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Small Molecule, Big Promise

Burning hydrogen is great. It releases lots of usable energy and produces only water as a byproduct. No dangerous hydrocarbons that might cause cancer and no CO2 to exacerbate our ever-accumulating greenhouse gases.

The problem is, where do you get the hydrogen? Mostly from natural gas (methane), and that method of production also liberates the nasty CO2. You could also get hydrogen from electrolysis—the splitting of the hydrogen and oxygen of water with electricity. Alas, conventional electrolysis is expensive, inefficient, and requires energy usually produced from fossil fuels.

A way out of this dilemma may be on the way from an innovative company with the slightly-hard-to-pronounce name of Nanoptek. Conventional electrolysis requires two electrodes, and the application of a current between them splits the water. The Nanoptek scientists have discovered a way to substitute a light-sensitive semiconductor known as titania as one of the electrodes: light, rather than electricity, activates the electrolysis and production of hydrogen.

Cheaper, cleaner, and very cool. May even raise the prospects for wider use of hydrogen as a fuel, although I do recall a historic hydrogen incident surrounding a certain Hindenburg….

Posted In: History | Technology

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