Water-splitting breakthrough could produce cheap hydrogen fuel

Credit: CU-Boulder

When it comes to fuel, going green isn't just a trend, but a necessity for curbing a dependence on the limited (and dirty) resource of oil. Hydrogen fuel is a great alternative, but creating it is a complex and expensive process. However, a team of scientists at the University of Colorado-Boulder, have developed an easier and more cost-efficient way of getting hydrogen.

The CU-Boulder research team created a new system that uses sunlight, mirrors, and a tower that measures a few hundred feet tall. The mirrors, which sit at the top of the tower, collect the sunlight, which is converted into heat inside the tower. The heat (approximately 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit) gets transferred to a reactor that contains metal oxides (iron, cobalt, aluminum, and oxygen). As those metal oxides get warmer, oxygen atoms are released. When steam is added to the system, the metal oxides suck up all the oxygen, leaving hydrogen behind. That hydrogen can then be collected as a gas and stored.

With conventional methods of water splitting, temperatures have to go from hot to cold inside the reactor before introducing steam. This new method, however, allows for everything to happen at the same temperature. Also, although sunlight has been used in previous experiments, much of the solar energy involved ends up going to waste. This new system is more effective and less wasteful — the metal oxide determines how much hydrogen is produced, as well as how much steam gets used.

Unfortunately, it might be awhile before this new technology will be put to use. Because the price of natural gas is so relatively low, most people are not interested in using a cleaner energy source. As prices at the pump continue to increase, though, perhaps we'll see a shift in attitude.

Via University of Colorado

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