If we’re ever to move into clean and convenient hydrogen power, we need to find a clean and efficient way to generate hydrogen fuel.
The current-best methods for generating hydrogen gas, including natural gas reformation and electrolysis, are still energy intensive. Depending on where that energy comes from, the benefits of carbon-free hydrogen fuel can be effectively negated. Researchers are looking for ways to generate hydrogen from water more efficiently, focusing especially on catalysts that should be able to improve the hydrogen output and reduce the energy demand. Ikuko Akimoto and fellow researchers at Wakayama University recently developed a new way to generate hydrogen from water using charcoal powder hit by nanosecond laser pulses. The chief benefit of this method is that the catalyst is probably the cheapest in existence and that the reaction takes place at room temperature. The only problem I see is that the power source of the laser itself may or may not be carbon-free. A ready and clean supply of hydrogen could be the key to the future of electric vehicle transportation. Take away the energy storage device in a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle and an electric vehicle, and you have essentially all the same components. The difference is that energy is either stored in a chemical battery, lithium-ion in the case of most electric vehicles, or as pure hydrogen gas in a fuel cell vehicle. To be truly carbon-free, both would need a carbon-free fuel, which depends on the source. If anything could spur the adoption of electric vehicles, I believe that switching to hydrogen would make it extremely easy. While battery electric vehicles require hours of recharging, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles can be refueled in minutes. Making the switch to hydrogen, if we can find a carbon-free method, could be the best path forward. Image © WikiMedia