Researchers claim breakthrough in clean energy production

Scientists have claimed a major breakthrough in the production of hydrogen fuel from water, which could lead to a new era of cheap, clean and renewable energy.

PTI| Updated: Sep 12, 2014, 13:27 PM IST

London: Scientists have claimed a major breakthrough in the production of hydrogen fuel from water, which could lead to a new era of cheap, clean and renewable energy.

Chemists from the University of Glasgow report in a new paper in journal Science today on a new form of hydrogen production which is 30 times faster than the current state-of-the-art method.

The process also solves common problems associated with generating electricity from renewable sources such as solar, wind or wave energy.

Hydrogen is easily produced from water by electrolysis, a process which uses electricity to break the bonds between water's constituent elements, hydrogen and oxygen, and releases them as gas.

Hydrogen gas can be burned to produce power with no negative impact on the environment, unlike power produced by burning fossil fuels.

One of the problems of generating electricity via renewable power is that the output either needs to be used immediately or stored.

Using renewable power to produce hydrogen allows the capture of electricity in an environmentally-friendly state which is easily stored and distributed.

Currently, industrial production of hydrogen relies overwhelmingly on fossil fuels to power the electrolysis process.

The most advanced method of generating hydrogen using renewable power uses a method known as proton exchange membrane electrolysers (PEMEs).

To reach optimum efficiency, PEMEs require precious metal catalysts to be held in high-pressure containers and subjected to high densities of electric current, which can be difficult to reliably achieve from fluctuating renewable sources.

The new method allows larger-than-ever quantities of hydrogen to be produced at atmospheric pressure using lower power loads, typical of those generated by renewable power sources.

It also solves intrinsic safety issues which have so far limited the use of intermittent renewable energy for hydrogen production.

Professor Lee Cronin, of the University of Glasgow's School of Chemistry and who led the research team, said: "The process uses a liquid that allows the hydrogen to be locked up in a liquid-based inorganic fuel.

"By using a liquid sponge known as a redox mediator that can soak up electrons and acid we've been able to create a system where hydrogen can be produced in a separate chamber without any additional energy input after the electrolysis of water takes place.

"The link between the rate of water oxidation and hydrogen production has been overcome, allowing hydrogen to be released from the water 30 times faster than the leading PEME process on a per-milligram-of-catalyst basis."