Making clean hydrogen is hard, but researchers just solved a major hurdle



For decades, researchers around the world have searched for ways to use solar power to generate the key reaction for producing hydrogen as a clean energy source — splitting water molecules to form hydrogen and oxygen. However, such efforts have mostly failed because doing it well was too costly, and trying to do it at a low cost led to poor performance.

Now, researchers from The University of Texas at Austin have found a low-cost way to solve one half of the equation, using sunlight to efficiently split off oxygen molecules from water. The finding, published recently in Nature Communications, represents a step forward toward greater adoption of hydrogen as a key part of our energy infrastructure.

As early as the 1970s, researchers were investigating the possibility of using solar energy to generate hydrogen. But the inability to find materials with the combination of properties needed for a device that can perform the key chemical reactions efficiently has kept it from becoming a mainstream method.

“You need materials that are good at absorbing sunlight and, at the same time, don’t degrade while the water-splitting reactions take place,” said Edward Yu, a professor in the Cockrell School’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “It turns out materials that are good at absorbing sunlight tend to be unstable under the conditions required for the water-splitting reaction, while the materials that are stable tend to be poor absorbers of sunlight. These conflicting requirements drive you toward a seemingly inevitable tradeoff, but by combining multiple materials — one that efficiently absorbs sunlight, such as silicon, and another that provides good stability, such as silicon dioxide — into a single device, this conflict can be resolved.”

However, this creates another challenge — the electrons and holes created by absorption of sunlight in silicon must be able to move easily across the silicon dioxide layer. This usually requires the silicon dioxide layer to be no more than a few nanometers, which reduces its effectiveness in protecting the silicon absorber from degradation.

The key to this breakthrough came through a method of creating electrically conductive paths through a thick silicon dioxide layer that can be performed at low cost and scaled to high manufacturing volumes. To get there, Yu and his team used a technique first deployed in the manufacturing of semiconductor electronic chips. By coating the silicon dioxide layer with a thin film of aluminum and then heating the entire structure, arrays of nanoscale “spikes” of aluminum that completely bridge the silicon dioxide layer are formed. These can then easily be replaced by nickel or other materials that help catalyze the water-splitting reactions.

When illuminated by sunlight, the devices can efficiently oxidize water to form oxygen molecules while also generating hydrogen at a separate electrode and exhibit outstanding stability under extended operation. Because the techniques employed to create these devices are commonly used in manufacturing of semiconductor electronics, they should be easy to scale for mass production.

The team has filed a provisional patent application to commercialize the technology.

Improving the way hydrogen is generated is key to its emergence as a viable fuel source. Most hydrogen production today occurs through heating steam and methane, but that relies heavily on fossil fuels and produces carbon emissions.

There is a push toward “green hydrogen” which uses more environmentally friendly methods to generate hydrogen. And simplifying the water-splitting reaction is a key part of that effort.

Hydrogen has potential to become an important renewable resource with some unique qualities. It already has a major role in significant industrial processes, and it is starting to show up in the automotive industry. Fuel cell batteries look promising in long-haul trucking, and hydrogen technology could be a boon to energy storage, with the ability to store excess wind and solar energy produced when conditions are ripe for them.

Going forward, the team will work to improve the efficiency of the oxygen portion of water-splitting by increasing the reaction rate. The researchers’ next major challenge is then to move on to the other half of the equation.

“We were able to address the oxygen side of the reaction first, which is the more challenging part, ” Yu said, “but you need to perform both the hydrogen and oxygen evolution reactions to completely split the water molecules, so that’s why our next step is to look at applying these ideas to make devices for the hydrogen portion of the reaction.”


This research was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation through the Directorate for Engineering and the Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers (MRSEC) program. Yu worked on the project with UT Austin students Soonil Lee and Alex De Palma, along with Li Ji, a professor at Fudan University in China.

From EurekAlert!

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July 19, 2021 10:17 pm

Scientific and technological progress has to be applauded, regardless of whether one is a climate alarmist or a climate skeptic.

Reply to  Vincent
July 19, 2021 11:22 pm

Agree. But call me a hydrogen storage skeptic.

Reply to  stinkerp
July 20, 2021 3:31 am

Why are you a hydrogen storage skeptic? Do you know a reason why hydrogen cannot be pipelined similar to how it’s done with natural gas?

Reply to  Tom
July 20, 2021 3:44 am

molecular size of hydrogen.

Reply to  Leo Smith
July 20, 2021 9:04 am

Hydrocrackers operate at 1800 psig. and 700F. Running a hydrogen pipeline at ambient temperature and 1250 psig. is not that big of a challenge. But compressing hydrogen is a pain in the butt. I’m no fan of a hydrogen economy. Just use natural gas for fuel.

Reply to  JamesD
July 20, 2021 9:50 am

Natural gas is a better choice and it is readily available, and ALMOST as clean burning as hydrogen. At the moment there is a huge supply of natural gas. I say let’s use it until we work out the kinks in hydrogen. Scientific experimenting is a GOOD thing and must be encouraged.

Reply to  IAMPCBOB
July 20, 2021 6:37 pm

Natural gas is a very bad choice if you don’t have a source. Most of Florida does not.

Also methane is a very inefficient source – only about 25-33% efficient in Carnot cycle power plants and even worse – 20-25% efficient when burned in IC engines – all due to waste heat. Hydrogen fuel cells are typically 65% efficient, and hydrogen can be produced locally anywhere with a source of electricity and water.

Reply to  Duane
July 23, 2021 5:27 am

hydrogen can be produced locally anywhere with a source of electricity and water.

But there’s the rub.

Tom Johnson
Reply to  Tom
July 20, 2021 4:09 am

Leo’s response is accurate, but can be expanded. The small molecular size allows hydrogen to easily leak or diffuse through containers. It is quite difficult to make containers and piping systems that don’t leak it away. It also attacks metallic containers through hydrogen embrittlement. This can cause weakening and fracturing in the containing systems. For these reasons and more, existing pipeline systems cannot be used for hydrogen.

One of the biggest problems with hydrogen storage is the inability to liquify it at reasonable temperatures. This means that it must be stored as a gas, not a liquid. This requires large, heavy, tubular or spherical storage tanks to contain pressures as high as thousands of PSI (10,000 +). This significantly increases storage volumes and structures. In vehicles, these are very dangerous in a collision or even parking facility.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Tom Johnson
July 20, 2021 5:42 am

Look up “town gas”. It was made from coal and steam, and was largely a mixture of H2 and CO2. When natural gas became widely available for cheap, it went away but it was in use in Great Britain into at least the 50’s. Not that I’m a fan, but the issues with transportation and use of H2 are not as great as people think.

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  D. J. Hawkins
July 20, 2021 6:29 am

syn gas is made from coal. it is H2 and CO. not CO2.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
July 21, 2021 6:25 am

Yes, my bad on that.

Reply to  D. J. Hawkins
July 20, 2021 7:15 am

“largely a mixture of H2 and CO2”

It was largely a mixture H2(g) and CO(g).

It was made by the following reaction.

C(s) + H2O(g) +heat —>CO(g) + H2(g)

It was deadly, if it leaked into living spaces intentionally or accidentally. It was both poisonous and explosive.

Paul C
Reply to  D. J. Hawkins
July 21, 2021 7:43 pm

I remember the conversion to natural gas in my childhood. I believe it would have been about 1970 in my region. There was a significant amount of CO in town gas making it extremely toxic.

Reply to  Tom Johnson
July 20, 2021 5:45 am

The heavy machinery company JCB is working to produce vehicles powered by hydrogen. It is using both fuel cells and hydrogen ICE engines ( modified from its existing diesel engine) The company seems to have overcome the difficulties of handling hydrogen as a fuel, and has working prototypes of both technologies. In the article linked below there are photos showing their hydrogen bank and the fuelling hose in use

JCB unveils hydrogen-fuelled combustion engine technology | Autocar

Brooks H Hurd
Reply to  Martin
July 20, 2021 8:20 am

As with other articles, the major issue of hydrogen storage is not mentioned. I would guess that it is high pressure storage, based the photo. That connection is definitely not a cryogenic transfer line.

Reply to  Martin
July 20, 2021 9:16 am

“seems to have”???

Come back when you have evidence that they have actually solved the problem.

