Solar hydrogen programme launched

A £4.2m research programme at Imperial College London is to study harvesting solar energy to produce renewable, carbon free and cost effective hydrogen as an alternative energy source.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) awarded the funding to the College’s Energy Futures Lab.

The programme will develop both biological and chemical solar driven processes to make renewable and cost effective methods of producing hydrogen which can be used to operate fuel cells.

Spanning five years, the project aims to significantly increase the efficiency of solar driven hydrogen production processes, integrating science and engineering to deliver a prototype reactor for domestic and industrial use. This will create a unique facility, which the team hopes will place Imperial College and the UK at the forefront of renewable hydrogen production, both for the UK’s own future clean energy supply and also for the sustainable exploitation of hydrogen energy worldwide.

The biological process the project aims to develop will mimic how plants work, using green algae. The oxygen and hydrogen produced will then be separated and the hydrogen stored, ready for use in a fuel cell. The chemical process will use photo-electrodes to directly split water into molecular oxygen and hydrogen using both inorganic electrodes and molecular catalysts whose function will mimic the water oxidation enzyme of plant photosynthesis.

The project will culminate in the design, build and operation of a working prototype system, with the aim of demonstrating that solar energy can be directly harvested to produce hydrogen, and in turn cost effective electricity and heat.