hybrid car where you use a small combustion (or turbine) engine to produce electricity for an otherwise electric car. The amount of power produced doesn’t have to be the maximum power needed at any given time, it just has to be above the average amount the car needs to function. With a combustion engine, you do not need electric heaters, but air conditioning is still a heavy load. One helpful way to address air conditioning is to keep the heat out – better infrared proof windows and small electric ventilators to keep temperatures from rising.

    • “Far better is an energy storage breakthrough for a new battery that can be charged using electricity from a nuclear power plant. Until that breakthrough…”

      Which will never come. Period.

      We know all elements and how many valence electrons they have. It is easy to calculate that the best possible battery that can ever be built in this universe is a lithium-air (or rather lithium-oxygen) battery. And it has considerably lower energy density than ordinary gasoline. And it is a long way from being a practical proposition today.

  23. It’s a small but good step.

    The rest of the story will be the cost of upscaling the process.

  24. Water, whatever, still is insignificant to the CO, CO2 and NOx emissions from burning H2 in IC engines (ICE). It simply is complete BOLLOX to even consider H2 as a fuel for ICE over petrol/diesel. Not only do we have the 1st law of thermodynamics to lie about, we have the 2nd law to overcome. It will never happen for a replacement fuel for ICE forgiving ALL the other problems this as a fuel brings.

    Hydrogen fuel cells, now that is another ballgame however, H2 is still “cracked” from CH4 and it is a very very energy consuming process producing much CO2. You may was well simply BURN the CH4 instead of trying to crack H2 from it.

    Silly silly silly!

  25. The statement “Both of these sectors currently contribute a large fraction of total greenhouse gas emissions” is true only if you ignore the fact that approximately 95% of total greenhouse gas emissions are natural, and redefine “total” to only mean “human-caused”. Our contributions are less than the uncertainties in the estimated contributions of the rest of the world. It would be honest to point this out, but not politically viable.

  26. The only way this would be viable would be if it is significantly more efficient and cost effective than using the electricity from a PV array to make hydrogen from water the old-fashioned way. For example, we can synthesize glucose in a lab. We don’t do this on an industrial scale because plants do it far more efficiently.

  27. Missing are the practical application gotchas that need to be overcome with this process. Problems with hydrogen fueled vehicles are already known and mostly overcome as witnessed by already announced and in use public vehicles. The devil is in the details.

  28. The greenies are not interested in the environment. They are using it as a pathway to socialism. They don’t want a cure for the made up problem of global warming other than the Green New Deal or something similar.

  29. The metaphor for green = nature is breaking down. CO2 gives you green. Lots of green. More CO2, the more green. With up to four times the CO2 we have now. Now they say inorganic hydrogen is green. They keep using that word. I don’t think it means what they say it means.

  30. Unless I’m missing something, conservation of energy requires that the total energy required to split the H2O bond is the same as the energy released by burning or recombining in a fuel cell minus all the inevitable losses. Since that energy is apparently solar, that implies thousands of acres of solar collection somewhere for any commercially useful amount of energy. Unless the overall efficiency of this process is substantially greater than photovoltaic cells or solar thermal and the net cost for construction and maintenance and operation per kWh for a commercial scale facility is competitive with existing solar technologies, this is nothing more than an interesting dead-end technology.

    • It takes 48kwh to produce
      1 kg of hydrogen. Which
      Is equivalent to 1 gallon of gas.
      Good luck trying to use solar when you don’t need the power.

  31. I have to assume that oxygen is also a result of splitting hydrogen from water, just as in hydrolysis with an anode and cathode. With hydrolysis, the hydrogen and oxygen can be captured separately. How do the two elements of water get captured with this new method? Are the two gasses mixed?

  32. Could the technology be used for back country dwellings? Having a solar powered supply of hydrogen (just enough for light and a small stove) would be awesome.

  33. The pipe-dream of the “Hydrogen Economy” rises yet again. While hydrogen may be a very good fuel for a narrow range of applications, the extreme difficulty of safely storing, transporting, and delivering it to an end use make it a practical impossibility on any sort of massive scale.

  34. “Our water-based process represents a scalable green route for the production of this promising photocatalyst technology”
    “synthesize the cadmium sulfide nanoparticles”
    Unfortunately Cadmium is toxic.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cadmium_poisoning

    “The generated hydrogen could serve as […] a transportation fuel”
    You have to store Hydrogen in order to use it as transportation fuel. Now, due to its low density, it can only be done at high pressure (~350 bar). Not a good idea, for accidents happen, and if the storage tank explodes, everyone is doomed.

    The only rational use of Solar power is at a desalination plant, because the end product (fresh water) can be stored cheaply and abundantly (unlike electricity), and solar power is intermittent. In spite of this less than 1% of desalination is done worldwide using solar power. Why?

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