Reply to  Tom Johnson
July 20, 2021 6:42 pm

All of that is irrelevant. Fuel cell vehicles and aircraft don’t use metal fuel tanks which at the required storage pressures are much too heavy. Instead composite materials are used for hydrogen storage and fuel lines which are not susceptible to leakage and pound for pound are far stronger than steel.

Large ground storage tanks use liquified hydrogen.

Dan DeLong
Reply to  Tom Johnson
July 21, 2021 9:42 pm

It’s not just the size of the H2 molecule. When H2 is adsorbed onto the surface of a metal (specific environments and specific metals), the electrons are stripped off and what is left is tiny protons. Protons can zip through the metal almost as fast as electrons. You can buy commercial hydrogen purifiers that are essentially metal foils. Here’s one:

Reply to  Tom Johnson
July 23, 2021 5:35 am

Thanks for that, Tom. I was an engineer & worked w/hydrogen. We had CONSTANT concerns w/any hydrogen leaks at 30 psi pressure in the generators. I’m OK w/hydrogen in heavy-walled cylinders at high pressure, but dealing w/hydrogen at thousands of psi in HUGE vessels and LONG pipelines is a bit frightening. So I’d have to ask in general — why in the world would it be used…..

Loren C. Wilson
Reply to  Tom
July 20, 2021 4:43 am

Hydrogen poses special problems when transported or stored because the molecule is so small. Look up “hydrogen embrittlement” for starters. Polymeric pipe can be used to avoid this particular issue, but is more permeable, leading to loss of product and the possibility of building up a flammable atmosphere next to the pipe.

Reply to  Loren C. Wilson
July 20, 2021 5:55 am

If we can’t pipeline hydrogen, then how is it that refineries and chemical plants have pipes carrying very high pressure, high purity hydrogen all over the world, and how is it that we already have high purity commercial pipelines on the US Gulf Coast? The problem if hydrogen attack occurs when you have atomic hydrogen, which is small enough to diffuse into metal. When you have a lot of hydrogen it’s all going to be molecular hydrogen, which does not diffused into metal the way atomic hydrogen does. There may be other issues having to do with the presence of corrosion, but these things can be controlled by managing the chemical environment inside piping or by properly selection of metallurgy.

Much of natural gas inventory exists as pipeline material, but there is also underground storage. I don’t know what the options are for bulk storage of hydrogen (other than liquifaction). Obviously, we could build pressure vessels, but that may not be economically feasible.

I am a chemical engineer with petroleum refining background. I don’t claim to be “expert” in the pipelining and storage of hydrogen, but I do have some relevant work experience. The things people are saying here simply do not make sense to me, and it comes from lack of knowledge, which is easily acquired.

What is Hydrogen Embrittlement? – Causes, Effects and Prevention – TWI (

Reply to  Tom
July 20, 2021 6:52 am

I too have some relevant work experience with hydrogen. I am a mechanical engineer with an automation and controls background.

First of all, I do not believe elemental hydrogen can exist in a gaseous form, so for any discussions on hydrogen we are referring to H2. Secondly, the materials used to handle hydrogen within a refinery are exotic metals such as 9-chrome steel and Hastelloy. Embrittlement is a constant problem with regular steels and some plastics. So metal cost is a huge factor that must be considered in the TIC value of hydrogen. It will not be economically or practically possible.

The pipeline infrastructure outside of a refinery or reformer is not suitable for transport of hydrogen, as it could neither handle the pressures needed nor could it avoid being damaged by embrittlement. Remember also that you need 3x the volume of gas compared to CH4 to get the same heat output so you must either have 3x the storage capacity or much higher storage pressures.

I have not seen a system-based economic analysis which shows a hydrogen solution being viable. A hazop on the system would also flag some unacceptable safety risks. My .02

Reply to  brentc
July 20, 2021 7:45 am

Air Products already has a Gulf Coast hydrogen pipeline the connects to refineries and chemical plants. I worked at a Gulf Coast refinery that connected to an external hydrogen pipeline in the 90’s.

The fact that special metallurgy is required for some applications is just an economic factor.

I doubt that atomic hydrogen ever exists as anything but a gas, but it can quickly migrate into metal; it can form during welding and result in brittle welds, but proper procedures and materials will prevent it.

In a hydrogen pipeline you will have low temperature and high concentration which precludes the presence of atomic hydrogen.

My point here is that a lot of the comments are not informed comments. I wish people would not go off on things unless they have an informed opinion or at least of gone to the trouble of doing an internet search.

Reply to  Tom
July 20, 2021 10:06 am

“just an economic factor” for a solution that you apparently support to a problem that does not exist.

And if, as you say, the “hydrogen” pipeline existed in the 1990s, is it the SAME pipeline in use today, or has it been replaced due to fatigue one or more times since that time? AND, how long was that pipeline?

I do not know, I am asking. You should know since you are telling everyone here that hydrogen pipelines have no problems other than “economic’ problems. How big is the “economic” problem?

Reply to  Drake
July 20, 2021 5:02 pm

The company is Air Products. Just look it up.

Reply to  Tom
July 20, 2021 10:54 am

Tom, as far as I know the H2 pipelines were still in operation in 2014.

Reply to  Tom
July 20, 2021 1:12 pm

I once built a device for Savannah River that had to operate underwater (nothing to do with Hydrogen). It failed their safety analysis. Why? Because it had an o-ring seal and a PhD Chemical Engineer said that the Space Shuttle blew up when a o-ring failed so my device was dangerous. Now, some of the smartest people I’ve met are Chem E’s but the point is that just because someone has a particular degree doesn’t mean they know what they’re talking about.

You’re a case in point. Diatomic Hydrogen can also cause embrittlement. Just depends on the metal, and the carbon steel often used in pipelines suffers from Diatomic Hydrogen embrittlement.

Reply to  meab
July 20, 2021 5:14 pm

As I said, I am not “expert” in this, but I have a technical background and relevant experience which most people commenting about this do not. If I’ve stated something that is incorrect, then I’m happy to have it corrected. If you are making a case that hydrogen attack is a problem for high purity hydrogen pipelines using proper metallurgy, then you should provide a citation. I believe the normal mechanism for hydrogen embrittlement is that the atomic hydrogen migrates into the metal where it eventually meets up with another atomic hydrogen atom, forming molecular hydrogen, which creates stress within the metal. Perhaps it’s something else, but the point of this discussion is not to make us all experts in metallurgy or the feasibility of pipelining hydrogen, it is to ask people to stop “cheerleading” about things which they know absolutely nothing.

Reply to  Tom
July 20, 2021 5:30 pm

It’s not a case of “proper” metallurgy, the question is can hydrogen be pumped through the existing Natural Gas pipelines. The answer is no. I suspect that you knew that and are just trying to pump (as in financial jargon) hydrogen.

Reply to  Tom
July 20, 2021 1:20 pm

“I wish people would not go off on things unless they have an informed opinion or at least of gone to the trouble of doing an internet search.”

EVERYONE is ignorant about everything to some degree. If people prefaced everything they say with every known limit to their knowledge, discussions would never start or grind to a halt.

You answered those ignorant comments with knowledge. That is the proper response.

Brooks H Hurd
Reply to  brentc
July 20, 2021 8:51 am

Molecular hydrogen exists in equilibrium with atomic hydrogen. The concentration of atomic hydrogen is very low, but it does exist in gaseous hydrogen. Small amounts of atomic hydrogen diffuse through hydrogen piping systems without problems, unless there are voids in the pipe walls.

Reply to  brentc
July 20, 2021 9:09 am

The metals you mention are due to the temperature. For ambient temperature you use carbon steel. It’s been awhile since I studied the issue, but I believe the presence of H2S results in iron sulfide and atomic hydrogen diffusing into the pipe/vessel wall. When it recombines, you get hydrogen blistering and cracking. Not an issue in ambient pure hydrogen pipes.

