Hydrogen for energy researchers is a clean and renewable source of energy. The quest so far has been to find a way to harness the energy available in workable volumes at a reasonable cost.
Imagine, solar panels that could convert sunlight into clean-burning zero-emissions hydrogen to keep us all warm both at home and work? The concept is not far from reality, as Bioscience engineers at KU Leuven, located in Flanders, Belgium, announced that they had created a solar panel that uses sunlight to make hydrogen from the moisture in the air. The device created can produce up to 250 litres of hydrogen gas per day, which is a world record.
The team led by Professor Johan Martens from the Centre for Surface Chemistry and Catalysis, part of the bio-engineering faculty of KU Leuven, have been working on this for a decade. Professor Martens’s team has developed a device that turns sunlight and water vapour into hydrogen gas in a sustainable way. The device used reportedly looks like an ordinary solar panel. The engineers attached a flask with water to the device so that they could see the hydrogen bubbles escape. Initially, the amount of hydrogen produced was quite little but recently, a demonstration on a cloudy day, observers could see large quantities of hydrogen bubbles appear as soon as the demonstration panel was moved into the sunlight.
Martens stated that it was a blend of physics and chemistry. He added that they initially had a 0.1 percent yield and after ten years of work, they could see the hydrogen molecules coming up in bubbles. Researcher Jan Rongés added that over an entire year the panel could produce an average of 250 litres (66 gals) per day. And, an array of twenty such panels could produce enough heat and electricity to get through the winter in a very well insulated house and still have excess electricity.
Meanwhile, the panels are a long way from commercial production. However, a new prototype would be installed at the nearby home of Leen Peeters, an engineer who has turned her home into a living lab. If the prototype solar panels work well on her house as they do in the lab, then more of them would be ground-mounted in her neighbourhood.
Rongé states that with hydrogen gas, the risks of accidents are no greater than with natural gas. Professor Martens is reportedly excited to see the prototype panels get a full real-world trial. He stated that they wanted to design something sustainable that would be affordable and used anywhere. He and his team are quite optimistic and they reiterate that ‘the sky’s the limit’.