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Artificial Chlorophyll Can Generate Hydrogen from Seawater, UOW Researchers Find

The UOW researchers and the flexible water splitting polymer. Picture credit UOW
The UOW researchers and the flexible water splitting polymer. Picture credit UOW

A new way to turn sea water into hydrogen has been developed by scientists at the University of Wollongong, in Australia. It uses artificial chlorophyll that acts as a catalyst to split saltwater in a way that’s never been used before.

The team of researchers, led by Dr Jun Chen and Professor Gerry Swiegers, say that only five liters of water could power an average home and an electric car’s needs for one day. The light-assisted chlorophyll catalyst requires much less energy to start oxidation than other methods currently used for the same purpose.

Moreover, current saltwater splitting technologies produce chlorine gas, which is poisonous. However, the artificial chlorophyll that the researchers have grown on a conductive plastic film does not, hence it could be used in a wide range of applications and is much easier to manufacture than metal semiconductors.

“The flexible nature of the material also provides the possibility to build portable hydrogen-producing devices.” That may lead you into thinking hydrogen fuel cells could produce electricity and power cars that you’d only fuel with water – theoretically, that may be true, but you’d need a huge solar concentrator for that without burning the chlorophyll, so for the moment it’s definitely not possible.

Producing hydrogen, on the other hand, can be made easier, because of the abundance of seawater and sunlight. Hydrogen is nowadays produced in mass quantities from natural gas, which is still a carbon-positive source of energy. If this method catches on, it could one day allow us to travel on pure sunlight… and salty water.

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