Reply to  Tom
July 20, 2021 6:58 am

The practicalities are that hydrogen is used in refineries at the point of production due to the storage and transportation economics issues of hydrogen embrittlement and safety involved. That issue is primarily the cost of testing and replacing materials fairly often, or facing catastrophic failure of pipes, pressure vessels, and heat exchangers. Pipelining hydrogen long distances is a pipeline service life issue…..yes, you can pipeline hydrogen, but you are going to have to replace that pipeline much sooner than a methane pipeline. You can store hydrogen but need cryogenic storage or face replacing thick walled pressure vessels when they become hazardously brittle. Think large pressure vessels breaking like glass with a few thousand psi of Hindenberg inside (whose hydrogen was trivially at atmospheric pressure)
Hydrogen is highly combustible, and advocates need to remember, for example, that combustible household refrigerants were legislated out of use in the 1920’s due to fire hazard, and even hair curling irons are allowed only small butane bottles. Hydrogen simply won’t be allowed in your garage in quantities that would operate your car, after the first couple of disasters.
The best way to store hydrogen is to attach it to carbon atoms.

Last edited 16 days ago by DMacKenzie
Matthew Schilling
Reply to  Tom
July 20, 2021 7:11 am

Nature has already provided us with a great way to store and transport hydrogen – methane.

Dave Andrews
Reply to  Matthew Schilling
July 20, 2021 8:24 am

UK town gas was a mixture of 50% hydrogen/ 35%methane/10%CO/ 5% ethylene before being replaced by natural gas.

Brooks H Hurd
Reply to  Tom
July 20, 2021 8:33 am

You are no doubt familiar with hydrogen blistering of steel since you mentioned the diffusion of atomic hydrogen through steel. Problems arise if there are void spaces in the steel. Any void in a steel pipe wall can accumulate atomic hydrogen which will recombine to molecular hydrogen. The equilibrium pressure of this conversion is several hundred thousand atmospheres. This is what causes hydrogen blistering. Only certain steels are suitable for hydrogen service.

Reply to  Tom
July 20, 2021 6:46 pm

Hydrogen has been produced and stored and transported in pipelines in vast quantities for the cat cracking of crude oil for more than a century with no significant “problems”.

It is the average ignorant commenter here who does not understand an obvious fact well understood in the petroleum industry for more than a century.

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Duane
July 21, 2021 6:45 am

Ignoring, once again, the need for more exotic metals for the pipelines and the frequency with which they must be replaced.

And of course completely ignoring the elephant in the room – sourcing those metals is intensively dependent on fossil fuels, as would be the entirety of the imaginary “hydrogen economy.”

Reply to  Duane
July 21, 2021 7:28 am

I haven’t seen anyone saying that hydrogen CAN’T be transported in pipelines, only that it’s a significant challenge. Tom says it’s an “economic” challenge; that may be so, but that doesn’t lessen how much of a challenge it is. It may be insurmountable. At the very least, it’s likely very much not cost-effective.

Reply to  Duane
July 21, 2021 9:53 pm

Save the insults for the climate alarmists sites. H2 might be fine pipelined around or near a refinery for short distances and in industrial quantities that justify pipelines made of more expensive steel. But what about piping it say hundreds of miles? Isn’t Rube Goldberg Green tech already expensive enough, do we have to add new practically nuclear plant quality steel pipelines to the mix? All the green tech is basically at the beta level, not even 1.0, and governments are trying to force wide spread use. Driving down the cost of green tech through forcing economy of scale is disastrous when the tech is not fit for the real world. H2 for cars and pipelining it all over is stupid, especially with plentiful cheap clean burning natural gas.

Reply to  Tom
July 20, 2021 9:50 am

That would be something I would do a simple web search for before posting, especially at WUWT.

I have a friend who is an engineer. We were splitting wood at my cabin and got in to alternate fuels. First he mentioned Hydrogen, and I asked him about storage and transport, and he knew NOTHING about the problems. He then mentioned ammonia, and he knew NOTHING of the hazards and energy waste in producing that as a fuel for ICE.

Nice guy but a little warmist, so apparently keeping himself ignorant of the “solutions” the “scientists” are proposing for the non problem of CARBON!

Sound familiar Tom?

Reply to  Drake
July 20, 2021 5:17 pm

What kind of engineer?

Reply to  Drake
July 21, 2021 9:57 pm

I literally shuddered the first time I read that ammonia was being considered for safe, environmentally friendly energy storage. Orwell is spinning in his grave and face palming.

Reply to  Drake
July 23, 2021 5:57 am

Sounds like a neophyte engineer. Surely chemistry classes (or just plain housekeeping) would have taught him that ammonia is very toxic.

Last edited 13 days ago by beng135
Reply to  Tom
July 20, 2021 6:25 pm

Hydrogen IS pipelined a lot in the oil and gas belt, where vast quantities are produce for industrial production. But the pipelines have relatively short runs, as hydrogen is most frequently produced by steam reforming of methane in natural gas, then is piped a short distance to crude oil refineries where it is used in cat cracking.

Hydrogen does not need to be pipelined long distances. It can be produced locally easily using electric hydrolysis of water. All that is needed is a source of electricity and a source of water. Hydrogen is not actually a source of energy – it is an energy transport mechanism … transporting the energy used to produce it, whether chemical energy in methane, or the electrical energy produced from hydrolysis.

Hydrolysis is actually the more efficient method of energy storage and transport – about 80% of the energy input is released at its output, whereas steam reforming is about 65% efficient. If the latter seems low, remember that gasoline or diesel fuel is only about 20-25% efficient in producing work given the very large thermal losses in ZiC engines.

As a veteran sub sailor I can attest to the mature technology of hydrolysis used to produce oxygen for breathing air from distilled seawater for long term submerged operations. The hydrogen is a byproduct of hydrolysis in submarines and is simply vented overboard.

John Dilks
Reply to  Duane
July 20, 2021 9:20 pm

Note: hydrolysis on a sub is done using Nuclear Power not solar or wind.

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Duane
July 21, 2021 6:49 am

So all you’ll need for your hydrogen powered car is a trailer with a big tank of water and a diesel generator. D’oh!

Reply to  Duane
July 21, 2021 10:04 pm

But the steam reformed H2 is still many times cheaper than the electrical version. Efficiency won’t matter if you’re freezing in the dark because you can pay your utility bills because the utilities were dumb enough to voluntarily or forced by law to use h2 to store unreliable so-called renewable energy, in a vain attempt to make R.E. look workable.

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  stinkerp
July 20, 2021 7:44 am

The best solution is to combine the hydrogen with nitrogen to make ammonia (NH3). amonia can be liquified by pressure at ambient temperatures. The Amonia is valuable as fertilizer and can be used as a fuel or a carriewr of hydrogen for industrial purposes, including the manuafacture of hydrocarbon fuels such as methane, methanol, and higher order hydrocarbons.. E.g. butanol is an excellent automobile fuel.

Reply to  Walter Sobchak
July 20, 2021 10:12 am

Again a solution to a NONPROBLEM. Why use ammonia when hydrocarbons work better, are safer and have a current functioning delivery and use systems?

Reply to  Vincent
July 20, 2021 3:44 am

Power density of sunlight over a year in middle latitudes 100W/sq m.

Power density of a nuclear power station 300kW/sq m.

I rest my case

Brooks H Hurd
Reply to  Leo Smith
July 20, 2021 8:53 am

I would add that the capacity factor for PV solar is roughly 15%, and nearly 100% for nuclear power plants.

Reply to  Brooks H Hurd
July 20, 2021 5:15 pm

Not nearly 100%. Be realistic, any power station is an extremely complex machine and over the lifetime of the plant you budget on 90 to 95%.

Using realistic numbers for PV then putting in ridiculous cherry picked numbers for nuclear is exactly the same stunt warmistas pull.

Reply to  Dean
July 21, 2021 10:13 pm

He said ‘nearly’ and Canadian plants are frequently in the 90s. Any downtime is scheduled months ahead of time, unlike solar or wind where it’s up and down on an hourly basis. If turbines were able to constantly produce at say 20% or at least never below a given level then they would be an order of magnitude greater value. I’m surprised the various governments haven’t announced big plans for large scale grids to balance and share the power better. There’s low level news here and there but larger grids would mitigate the need for batteries, h2 and dangerous ammonia storage.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Vincent
July 20, 2021 10:03 am

Let us know when there’s some actual progress. Too many problems with this and not enough time to elaborate. I’ll check back later. I’m confident that my concerns will already have been identified.

Reply to  Rich Davis
July 20, 2021 10:56 am

Check back in 30 years.

