A few quick notes about hydrogen. As an element, it is the simplest, lightest, and most abundant on this planet that we call home. Also, when it is pure, which rarely happens naturally, hydrogen is highly combustible. When it does burn, though, it releases no carbon dioxide like hydrocarbon fuels do.
We have known for at least a hundred years how to separate hydrogen from water in an electrolytic cell, and while this does generate hydrogen fairly efficiently, there’s only one problem. If we’re going to generate hydrogen, a clean fuel, in an electrolytic cell, then it makes no sense at all to power the cell with electricity from a not-so-clean source.
True, we can make a solar powered electrolytic cell, but this adds another level of inefficiency to the equation. On the other hand, generating hydrogen can also be done chemically, such as ammonia borane and cobalt boride, which react to release hydrogen gas on demand.
Researchers at the University of Delaware just returned from Switzerland, where they were working on a solar powered hydrogen, or solar fuel, generator, which uses concentrated rays of the sun to heat up a reaction chamber. Zinc-oxide powder and water drops onto a ceramic plate, which reacts under the extreme heat of the sun reflected and concentrated by the mirror, releasing hydrogen gas.
In this process, hydrogen, or solar fuel, is produced directly from concentrated sunlight. Completely solar powered, this generator could be the next step in assuring safe and carbon-free hydrogen supplies for the next generation of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and backup power supplies.