Scientists from the University of Liverpool, University College London and East China University of Science and Technology have synthesized a new organic material using sunlight that can convert water into hydrogen fuel.

Organic catalyst material for photocatalytic hydrogen evolution. Image Credit: University of Liverpool. Click image for the largest view.

The research team’s paper has been published in Nature Chemistry.

Photocatalytic solar hydrogen production – or water splitting – offers an abundant clean energy source, but only if the energy in sunlight can be harvested effectively. Inorganic materials are better known as water splitting catalysts, but organic catalysts can also be built from cheap abundant elements, such as carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur.

The Liverpool-led team has used a combination of experimentation and computation to discover a highly active organic photocatalyst. The effort also revealed some basic design principles, which may guide research to even better catalysts in the future.

Mr. Xiaoyan Wang, the Liverpool Chemistry PhD student who led the experimental work, said, “To achieve high hydrogen evolution rates, you need good water affinity, broad light adsorption, high surface area, and high crystallinity. By introducing all of these features in one material, we got a very active photocatalyst.”

This is likely a milestone technology. One of these technologies is going to be scaleable for home and urban use offering a low cost means of using solar to make fuels for heating and perhaps transportation.

Space and water heating while seemingly not big expenses could be easy targets for hydrogen production. But we are still holding the questions about storage. Something about storage has to come or lots of the potential for hydrogen isn’t going to get very far.


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