A team of bioscience engineers lead by Johan Martens are currently working on creating miniature solar panels that will offer consumers electricity and fuel. The panels create hydrogen gas, which will in turn greatly reduce CO2, converting it into a usable substance. When hydrogen is stored in a fuel cell it has the ability to change directly into electricity and while car manufacturers are always hard at work to make electric cars that use hydrogen gas, the challenge has proven tough.
Johan Martens, KU Leuven Centre for Surface Chemistry and Catalysis professional, says the road block being faced by scientists is that hydrogen is not something that naturally occurs in nature. It is created from fossil fuels, which lead to CO2 emissions. Alternative technologies are being studied that involve sending electricity through water, known as electrolysis. Unfortunately, these processes also require fossil fuels. The goal is finding a sustainable method of production that can compete with fossil fuel while creating a much cleaner environment.
The team is the first throughout the world to create hydrogen gas with merely sunlight and water vapor already present in the air. While tests currently only included twelve square centimeters of solar cells, they did work. The device used is made up of a reactor and two compartments. Light and air come in through one side while hydrogen gas leaves out the other. In the center of the compartments there is a solar cell the width of a sheet of paper that is completely covered in filtering membranes and catalysts. Catalysts trigger hydrogen gas creation. In the process, there is absolutely no need for any other substances. Sunlight creates the energy. Because there is always water in the air, this device could be used even in the driest of deserts.
Johan Martens says the panels do not have a production capacity that matches a traditional panel as of yet, but they are hard at work to make better solutions. He says their solar panel has a wide applicability because they will not only be able to generate electricity but can also be used as renewable fuel. Climate change could also benefit from this new creation, according to the team of engineers, through recycling of the large amounts of CO2 already present in the atmosphere. For example, CO2 can be combined with hydrogen gas in order to product a synthetic form of natural gas.
The team hopes their work can even be applied to vehicles, allowing cars to run on sunlight instead of the need of a charging station. The amount of household and vehicle released CO2 is large, but thanks to the technology created with these solar panels, energy could be produced on a local scale with each home having their very own hydrogen gas generator. There is concern that chemistry is an industry that simply pollutes the environment but Johan Martens says these new studies could prove to be the ultimate solution for climate change with a bit more research.