Reply to  Mason
July 20, 2021 4:30 pm

30 years, your just an optimist
Salters nodding ducks made it to Tomorrows World TV program as a low cost doom type wave energy device in 1971.
“50” years later and we still haven`t got there . . .

Dan DeLong
Reply to  Vincent
July 21, 2021 9:31 pm

It would be nice if the authors had some actual numbers so we could judge. For example, how does this compare to using silicon PV cells to supply an electrolysis apparatus?

Old horsehide
July 19, 2021 10:22 pm

Not being familiar with this process of efficiently breaking H2O bonds, this sounds promising. Since this process requires water as a feed source, are there concerns regarding consumption of a limited commodity? Is non portable and or contaminated water a potential fuel source?

Matthew Schilling
Reply to  Old horsehide
July 20, 2021 7:13 am

Limited quantity? We live on a WATER PLANET.

Reply to  Matthew Schilling
July 20, 2021 9:04 am

And if that hydrogen is either burned or combined with oxygen in a fuel-cell, you get water that is perfectly good to drink, wash, and cool with. No, the water will not disappear from the ecosystem. In fact, if water were unwanted, it would be virtually impossible to completely eradicate without nuclear fusion. No matter what one does with water, one either ends up with water again, or its constituent molecules, both of which are wonderful things and non-toxic.

Reply to  Matthew Schilling
July 20, 2021 9:19 am

Most of that water is salt water. Most of these conversion plants that I’m familiar with require purified water.

Reply to  Old horsehide
July 20, 2021 9:06 am

What exactly do you mean by “a limited commodity”? Do you live in a high-desert?

Curious George
Reply to  Old horsehide
July 20, 2021 11:05 am

I could not make heads or tails from the description. Is it electrolysis, with a submerged solar cell?

July 19, 2021 10:32 pm

Waiting to see how the economics pan out…🤔

Reply to  Brad
July 19, 2021 11:09 pm

And … their current work doesn’t produce any hydrogen.

Reply to  AndyHce
July 20, 2021 12:03 am

When hydrogen burns in presence of oxygen process creates water with large amount of energy released. In order to reverse the process, splitting water into H and O, I would think that energy conservation law would stipulate similar energy input is required, i.e it is zero sum gain even with 100% efficiency.

M Courtney
Reply to  Vuk
July 20, 2021 12:14 am

But the idea is to convert solar energy into a storable fuel – Hydrogen.

It’s not about generating energy. It’s about making useless renewable energy into something that has value.

Not there yet but it’s proper science.

Reply to  M Courtney
July 20, 2021 2:02 am

Burning Hydrogen produces about 120 kJ/gram of H2. Total average annual energy from solar irradiation in mid latitudes on cloudless day is about 4kW/m2 over 8 hours = 14kJ (?)
With 100% conversion efficiency it may be required about 8.5m2/day with full insolation (clear sky) to produce 1gr of hydrogen, let’s round it to 10m2 with the conversion losses included.
Hydrogen bus tank capacity is about 5kg (5,000gr) of H2 under suitable safe pressure.
i.e. 5,000gr x10m2/day = 50,000m2 (500m x100m) for area of solar energy conversion for one clear day to fill one bus H2 tank.
Average bus depot would have 30-40 buses, and town bus might run about 2 days on one fuel tank, so to fuel a bus depot for for one day may be require one km2 of solar conversion for one clear sunny day.
It doesn’t appear to be a commercially viable proposal when compared to the diesel powered transport systems.
Perhaps someone would like to independently double check numbers used and recalculate.

Peter Muller
Reply to  Vuk
July 20, 2021 7:05 am

Not to mention the energy required to mine, concentrate and refine elemental silicon from quartz, aluminum from bauxite ore or nickel from various sulfide ores, and the CO2 emissions involved in creating ‘scaled-up’ green hydrogen facilities.

Reply to  Peter Muller
July 21, 2021 10:19 pm

People don’t know that for every chunk of high quality quartz one needs about 2 chunks of coal to melt everything done and produce the cells. Solar cells are made more from coal than silicon.

Curious George
Reply to  Vuk
July 20, 2021 11:00 am

4kW/m2 over 8 hours = 14kJ (?)
Please double-check.

Reply to  M Courtney
July 20, 2021 3:56 am

The problem is that the land area required to match conventional power out puts is simply too large unless you hav an area of desert where no one lives and no greens care about modifying its ecology totally.

Using what I think is te right figure for US current electricity consumption – about 430 GW average, that would need around 4000 square kilometers of 100% efficient converters producing a lifeless shade beneath whatevever technology was used to capture the sunlight

At a 50% conversion rate that’s the whole of Nevada. Now triple that to move all fuel cars and trucks and other uses of coal as e.g. a reducing agent for smelting into the ‘hydrogen economy’ and that’s three Nevadas, permanently in the dark, to power the USA.

What frightens me more than that thought, is that no one seems to think that doing this basic sum is actually worthwhile.

Reply to  Leo Smith
July 20, 2021 4:33 am

“… no one seems to think that doing this basic sum is actually worthwhile.”
Actually, I published this conclusion 19 years ago in 2002. Still correct!
Diffuse means green energy takes up way too much land.
intermittent I think everyone understands by now* – and NO, super-batteries will NOT solve the problem..
[* Intermittent means the Sun does not shine and the wind does not blow 24/7. Surprise!]
This is the easy stuff, good people. [insert suitable expletive here]
The climate and green-energy scam is now about 50 years old and it was always deliberately false nonsense – a multi-trillion dollar scam – promoted by wolves and believed by sheep.
Regards, Allan
[excerpt from my Sept 1, 2002 article in the Calgary Herald]
Green energy technologies such as wind and solar are simply too diffuse and intermittent, so they will never replace a significant amount of fossil fuels.

Last edited 16 days ago by ALLAN MACRAE
July 20, 2021 5:29 am

I would say ‘sold by hyenas, bought by turkeys’.

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Vuk
July 21, 2021 7:02 am

Or perhaps “sold by shysters, bought by suckers.”

Reply to  Vuk
July 23, 2021 6:04 am

And the hyenas are laughing.

Reply to  Leo Smith
July 20, 2021 4:36 am

Not to mention that there is no output at night, so you need gigantic battery storage facilities which might go off with a bang of many kilotons TNT.

Reply to  Leo Smith
July 20, 2021 5:17 pm

You also haven’t factored in what a decent line of severe thunderstorms can do to such a solar powered area. Once you get thunderstorms with heights about 40,000′ hail can be bigger than 4″ and then lightning and very high winds can add to the damage. Severe weather is always overlooked by those spouting this nonsense of renewables.

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  R K
July 21, 2021 7:07 am

As I like to put it, I’ve yet to see a coal fired power plant that was blown apart by a hurricane, but windmills and solar panels will be reduced to rubble by a hurricane – leaving you with NOT just the transmission and distribution lines to repair, but the entirety of the electricity production facilities to replace – thereby extending and expanding power outages.

Reply to  AGW is Not Science
July 21, 2021 4:33 pm

That is very true about hurricanes, but big thunderstorms once they form a line and grow to great heights have far more severity because of the hail and enormous downdraughts. The biggest thunderstorms I have personally encountered had tops at 70,000′ and the turbulence was extreme. Hail was measured the next day at 6 “

Reply to  Leo Smith
July 21, 2021 10:34 pm

Unfortunately the theoretical maximum efficiency is only about 30%. You can play games with the materials to grab more wavelengths and use mirrors or lens to reduce the size of the cell, but the area collected would still be large, but I don’t think the efficiency will go much higher. With solar power the answer is in space, Solar Power Satellites. Right off there would be about 6x the energy collected per area since night, weather and seasons aren’t an issue and there might be some advantages in being able to share a network of satellites, satellites beaming down power where it’s needed.

It’s not the second coming, and obviously we’re waiting on Musk to make space travel cheaper, but NASA published a nice study in the eighties I think, authored by O’Neill, and they could get the cost down to the same level as coal, and create a space based civilization as a bonus.

Now that would be an ambitious plan for renewable energy.

Brooks H Hurd
Reply to  M Courtney
July 20, 2021 8:56 am

Hydrogen is potentially storable, but every storage method is expensive and requires energy.

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  M Courtney
July 21, 2021 6:58 am

Then there’s how much in terms of resources get wasted to generate the “solar energy” and how much land has to be used for worse-than-useless solar panels. Another non-solution to an imaginary problem, I’m afraid.

