A team of scientists at the University of Cambridge has developed a new technique for carbon-free hydrogen production which could be the key to renewable hydrogen fuel. Their method is relatively cheap and increases the chances to clean hydrogen become the sustainable fuel of the future.

A piece of paper placed in front of a solar light source

Sunlight-Powered Technology

Sunlight-powered technology developed at the Christian Doppler Laboratory for Sustainable SynGas Chemistry uses untreated biomass, previously converted into hydrogen gas through a gasification process, sunlight, and quantum dots to produce hydrogen. These quantum dots are nanoparticles used as a catalyst to remove the need for high energy. In conventional techniques of getting fuel from biomass, it’s necessary a large amount of heat to power the process. Quantum dots neutralize it. Then nanoparticles are added in alkaline water in which the biomass is suspended and finally put in front of a light which mimics solar light. The absorption process leads to conversion the biomass into gaseous hydrogen. The team used various types of biomass, including pieces of wood, paper, and leaves.

A piece of wood heated by solar energy used for conversation process

Less energy means using fewer resources and excluding polluting chemicals from the conversion process. By conversion of lignocelluloses ( the main component in plant biomass which protects trees and plants from damage ), is achieved relatively easy and cheap way for clean hydrogen production. Although a handy technique, it can’t be used in complicated machinery, because the raw biomass is full of unrefined chemical energy. According to David Wakerley, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry, their technique of conversion such a messy structures that make up biomass is the most useful for hydrogen production. He also added that they have specifically designed a combination of catalyst and solution that allows this transformation to occur using sunlight as a source of energy. With this in place, we can simply add organic matter to the system and then, provided it’s a sunny day, produce hydrogen fuel. This process in environmentally friendly and the team currently research a range of potential commercial options.

Moving from fossil fuel resources to renewable feedstocks is among the most important goals of the 21st century. The potential of hydrogen as a renewable fuel is tremendous. Scientists work for decades to find the cheapest way for its production by testing numerous methods. Some great steps are already taken such as Honda’s hydrogen powered car and Alstom’s passenger train. In a world where outdoor air pollution is killing more than 3 million people every year, alternatives like this are crucial.