Scientists say producing hydrogen in the backyard could be possible in future by tweaking an inexpensive semiconductor material, which could be available in commercial store, for generating hydrogen from water by using sunlight.
When the catalyst is properly manufactured, one could buy it in a commercial store for making hydrogen in his backyard, Professor Madhu Menon of the University of Kentucky told IBTimes.
The research should attract the interest of other scientists across a variety of disciplines. Photocatalysis is currently one of the hottest topics in science. We expect the present work to have a wide appeal in the community spanning chemistry, physics and engineering, Menon added.
A research finding shows that an alloy formed by a two percent substitution of antimony (Sb) in gallium nitride (GaN) has the right electrical properties to enable solar energy to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.
The researchers found that when the alloy is submerged in water and exposed to sunlight, the chemical bond between the hydrogen and oxygen molecules break, allowing the hydrogen to be collected to separately.
Scientists say hydrogen can be a crucial component in the transition to cleaner energy sources, but unlocking it from other compounds is the key as it is not abundantly available in a pure form on Earth.
Currently a large amount of electricity is needed to generate hydrogen by water splitting and the process entails a large amount of carbon dioxide emissions.
The new research by professors at the University of Kentucky Center for Computational Sciences and the University of Louisville Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research could change all that and blaze a new trail in clean energy research.
The GaN-Sb alloy is the first simple, easy-to-produce material to be considered a candidate for photoelectrochemical water splitting.
Previous research on PEC [photoelectrochemical] has focused on complex materials. We decided to go against the conventional wisdom and start with some easy-to-produce materials, even if they lacked the right arrangement of electrons to meet PEC criteria. Our goal was to see if a minimal 'tweaking' of the electronic arrangement in these materials would accomplish the desired results, said Menon.
Hydrogen's potential utility in green tech initiatives is immense. It can be used to generate electricity, produce heat and run vehicles. It also has wide-ranging applications in science and industry.
When combusted, hydrogen combines with oxygen to form water vapor as its only waste product, the report points out.
According to another researcher, Professor Mahendra Sunkara of the University of Louisville Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research, the GaN-Sb alloy has the potential to convert solar energy into an economical, carbon-free source for hydrogen.
Hydrogen production now involves a large amount of CO2 emissions... Once this alloy material is widely available, it could conceivably be used to make zero-emissions fuel for powering homes and cars and to heat homes, said Sunkara.
The researchers are working on the production of the alloy and would test its ability to convert solar energy to hydrogen, the report says.
The components of the alloy, gallium nitride and antimony, are widely used in the electronics industry. While gallium nitride is used to make bright-light LEDs, antimony has been used as metalloid element in the microelectronics industry.