Belgian scientists develop solar hydrogen panel

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A research team from Belgium’s KU Leuven university claims to have created a hydrogen panel which can convert 15% of sunlight into hydrogen gas. “Sunlight is part of the picture of course, and our panel does look like a solar panel but we prefer to call it a hydrogen panel,” the researchers said.

The team said the panel, which integrates solar energy capture and hydrogen production in one device, can produce 250 liters of hydrogen gas from moisture in the air per day. “Even desert air has enough water vapor in it, so you can apply this process anywhere,” the researchers said.

The KU Leuven team said production of hydrogen using the panel is more efficient than conventional methods of making the gas. Some 20 panels of the kind, said the scientists, could power and heat a well-insulated house with a heat pump all winter.

However, the researchers would not be drawn on the costs associated with their process, and said: “We’ve submitted several patent applications. As long as these are still pending it’s way too risky to give details. That’s also why we’ve barely published anything.”

Water management

The scientists claim they were able to overcome water management issues by creating a technology that can deal with temperatures that can reach 50-70 degrees Celsius in the panel and by setting up a system that works in heavy rain and low humidity.

“Our system produces hydrogen gas in a carbon-neutral way: we take water vapor out of the air, use it to produce energy, and at the end of the cycle it’s water vapor again,” the group added.

The scientists stressed the panel is a long way off commercial production and said it will be further tested on a small scale over two years to detect and fix any remaining flaws and “to turn it into a solid commercial product”.