New nanomaterial can extract hydrogen fuel from seawater

New nanomaterial can extract hydrogen fuel from seawater
Artist's conceptualization of the hybrid nanomaterial photocatalyst that's able to generate solar energy and extract hydrogen gas from seawater. Credit: University of Central Florida

It's possible to produce hydrogen to power fuel cells by extracting the gas from seawater, but the electricity required to do it makes the process costly. UCF researcher Yang Yang has come up with a new hybrid nanomaterial that harnesses solar energy and uses it to generate hydrogen from seawater more cheaply and efficiently than current materials.

The breakthrough could someday lead to a new source of the clean-burning fuel, ease demand for fossil fuels and boost the economy of Florida, where sunshine and seawater are abundant.

Yang, an assistant professor with joint appointments in the University of Central Florida's NanoScience Technology Center and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, has been working on solar hydrogen splitting for nearly 10 years.

It's done using a - a material that spurs a chemical reaction using from light. When he began his research, Yang focused on using solar energy to extract hydrogen from purified water. It's a much more difficulty task with seawater; the photocatalysts needed aren't durable enough to handle its biomass and corrosive salt.

As reported in the journal Energy & Environmental Science, Yang and his research team have developed a new catalyst that's able to not only harvest a much broader spectrum of light than other , but also stand up to the harsh conditions found in seawater.

"We've opened a new window to splitting real water, not just purified water in a lab," Yang said. "This really works well in seawater."

Yang developed a method of fabricating a photocatalyst composed of a hybrid material. Tiny nanocavities were chemically etched onto the surface of an ultrathin film of titanium dioxide, the most common photocatalyst. Those nanocavity indentations were coated with nanoflakes of molybdenum disulfide, a two-dimensional material with the thickness of a single atom.

Typical catalysts are able to convert only a limited bandwidth of light to energy. With its new material, Yang's team is able to significantly boost the bandwidth of light that can be harvested. By controlling the density of sulfur vacancy within the nanoflakes, they can produce energy from ultraviolet-visible to near-infrared light wavelengths, making it at least twice as efficient as current photocatalysts.

"We can absorb much more solar energy from the than the conventional material," Yang said. "Eventually, if it is commercialized, it would be good for Florida's economy. We have a lot of around Florida and a lot of really good sunshine."

In many situations, producing a chemical fuel from is a better solution than producing electricity from solar panels, he said. That electricity must be used or stored in batteries, which degrade, while is easily stored and transported.

Fabricating the catalyst is relatively easy and inexpensive. Yang's team is continuing its research by focusing on the best way to scale up the fabrication, and further improve its performance so it's possible to split from wastewater.

Explore further

A new way to produce clean hydrogen fuel from water using sunlight

More information: Limin Guo et al, MoS2/TiO2 Heterostructures as Nonmetal Plasmonic Photocatalysts for Highly Efficient Hydrogen Evolution, Energy Environ. Sci. (2017). DOI: 10.1039/C7EE02464A
Journal information: Energy & Environmental Science

Citation: New nanomaterial can extract hydrogen fuel from seawater (2017, October 4) retrieved 26 August 2019 from
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Oct 04, 2017
Holy crap. Knowledge is power. Now this should be a controlled substance.

Oct 04, 2017
I don't know about the easily stored and transported bit but if these cells can be produced cheaply enough it could be a major advance in the 24/7 production of renewable electric power.

Oct 04, 2017
"Someday." Boy, are some people gullible.

Oct 05, 2017
The 'breakthrough' should already be operating, namely LFTR reactor by the sea producing the electricity to desalinate the water to irrigate the dessert and also produce the hydrogen.

Oct 05, 2017
LFTR reactor by the sea

Reactors by the sea are - as quite recent events have shown - not a genius-level idea (LFTR less so because of complexity).

to irrigate the dessert

Deserts tend to be quite a ways away from the sea which makes for a pretty daunting logistical problem if you consider the quantities involved in such a proposal.

On top of that: 'deslinated' water is not salt free. It is still pretty salty (and pretty nasty to drink. If you ever get the chance to travel somewhere where they use it for tap water - try it). It also seems that desalinated water is not ideal for irrigation over long periods of time

Lastly, soil quality in deserts is extremely poor. Just dumping water onto sand doesn't make a desert immediately super-fertile (or immune from high solar irradiation/temperatures which can kill crops directly - no matter how much water you spray on them).

Oct 05, 2017
if done safely this could revolutionize boats and their locomotion or electrical needs

it can definitely alter the hydrocarbon requirement in areas that are extremely populated with seawater (and boats) like Florida, the Caribbean, PR, Japan and pacific islands, etc...

i wonder how this would work with a floating station?

Oct 07, 2017
Sounds like another NSF / DOE funding project that will fail, but keeps another scientific brother on the government tit.

Oct 08, 2017
100 1000 megawatt fission plants. (many) Problem(s) solved.

Oct 09, 2017

I see it polluting the entire ocean faster than micro jelly fish.

BTW--have you tested it in jelly fish infested water to see how handles being slimed with those things?

I just found a solution: Us inland sea water from deep down in a salt contaminated desert that never gets clouds. (Screw Florida, take it to Arizona, or the sahara.)

"titanium dioxide" mmmm, yiummy. For many ocean lifeforms. Maybe the could be installed inside the dead vent areas where no life goes--I think there is still a lot of hydrogen there. (My bad, it needs sunlight.)

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