Loren C. Wilson
Reply to  Vuk
July 20, 2021 4:55 am

You are correct. The First Law of Thermodynamics says you have to put in as much energy to break the chemical bond as you get when you form water from hydrogen and oxygen. The Second Law tells you that more energy will be required due to inefficiencies. Some inefficiencies can be reduced, others are there forever.

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Vuk
July 21, 2021 6:56 am


We have a winner! Hydrogen is the “Elizabeth Taylor of elements/molecules;” it is always “wedded” to something else. The “divorce” will always cost more than the dowry of “energy” you can get from it afterwards.

Reply to  AndyHce
July 20, 2021 1:28 am


..while also generating hydrogen at a separate electrode

It is still electrolysis, just not requiring an external input current. They’ve improved the anode and sunlight conversion, but it is still applying a current across a very small area. Like many, tiny PV cells generating current that is fed directly into water.

Reply to  dk_
July 20, 2021 12:52 pm

“We were able to address the oxygen side of the reaction first, which is the more challenging part, ” Yu said, “but you need to perform both the hydrogen and oxygen evolution reactions to completely split the water molecules, so that’s why our next step is to look at applying these ideas to make devices for the hydrogen portion of the reaction.”

In other words, they hope to some day make use able hydrogen at the other electrode.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  AndyHce
July 20, 2021 5:43 am

How is that possible??? If they cleave the O2, the remaining H2 has to go somewhere.

Reply to  D. J. Hawkins
July 20, 2021 5:57 pm

“both the hydrogen and oxygen evolution reactions to completely split the water molecules”
Notice the ‘completely split’ part?

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  AndyHce
July 21, 2021 6:27 am

Yes, but they go on to say:

“…that’s why our next step is to look at applying these ideas to make devices for the hydrogen portion of the reaction.”

Hence, my confusion.

Chuck no longer in Houston
Reply to  Brad
July 21, 2021 10:31 am

Agree Brad. It works in a uni lab and they have a provisional patent. The big question is commercialization and efficiency. If it takes more energy to produce than what you get out, this becomes questionable.

July 19, 2021 10:40 pm

This almost sounds too good to be true.
It puts me in mind of perpetual motion.
How will the hydrogen be contained and transported?
The Hindenburg of course comes to mind.
If this doesn’t dominate the energy sector in the next 10 years, it will be too late to save the world, anyway.

Ed Zuiderwijk
Reply to  joel
July 20, 2021 12:46 am

In the future, when the carbon hobgoblin has been laid to rest, the hydrogen will be used to synthesize methane from coal. Because that is a much safer energy carrier than hydrogen is.

D Boss
Reply to  joel
July 20, 2021 5:49 am

Never ceases to amaze me how ignorant people are about dangers of combustible gases, liquids and their vapors….

Joel says ” The Hindenburg of course comes to mind”.

The most efficient way to store chemical energy is via liquid fuels. But then you have the problem of accidents and fires – causing a BLEVE. (Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion)

A simple tanker truck carrying gasoline or propane – involved in a BLEVE makes the Hindenburg look like a boy scout starting a campfire by comparison!

So the argument that hydrogen is dangerous – is a foolish one, as we routinely accept even higher dangers with gasoline, propane, diesel, jet fuel, and acetylene.

Aside, I believe all the hydrogen hype is misguided – none of these schemes is practical. But I abhor the hypocrisy of those who cry “Hindenburg” when we have far more dangerous concentrations of chemical energy in routine, everyday life!

Reply to  D Boss
July 20, 2021 7:14 am

I think, perhaps, there is no way to manage a Hindenburg filled with hydrogen reliably in an electric storm. Accidents will not be rare compared to jetliners so it is a moot point. The Hindenburg was not a BLEVE. It was a thermite(iron-aluminum powder) fire which burnt the shell.

The other examples show the power of the various carbon-based fuels if not handled properly or are involved in an particular kind of accident.

There are refinery accidents that are close to a BLEVE in damage capacity. They aren’t common, but they are highly destructive within the refinery and to the neighbors. Similar events have happened from natural gas leaks where a modest BLEVE has caused extensive fire and explosion damage. but, again, they are not common.

Last edited 16 days ago by Philo
Reply to  Philo
July 20, 2021 11:03 am

Natural gas leaks are not BLEVEs. You need a Boiling Liquid to have a BLEVE.

Dudley Horscroft
Reply to  D Boss
July 20, 2021 8:49 am

“Far more dangerous concentrations of chemical energy in routine, everyday life.” Yes, but the danger is normally known and guarded against, and if not known, the dangers are remote. Remember that margarine is very dangerous – in the wrong conditions – and so is wheat. Look up, and also think of the frequent wheat silo explosions.

D Boss
Reply to  Dudley Horscroft
July 21, 2021 5:00 am

You are making my point! We do know the dangers of carrying and using liquid hydrocarbon fuels and deal with those dangers effectively. IF hydrogen became a viable energy source, we would understand the dangers and deal with them!

And on a comparison, the hydrogen danger displayed by “the Hindenburg” is really not any different than that posed by the routine concentrations of liquid hydrocarbons we use now – is my point.

Yes, anything flammable can be extremely dangerous and destructive when conditions are right. Dust explosions are one example – doesn’t have to be wheat – but finely divided and suspended in air in correct fuel-air proportions – it becomes extremely explosive. In fact the military uses this principle in the MOAB and other fuel-air bombs. (a big tank of flammable liquid is ruptured by a small explosive charge, creating a large cloud of micro fuel droplets in air, then it is ignited and the whole cloud becomes a bomb – making a destructive blast like a small tactical nuke!

Or natural gas explosions of houses and other buildings are a form of “dust explosion” – but instead of solid powder or liquid micro drops, it is gaseous – when the whole house fills with methane and the correct fuel-air mixture is reached and a spark occurs – the whole house explodes and you find pieces a half mile away and usually neighboring structures are damaged or demolished too.

We have bottled hydrogen now – anyone can order some from any welding supply house. If you stand a large H2 bottle beside a 100 lb propane cylinder, beside an acetylene bottle, beside about the same volume of gasoline – the hydrogen bottle is the lowest amount of flammable or explosive potential in a mishap!

We already accept and deal with their respective dangers – well not always (there are idiots and accidents in anything we talking apes do).

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  D Boss
July 21, 2021 7:14 am

IF hydrogen became a viable energy source, we would understand the dangers and deal with them!

It won’t – any more than the other non-solutions to the imaginary crisis.

Nick B
Reply to  D Boss
July 20, 2021 9:30 am

If you poke a small hole in vessel with pressurized gas, the out-flowing gas will be cooled. You could see it on BBQ tanks. Hydrogen and Helium are exceptions. Out-flowing hydrogen will be heated. Not sure if self-ignition is possible, but heating is significant.
Ignition energy (spark from your finger) is 0.24 mJ for gasoline and 0.017 mJ for hydrogen.
Brearley and Tolson (1995) measured power levels and contact loads required to ignite flammable gas mixtures by a 25 mm cube of stainless steel frictionally heated through rubbing against a stainless steel wheel at circumferential velocities of 5 and 20 m/s. In these tests, a contact load of 750 N was required to ignite hydrogen. This equates to a dissipated power of approximately 2 kW and a power density of approximately 0.5 W/mm2. No electricity involved! Brake or not to brake?
The flame of burning hydrogen has a very high temperature of 2210ºC compared to 1026ºC for gasoline. This is the temperature at the core of the flame; it will be colder further from the core. For reference: the self-ignition temperature of steel is around 900ºC depending on alloy composition. In case of fire – it will be one of a kind!

Reply to  Nick B
July 20, 2021 11:05 am

Joule Thompson rules. And yes, Hydrogen will self ignite! And the flame is invisible!

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  joel
July 21, 2021 7:11 am

It’s been “too late to save the world” about 10 times (maybe an understatement) in the last three decades, nothing has been “done” about the alleged “crisis” and nothing has happened. So the world doesn’t need saving. Just always feel the need to restate the obvious.

July 19, 2021 10:41 pm

Less costly than making ethanol with yeast ? ….don’t think so….

Reply to  DMacKenzie
July 19, 2021 11:07 pm

It depends on the price of whatever you’re feeding the yeast.

