Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found a new way to produce hydrogen by using ambient noise to turn water into usable hydrogen fuel. The process harvests small amounts of waste energy in the form of stray vibrations and noise from the environment to break the chemical bonds in water and generate hydrogen and oxygen.
The researchers grew nanocrystals of two common crystals, barium titanate and zinc oxide, placing them in water. When pulsed with ultrasonic vibrations, the nanofibers flexed and catalyzed a chemical reaction to split the water molecule.
When these fibers are bent and released, they create an electric potential. This phenomenon is called the piezoelectric effect, being known in certain crystals for more than a century and is the driving force behind quartz clocks and other applications.
In the meantime, scientists have achieved an 18 percent efficiency with the nanocrystals, being much higher than other experimental sources of renewable energy. These fibers can be tuned to convert waste energy in the form of vibrations and noise into electricity, which rather than being harvested directly is used to break the chemical bonds in water.