Two teams of researchers at
Clean hydrogen generation is a key stumbling block for the realisation of the hydrogen economy and fuel cell use. Reforming fossil fuels can generate hydrogen, but the process produces greenhouse gas carbon as a by-product. Cleaner electrolysis methods can split water into hydrogen and oxygen and be powered by renewable energy, but power sources like solar cells are too expensive and need to improve their efficiency to generate enough electricity to force the reaction.
Prof Peter Dobson, academic director of
‘In principle we could do the entire thing with a simple membrane separator, so in one half of the cell you generate oxygen, the other half hydrogen,’ he said. ‘It would stand unattended, bubbling off hydrogen and oxygen more or less forever until the catalyst is deactivated.’
The next step is to design a device that can separate the hydrogen and oxygen mix produced around the nanoparticles. ‘We’ll have to engineer the gas separation membranes very carefully. We may have to build in a potential gradient to separate the gases,’ said Dobson.
‘If we get the design right we may be able to incorporate catalysts into the membrane so it will run in an unattended fashion.’
Dr Tiancun Xiao, the
But previous high weight methods only worked at elevated temperatures of around 200°C or more. The researchers have found a way to create the hydrides via a chemical route, rather than high-velocity ball milling.