There was a process which produced oil from turkey guts. The process worked and they built a plant but their problem was that actual oil is cheaper than turkey guts. link

Gregg Eshelman
Reply to  commieBob
July 20, 2021 3:26 am

Oil industry shills constantly complained about smells from the plant, even when it wasn’t in operation.

Sweet Old Bob
Reply to  Gregg Eshelman
July 20, 2021 7:51 am

The neighbors were all “Oil industry shills ” ?

Reply to  Gregg Eshelman
July 20, 2021 8:15 am

“Oil industry shills”?? From the link above:

“RES, now wholly owned by CWT, has the “first commercial biorefinery in the world that can make oil from a variety of waste streams,[4] principally waste from the nearby ConAgra Butterball turkey processing plant…”

“The plant in Carthage, Missouri, opened in May 2004. Almost immediately local residents started to complain about a foul odor. In December 2005, Missouri Governor Matt Blunt ordered the plant shut down. The company installed odor mitigation equipment and reopened the plant 3 months later. The plant was closed in March 2009 as the result of bankruptcy.”

“In 2007, two residents filed a lawsuit … because they say they suffered due to odors from the operation. They also filed to expand the suit to a class action. A judge denied class action status on March 9, 2011.”

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  commieBob
July 21, 2021 7:16 am

And I’m sure “peak turkey guts” will arrive a lot faster than “peak oil,” if turkey guts were used on an industrial scale…

alastair gray
Reply to  DMacKenzie
July 19, 2021 11:46 pm

If you really want biofuel from corn kernels, make popcorn and burn it in my special stove . In emission terms this is identical to making bioethanol with yeast. In both case the entire Carbon content of the corn kernel is converted to CO2. In energy terms you do a bit better with the Popcorn by saving on the distillation stage. although an industrial scale popper will consume energy. Of course you will say this is absurd, But I think its absurdity is rivalled by the bioethanol industry.
Biomethane likewise is going to be similar in energy flows and CO2 emissions

But to be really smart in energy terms eat the kernels and dry and burn the whole plant- It will land up as CO2 anyway. and it must be Carbon neutral because we are told that the monstrous Forest-consuming Drax power station behemoth is .

Gary Pearse
Reply to  alastair gray
July 20, 2021 4:01 am

Alistair: best pop the corn where it will used. Railcars of popcorn aren’t ec either. Modify your efficient stove to pop it’s own corn.

alastair gray
Reply to  Gary Pearse
July 20, 2021 4:14 am

Sure and- ’tis a genius you are to be sure Muster Pearse.
Ministry of Energy material you are!

’tis a genius you are muster Pearce

Reply to  alastair gray
July 21, 2021 10:51 pm

You can pop some of the corn using solar collectors, but during the day only… and not on cloudy days… and it might not work during the winter when the Sun is low, or when a forest fire puts soot in the air

Gary Kerkin
July 19, 2021 11:06 pm

Promising, but not just yet.

<blockquote>“We were able to address the oxygen side of the reaction first, which is the more challenging part, ” Yu said, “but you need to perform both the hydrogen and oxygen evolution reactions to completely split the water molecules, so that’s why our next step is to look at applying these ideas to make devices for the hydrogen portion of the reaction.”</blockquote>

I wonder how long we will have to wait?

Reply to  Gary Kerkin
July 20, 2021 2:20 am

“I wonder how long we will have to wait?”

The traditional term is 40 years.

Reply to  Disputin
July 20, 2021 6:59 am

I thought it was 10 years:

“Fusion power is 10 years away from commercial application”*

*And has been for the last 50 years

Rich Davis
Reply to  Disputin
July 20, 2021 9:36 am

With goalposts on wheels

James Donald Bailey
Reply to  Gary Kerkin
July 20, 2021 4:56 am

How is that even possible? Take the O out of H2O without freeing the H2?

This is beginners level chemistry that they can’t get right.

Reply to  James Donald Bailey
July 20, 2021 5:32 am

Both matter and energy must be conserved.

It’s not as simple as just moving symbols of elements around. Combinations of elements will result in compounds of more or less stability. The natural direction of things is to go from less stable to more stable, similar to the tendency for rocks to fall from mountain tops. To get a rock back up the hill, energy must be expended to do so. Same occurs with chemical reactions.

Reply to  Scissor
July 20, 2021 9:14 am

@Scissor, can you elaborate here? If I do electrolysis on water here, I always get pure oxygen and pure hydrogen, regardless of the electrodes I use, although some work much better than others. If I do a reaction with pure water which removes the oxygen, with no other element entering into the reaction, I have so-far always ended up with hydrogen as a result. Can you explain how I can make something to do otherwise?

July 19, 2021 11:14 pm

Hydrogen economy will destroy the Ozone Layer and replace it with ice.

Hydrogen is the lightest of gases and leaks easily from containment. Produced and consumed in the quantities needed to power the economy means billions of valves and connections that will all unavoidably leak.  Compared to present volumes, this will result in an enormous increase in ambient levels of hydrogen. Because it is so much lighter than air, the gas will rise through the atmosphere until it reaches the stratosphere where it will encounter the ozone layer.  Ozone is highly reactive and will combine with the hydrogen to form water molecules, destroying the ozone layer and substituting a layer of ice crystal, altering the earth’s albedo. I do not pretend to know what losing the ozone layer will do to life on earth, or what a stratospheric cloud of ice crystals will do to insolation and global temperature, but I bet the effects would be significant.
I’ll post this same comment every time I see an article promoting a hydrogen economy, unless somebody demonstrates that these effects will not occur.

alastair gray
Reply to  TedL
July 19, 2021 11:56 pm

Hydrogen has a residence time in the atmosphere of 2-4 years according to my google and Ozone residence time is 4 months in the troposphere so both H2 and O3 will have a complex interaction which would need grant money of several billion and a sort of IPCC to produce a consensus view of what the equilibrium values will be. Your planetary doom scenario is rather reminiscent of the whole CO2 furore. Plausible at first sight but the certainty dissolves into speculation when you take a real hard look at it. I would go to Penn state for funding. They just love doomsters and will probably make you a distinguished professor of something, and you will get to be on the telly a lot. Grow a little goatee beard too

Nick B
Reply to  TedL
July 20, 2021 9:37 am

That’s the idea – to cool a planet.
Kill a beaver – save a tree!

Mike Dubrasich
July 19, 2021 11:15 pm

I have a process that not only splits oxygen off water molecules, it also reduces (sequesters) CO2 at the same time — thereby creating fuel (much more stable and safer than hydrogen) and other useful products. I will reveal this astounding invention/process only for a hefty fee. Investors, please start the bidding.

Mike Dubrasich
Reply to  Mike Dubrasich
July 20, 2021 9:08 am

Please don’t try to trick me into revealing my secrets without the hefty fee. I will tell you this much, though: my process also uses solar cells, but built on a carbon structure rather than silicon. In addition, my solar cells manufacture themselves. Literally. No kidding.

The bidding starts at $US 10 million. Have at it.

July 19, 2021 11:23 pm

There is a concept called the technology Readiness Level (TRL), with a value of 1 indicating that the technology is at the “gleam in the eye” state, while a value of 10 indicates that the technology is already incorporated in production products delivered and in use by customers. This looks like about a 2, maybe a 3.

alastair gray
Reply to  Retired_Engineer_Jim
July 20, 2021 12:00 am

agreed but photo-dissociation of water molecules is a recognised process. It is premature to talk about H2 yield per acre of collector, and cost per Kw Hr. Seems like a worthwhile research topic which may bear fruit. at least it doesnt involve the huge expand=se of electric grid that electrolysis requires

Reply to  alastair gray
July 20, 2021 2:23 am

kilowatt is abbreviated as kW not Kw and hour is just h. So kWh not “Kw Hr.”

Last edited 16 days ago by Greg
Reply to  Greg
July 20, 2021 2:59 am

Glad to see I’m not the only SI pedant around here 🙂
At least he didn’t use that abomination we see all too often: Kw/hr !

alastair gray
Reply to  StuM
July 20, 2021 4:36 am

That would display total ignorance worthy of a gubmint bureaucrat. I was just sloppy with the capitals

Reply to  alastair gray
July 20, 2021 7:30 am

Greg/Stu the kWh problem is a kin to the EPA’s eMpg. In their regulation they specifically the equate the chemical energy in gasoline to electricity with 100% efficiency. As a result, every electric car, which has an efficiency of <60% id credited with 100% in mileage calculations.

