Developing hydrogen as cheap and clean energy form
Scientists have harnessed the principles of photosynthesis to develop
a new way of producing hydrogen - in a breakthrough that offers a
possible solution to global energy problems.
Researchers claim the development could help unlock the potential of
hydrogen as a clean, cheap and reliable power source. Unlike fossil
fuels, hydrogen can be burned to produce energy without producing
emissions. It is also the most abundant element on the planet.
Hydrogen gas is produced by splitting water into its constituent
elements - hydrogen and oxygen.
But scientists have been struggling for decades to find a way of
extracting these elements at different times, which would make the
process more energy-efficient and reduce the risk of dangerous
In a paper published in the journal Nature Chemistry, scientists at
the University of Glasgow outline how they have managed to replicate the
way plants use the sun's energy to split water molecules into hydrogen
and oxygen at separate times and at separate physical locations.
Experts heralded the "important" discovery, saying it could make
hydrogen a more practicable source of green energy.
Prof Xile Hu, director of the Laboratory of Inorganic Synthesis and
Catalysis at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne said:
"This work provides an important demonstration of the principle of
separating hydrogen and oxygen production in electrolysis and is very
original. Of course, further developments are needed to improve the
capacity of the system, energy efficiency, lifetime and so on. But this
research already offers potential and promise and can help in making the
storage of green energy cheaper."
Until now, scientists have separated hydrogen and oxygen atoms using
electrolysis, which involves running electricity through water. This is
energy-intensive and potentially explosive, because the oxygen and
hydrogen are removed at the same time.
But in the new variation of electrolysis developed at the University
of Glasgow, hydrogen and oxygen are produced from the water at different
times, thanks to what researchers call an "electron-coupled proton
This acts to collect and store hydrogen while the current runs
through the water, meaning that in the first instance only oxygen is
released. The hydrogen can then be released when convenient.Because pure
hydrogen does not occur naturally, it takes energy to make it. This new
version of electrolysis takes longer, but is safer and uses less energy
per minute, making it easier to rely on renewable energy sources for the
electricity needed to separate the atoms.
Dr Mark Symes, the report's co-author, said: "What we have developed
is a system for producing hydrogen on an industrial scale much more
cheaply and safely than is currently possible. Currently much of the
industrial production of hydrogen relies on reformation of fossil fuels,
but if the electricity is provided via solar, wind or wave sources we
can create an almost totally clean source of power."
Prof Lee Cronin, the other author of the research, said "The existing
gas infrastructure which brings gas to homes across the country could
just as easily carry hydrogen as it currently does methane.
If we were to use renewable power to generate hydrogen using the
cheaper, more efficient decoupled process we've created, the country
could switch to hydrogen to generate our electrical power at home. It
would also allow us to significantly reduce the country's carbon
Nathan Lewis, a chemistry professor at the California Institute of
Technology and a green energy expert said: "This seems like an
interesting scientific demonstration that may possibly address one of
the problems involved with water electrolysis, which remains a
relatively expensive method of producing hydrogen."
Thaw point at Antarctic Peninsula
Summer ice is melting at a faster rate in the Antarctic Peninsula
than at any time in the past 1,000 years, research has shown. The
evidence comes from a 364m ice core containing a record of freezing and
melting over the previous millennium. Layers of ice in the core, drilled
from James Ross Island, near the northern tip, indicate periods when
summer snow on the ice cap thawed and then refroze. Lead researcher Dr
Nerilie Abram, from the Australian National University and British
Antarctic Survey, said the melting there is now "at a level that is
higher than at any other time over the last 1,000 years".
- The Independent