Fossil fuel alternatives are becoming more of a necessity in a world facing the adverse effects of climate change and carbon emissions. Although many alternative fuel sources have been developed, they’ve been historically less efficient and more expensive to put into practice, thus limiting their widespread use. Now, one researcher at the University of Central Florida has developed a method to extract hydrogen from seawater that requires just solar power — a resource the Sunshine State has plenty of.
Until now, the process of extracting hydrogen from seawater (which can then be used to power fuel cells in emission-free cars) required costly electricity. But researcher Yang Yang has developed a nanomaterial that uses solar energy to extract hydrogen from the seawater, which has often been a challenge due to its salt content and biomass. The catalyst is a hybrid material that contains an ultrathin layer of titanium dioxide that’s etched with microscopic nanocavities. These nanocavities are coated with molybdenum disulfide flakes. Molybdenum has been used for countless purposes over the past 200 years, and this is just the newest. According to Yang, the molybdenum disulfide is used to sensitize titanium oxide (which is already considered to be one of the most common photocatalysts) for solar energy harvesting.
This method would present a much cheaper and efficient way to get sustainable energy. In the Journal of Energy and Environmental Science, Yang explained, “In the future it can be a long-lasting energy source that can even replace nuclear energy.”
This new method will be of particular interest to major automakers, like Honda and Toyota, who have invested in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. With these vehicles, the only emission (or waste product) is water, which can then be turned back into hydrogen and oxygen. Creating an affordable, accessible, and eco-friendly hydrogen fuel supply might be the missing link to making these sustainable cars the standard.
Yang and his team say they’ll be continuing their research to find the best way to scale up the nanomaterial fabrication and improve its overall performance. Yang also says it may be possible in the future to extract hydrogen from wastewater, which would make for an even more eco-friendly process.