Cute trick, hunh?

Reply to  Greg
July 20, 2021 5:29 am


Rich Davis
Reply to  alastair gray
July 20, 2021 9:41 am

So which do you suppose is cheaper, wires or a pipeline?

alastair gray
Reply to  Rich Davis
July 20, 2021 10:22 am

well Ive looked at wires and economically it is a nun- starter Probably pipelines are also horrendously expensive. I dont advocate ant of this stuff by the way and the correspondent who says that the US would need 3 Nevadas is probably correct. Pity noone in government can do sums

Zig Zag Wanderer
Reply to  alastair gray
July 20, 2021 12:32 pm

economically it is a nun- starter

All of the nuns I’ve known start themselves

Last edited 16 days ago by Zig Zag Wanderer
Reply to  Rich Davis
July 20, 2021 11:15 am

I’ve looked at wires from both sides now
It’s wires illusion I recall
I don’t know wires at all

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  alastair gray
July 21, 2021 7:25 am

It is also premature to assume that the energy extracted from hydrogen as a “fuel” will be anything but less than the energy expended to divorce hydrogen from the “partner” it is “married” to.

In fact, it is far more likely that, and the null hypothesis should be that, more energy will be expended in “creating” hydrogen “fuel” than the “hydrogen fuel” will supply when burned.

Which means any and all talk about hydrogen as a fossil fuel substitute is a complete waste of time and resources.

July 19, 2021 11:37 pm

Interesting but almost certainly useless.
Consider the scale up of these types of hydrogen harvesting: how many gallons of water, feet of tubing, polluting doped materials etc would be required to replace 1 single oil well?
It is like the talk about algae derived hydrocarbons: sounds nice until you consider how difficult it is to grow enough algae, harvest, refine/process to create 1 single barrel of oil – much less the 20M per day used by Americans.

July 19, 2021 11:45 pm

Most hydrogen production today occurs through heating steam and methane, but that relies heavily on fossil fuels and produces carbon emissions.

Aluminum film and nanoscale microchip production use more carbon fossil fuels and create more carbon dioxide, and cannot be replicated or replaced using only wind, hydro or solar energy. The anode in water electrolysis isn’t really the problem.

This research was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation through the Directorate for Engineering and the Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers (MRSEC) program. …. along with …a professor at Fudan University in China.

The team has filed a provisional patent application to commercialize the technology.

There is little point in having a U.S. patent if the technology is already available to the CCP. This guarantees that the price per unit will remain high and available only as an import commodity.

July 20, 2021 12:12 am

Hydrogen is a road to nowhere

Reply to  Hatter Eggburn
July 20, 2021 2:25 am

Global warming is just a lot of hot air.

July 20, 2021 12:27 am

nice one keep posting

July 20, 2021 12:41 am

I don’t quite understand this , if the oxygen has been split off where did the hydrogen go ? They clearly don’t have it …. genuinely could someone explain this for me . Many thanks.

Alexy Scherbakoff
Reply to  Crackersmilord
July 20, 2021 12:46 am

Maybe they split off one oxygen atom and create hydroxyl ions. They haven’t sorted the oxygen part out as yet.

Last edited 16 days ago by Alexy Scherbakoff
Rich Davis
Reply to  Alexy Scherbakoff
July 20, 2021 9:49 am

It’s H2O, not HO2

H2O: two hydrogen atoms, one oxygen
Remove one oxygen and that leaves a hydoxyl ion? (OH)

Care to adjust your answer, Alexy?

Alexy Scherbakoff
Reply to  Rich Davis
July 20, 2021 7:07 pm

Messy short comment. I was combining the oxygen release with the possible chemical soup that doesn’t account for hydrogen release.
Unclear as to what happens to the hydrogen ions so assume they stay in solution to some extent. I wouldn’t be happy drinking the stuff.

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Rich Davis
July 21, 2021 7:49 am

Technically, the true constitution of water is “HOH,” or “hydrogen hydroxide.” A combination of a hydrogen atom and a hydroxide ion.

Reply to  Crackersmilord
July 20, 2021 12:59 am

The hydrogen is still there. They’ve claimed (without demonstrating) a significant improvement by making the anode (on the oxygen side) more efficient and more robust. They don’t mention that they’ve also increased the cost and the true carbon cost of any future device built using the technology over that of a simple (cheap and replaceable) metallic anode.

They also state clearly that they don’t know how to apply the same technology to the cathode, but want to send more U.S. taxpayer money to China so that they can claim that discovery, too. Generally estimating that to apply the same princple to the cathode they’ll be researching an order of magnitude improvement at +/-100 times the cost — for the research alone and not for the application or production.

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  dk_
July 21, 2021 7:52 am

…and all of which will not solve the issue that all this effort to “divorce” hydrogen from water (no to mention capturing, compressing, storing, transporting, transferring, and storing it again, prior to burning it) will consume more energy than the hydrogen “fuel” will ever supply.

In short, and still, a non-solution to an imaginary problem.

Alexy Scherbakoff
Reply to  AGW is Not Science
July 22, 2021 11:04 pm

Electrolysis of water with extra steps

Peta of Newark
July 20, 2021 12:56 am

Quote:”illuminated by sunlight, the devices can efficiently oxidize water to form oxygen molecules”

We all ‘know’ what they mean but really important, do they know what they’re talking about.


  • You oxidise Hydrogen to make water
  • You ‘de-oxidise‘ (reduce) water to make Hydrogen & Oxygen

I’d assert that the Oxygen is vastly more valuable than the Hydrogen..
Seemingly in the UK and despite the myriad uses it has, over 8,000 tonnes of liquid Nitrogen are allowed, every day for 365 days per year, to blow away in the wind = an unwanted by-product of Oxygen production.

Why not use it to propel cars, trucks or trains – or keep food cold – or Kool The Klimate?
(One third of all elektrickery in the UK goes into crushing rocks and compressing gases – i.e. roadstone & building materials, cement, refrigeration and Oxygen production)

Or, feed the Oxygen into conventional thermal power stations – use it to burn whatever fuel at higher temps, more cleanly and at greater efficiency.

All those familiar with Carnot will calculate that by lifting the temp of the steam going into the turbine from circa 180°C 350°C will lift the station’s efficiency up from 35% to 53%

350 ain’t a lot – put sufficient oxygen into anything burning carbon and you’d get an input temp near 2,000 Celsius – an overall station efficiency of greater than 85% (##)

what we all waiting for – that branch of science was settled centuries ago – until Climate haha Science unsettled it.
(= what these Muppeto Confusios have done getting oxidation and reduction all ass-over-tit. What else they got wrong we wonder? Can’t end happily when messing around with Hydrogen that’s for sure)

## And a minor lake of liquid metal plus a pile/cloud of Calcium Oxide where your power station was but hey ho, its to Help Save The World. right?

Last edited 16 days ago by Peta of Newark
Nick B
Reply to  Peta of Newark
July 20, 2021 9:44 am

You could easily oxidize water. Water could be burned with flame in Fluorine atmosphere.

July 20, 2021 2:11 am

When illuminated by sunlight, the devices can efficiently oxidize water to form oxygen molecules

Wow, a ground breaking achievement. What do we do with all the hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) produced by oxidizing water?

Yet another scientifically illiterate gem from Urea Alert.

Last edited 16 days ago by Greg
Steve Richards
July 20, 2021 2:57 am

I guess with nano sized technology, the purity of the water infeed must be paramount and very expensive to acquire?

Dudley Horscroft
Reply to  Steve Richards
July 20, 2021 9:02 am

They get 100% pure feed water – guaranteed no impurities, by burning oxygen in a hydrogen atmosphere – or is it burning hydrogen in an oxygen atmosphere? Have to be very careful, as if the proportions are not right, there is one hell of an explosion.

Gary Pearse
July 20, 2021 3:51 am

The major hurdles lie ahead.

Loren C. Wilson
July 20, 2021 4:39 am

Water cannot be oxidized since by definition, water is oxidized hydrogen. In this reaction, hydrogen is being reduced to its elemental state. No statement as to efficiency yet.

