New photocatalyst material can help to extract hydrogen fuel from seawater

Efforts to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels are advancing on various significant fronts. Initiatives include research focused on more efficient production of gaseous hydrogen fuel.

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. Researcher Yang Yang from UCF invented a new hybrid nanomaterial that harnesses solar energy and uses it to generate hydrogen from seawater more cheaply and efficiently.

Artistic vue of the new photocatalyst (UCF)

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. His invention is based on use of a photocatalyst, a material that spurs a chemical reaction using energy from light. "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's team was able to significantly boost the bandwidth of light that can be harvested. They can produce energy from ultraviolet-visible to near-infrared light wavelengths, making it at least twice as efficient as current photocatalysts. The researchers estimated a good impact for Florida’s economy if the invention is applied. “We have a lot of seawater around Florida and a lot of really good sunshine." Fabricating the catalyst is relatively easy and inexpensive.