Researchers from Swinburne University’s Centre for Translational Atomaterials and Shaanxi Normal University have developed a novel catalyst that can produce high-performance solar-triggered hydrogen from seawater. If there is one thing that we all know about seawater, it’s that there is a lot of it, so it's no surprise that this scientific discovery has great potential.
In order to utilize this new catalyst, the researchers had to develop a prototype device, the Ocean-H2-Rig. It can float on the ocean's surface to produce green hydrogen from seawater.
One of the easiest and greenest ways to produce hydrogen is through photocatalytic water splitting, which uses solar energy to split water into its composite atoms, securing the hydrogen and harmlessly emitting the oxygen. The novelty of the single-atom platinum catalyst the researchers have developed is that the photo-generated electrons and holes triggered by solar radiation do not try to recombine, which greatly improves hydrogen production efficiency.
Tianyi Ma, the lead author of a related research paper that was recently published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition, said that the team used the single-atom platinum catalyst as the electron extractor.
“It is synthesized by a scalable and low-cost calcination method, easily produced at large scale,” said Ma. “The high solar-to-hydrogen conversion efficiency is what we need for industrial application.”
According to Baohua Jia, the founding director of the Centre for Translational Atomaterials, the reusable catalyst “promotes highly efficient hydrogen production with an outstanding quantum yield of 22.2% under LED-550 illumination, which stands among the best catalysts ever reported.”
The idea of “Solar Rigs” floating on the world’s oceans to convert seawater to hydrogen fuel is not a new one. In 2018, scientists from Columbia University in the United States developed a device called “a floating photovoltaic electrolyzer.” Columbia University researcher Daniel Esposito even worked out how much of the ocean’s surface would need to be covered by giant “solar fuel rigs” in order to generate enough hydrogen fuel to replace the 2018 levels of global oil use. He told Smithsonian Magazine that 63,000 square miles, or an area equivalent to the state of Florida, would be required.
Of course, this technology still needs to overcome enormous obstacles. Nevertheless, Australian researchers are now on the cutting-edge of this promising line of green hydrogen technology.
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