Hydrogen could be the perfect zero-emissions fuel, if only the generating process could eliminate its carbon-footprint. There are a couple of ways to produce hydrogen for use in hydrogen fuel cell or even internal combustion engined vehicles, but they are not without their quirks.
Electrolysis splits the hydrogen and oxygen from water molecules, but unless the electricity source is clean, this negates the benefits. Natural gas or oil turbines aren’t very clean, while solar energy is, but solar panel manufacturing isn’t clean. Truly, a catch-22 situation.
Scientists in the UK have been working to imitate one of the most efficient and clean processes on the planet, photosynthesis, by which plants split water into hydrogen and oxygen using only the power of the sun. “We will build a system for artificial photosynthesis by placing tiny solar panels on microbes,” said lead researcher Julea Butt at the University of East Anglia [UEA], “These will harness sunlight and drive the production of hydrogen, from which the technologies to release energy on demand are well-advanced.”
Artificial photosynthesis may sound overly simplified, but it could be the cleanest form of energy ever devised, and research is beginning in collaboration between UEA, and Universities at Cambridge and Leeds. Really, the only way to stop climate change, if it isn’t too late already, is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, specifically carbon dioxide, a byproduct of combustion and a number of other chemical processes. The most radical idea would be to eliminate industrial CO2 emissions completely, and hydrogen borne of artificial photosynthesis could be the answer.
Stopping climate change will be much like stopping continental drift. However reducing the energy costs associated with the production of hydrogen is far easier than trying to reinvent a natural process. The electrolysis process (splitting the water molecule using an electric current) produces more outputs than just the hydrogen and oxygen. In combination and with some invention these other outputs can off set many of the energy costs making hydrogen production nearly free. We worked on it for ten years and know this to be true. During this time we also made another discovery, nobody wants to hear solutions but simply want to ride the research gravy train.
What happened to Prof Dan Nocera and his work in this area? We haven’t heard about him for some time.