Rich Lambert
July 20, 2021 5:34 am

They didn’t explain what “clean” processes they are going to use to mine and refine aluminum and nickel to make their “clean” hydrogen.

July 20, 2021 5:53 am

I think high temperature steam electrolysis shows more promise.

Thomas Gasloli
July 20, 2021 6:27 am

Wait a minute, as I read the article they haven’t actually used this “breakthrough” to produce any hydrogen. So what actually is this article about and what are the getting a patent for?

Joel O’Bryan
July 20, 2021 6:34 am

I stopped reading this as soon as I read, “When illuminated sunlight, the devices can efficiently oxidize water to produce oxygen…”

water is NOT oxidized to form free oxygen. It is reduced. Oxidation by definition is to lose electrons. Reduction is to gain electrons. Basic Chem 101 stuff.

Carlo, Monte
Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
July 20, 2021 6:54 am

The tech writers strike again…

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
July 21, 2021 7:57 am

I bet the authors voted to ban di-hydrogen monoxide.

July 20, 2021 6:47 am


So they work well at night, then

Their grasp of chemistry is rather post modern. – reduction is oxidation etc

Last edited 16 days ago by fretslider
July 20, 2021 7:49 am

Reading through the comments it looks like a lot on the consumption side would have to be replaced to make it usable and still not reliable and safe.

Brooks H Hurd
July 20, 2021 8:11 am

I’ve read many articles on “green” hydrogen. All of them seem to ignore hydrogen storage, as if there were no issues with storing hydrogen. Hydrogen can be stored at high pressure, as a liquid (20 K), by chemical conversion or physical adsorption. All of these methods require energy.
They also ignore the safety issues of hydrogen. Tom Johnson’s explanation of the problems of piping gaseous hydrogen is spot on.

If hydrogen leaks, it has an explosive range of 4% to 90% in air. This is far wider than any common fuel gas or vaporized liquid. The energy of ignition is very low for a H2/air mixture. When hydrogen burns it does radiate heat like most other fires. A hydrogen flame burns with a very pale blue flame. In daylight, you can’t see a hydrogen flame, although you can often see heat strirations above the flame. This means that you can walk into a hydrogen flame and not realize it until you feel the pain.

Dudley Horscroft
Reply to  Brooks H Hurd
July 20, 2021 9:09 am

Howard Hughes’s steam propelled car comes to mind. The story is that the engineers produced a prototype, and it ran well, and they demonstrated it to Hughes. He wondered – “traffic accident safety” and took a axe and hit a car door with it. The engineers had used the doors as part of the cooling circuit to save water, rather than exhausting the used steam to air. The blast of high pressure steam from the door convinced Hughes it was a no goer and the project was scrapped.
So will any large scale hydrogen project.

July 20, 2021 9:01 am

Just use solar cells and electrolysis. Not that that makes sense as a fossil fuel replacement as you still have to compress the hydrogen, however gut feel is that it would be more efficient.

July 20, 2021 9:05 am

Why go to all the trouble to produce hydrogen to burn when you can more efficiently burn natural gas. When you burn natural gas you are burning four hydrogen atoms for each carbon atom.

Reply to  Fred Haynie
July 20, 2021 8:34 pm

Hush. Its not “Carbon Free” then.

Don’t forget, we used to want to reduce carbon dioxide to 1990 levels by 2030, but somewhere along the line in the last few years environmentalists changed this to 6000 BC levels by 2050.

No one ever blinked or said Huh? once. Go figure.

Steve Z
July 20, 2021 9:09 am

If the researchers are trying to use sunlight to run a “water-splitting” reaction, there needs to be some mechanism to collect the hydrogen, and keep it separate from the atmosphere. Any oxygen molecules produced can be simply released into the atmosphere.

It’s not clear why the researchers talk about the “oxygen part” and the “hydrogen part” of the reaction–if two water molecules are split, they produce one molecule of O2 and two molecules of H2, so there needs to be some mechanism for collecting the hydrogen molecules and keeping them separate from the atmosphere. The surface holding the water would have to be transparent (to allow sunlight in) while preventing evaporation of water.

As many commenters below have correctly noted, hydrogen is difficult to contain in a pipeline or even a stationary tank, and tends to corrode any metal with which it comes into contact.

Hydrogen has a heat of combustion of about 57.8 kcal/mole, as compared to 191.8 kcal/mole for methane, the majority compound in natural gas. At a given temperature and pressure, the volume of a gas is proportional to the number of moles, so that burning a given volume of methane delivers 3.32 times as much energy as the same volume of hydrogen. Put another way, to store the same amount of energy as hydrogen requires a tank at 3.32 times the pressure of a tank of methane, for the same volume. This means that hydrogen tanks have to have thicker walls to resist the pressure, and be made of more exotic metals to resist corrosion, while methane pipelines can usually be made of relatively cheap carbon steel.

It is true that highly purified hydrogen is used extensively in petroleum refineries, and they have installed the necessary materials for safely handling hydrogen. However, in a petroleum refinery the goal is to use hydrogen as a reactant in desulfurization reactions with distillate oils (kerosene, diesel, gasoils, etc.), and only a small fraction of the hydrogen produced is actually burned.

Hydrogen is a highly reactive gas, and this reactivity is useful in many applications, including petroleum refining and manufacture of fertilizers. However, as a fuel, hydrogen has a relatively low energy density (energy release per unit volume), so that high pressures and exotic metals are needed to store and transport it.

Jeff Corbin
July 20, 2021 9:31 am

Does anyone know anything about the use of 3D graphene as high-capacity sorbents for safe hydrogen storage?

Rich Davis
July 20, 2021 10:00 am

Oxidizing water? Another YouReekAlot! gem. Their writers are dumber than a box of rocks.

Maybe they’re talking about the burning Cuyahoga river?

Bruce Cobb
July 20, 2021 1:04 pm

Cleaning hydrogen is easy with our safe, effective and easy-to-use HYDROKLEEN™ System. Call now: 1-800-H2KLEEN. Operators are standing by.

July 20, 2021 1:54 pm

efficiently oxidize water.
Technically they are reducing water. Oxidizing water yields hydrogen peroxide.

July 20, 2021 7:00 pm

Surely the elephant in the room is the emissions? We have been told for years that water vapour is a much worse greenhouse gas than CO2. But now we have “green” hydrogen that produces water vapour when burned, this fact is conveniently ignored. Or am I missing something?

Reply to  James
July 21, 2021 8:14 am

Yes, you are missing a couple of things. First, the air typically contains as much as 10 times as much water vapor as carbon dioxide. At 20 deg C and 50% relative humidity, the air will contain about 8 gms of water/Kg of dry air. This amounts to about 8000 ppmw or 12,300 ppmv. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is well mixed and stays in the atmosphere for a long time. Water vapor is not well mixed. The water in air changes a lot with temperature and altitude. When wet air rises and cools, the water vapor condenses out and falls as rain, snow, or ice. The second thing is that since there is so much water vapor in the air, the effect on atmospheric water vapor due to combustion would be very small, in addition to the factors previously mentioned. Warm air will hold more water vapor than cold air, and water will evaporate faster at higher temperatures, so, in theory, a warming planet will also have a generally wetter atmosphere, which should result in more rainfall, in theory.

John M
July 20, 2021 7:43 pm

Oxidizing water is indeed the term used.

More to the point, I have no idea what the good perfessor is talking about with regard to improving the hydrogen formation half of the reaction. The underlying paper clearly states the experiment makes both gases, so I guess we’ll have to make allowances for trying to simplify things for the press room.

I suspect this is a nice elegant piece of scientific work that’s a long way from being commercial.

As James Van Allen purportedly said when asked about the usefulness of his discovery of the Van Allen Belts: “Well, I’m making a pretty good living off of them.”

Tombstone Gabby
July 20, 2021 9:29 pm

I note in one of the three “Related” articles


the photograph of a gentleman filling a glass with the exhaust product of a hydrogen fueled vehicle, water.

Great, if pure oxygen is used. But what about using ‘air’ – we will still be getting various oxides of nitrogen. A hotter or cooler ‘burn’ compared to gasoline – a different mixture of nitrogen oxides? Would/could nitrous oxide be one of the components? (Laughing gas)

July 21, 2021 9:26 am

I’m betting you could make ‘dirty’ hydrogen this way, too.

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