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Scientists have just made hydrogen production much more efficient

Posted October 31, 2019

Electric cars are all the rage these days, but they still have their limitations. Staying for 45 minutes in a charging station is not everyone’s cup of tea. But there are cars that make their own electricity and could be topped off in a few minutes. And now a new study from universities in the UK, Portugal, Germany and Hungary described a new way to provide some hydrogen fuel for them.

Hyundai NEXO – one of the most advanced and most popular hydrogen fuel cell cars in the world. Essentially, it is an electric car, which produces its own electricity. Image credit: Hyundai

We can make hydrogen no problem. In fact, there are many ways to make hydrogen. One of them is electrolysis, which allows splitting water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen. The only problem with it is that this process requires a tremendous amount of energy – much more than we are ready to provide. But now scientists found an easier way to produce hydrogen from water and it could be the way towards a more sustainable future.

Scientists found that pulsing electric current through a layered catalyst allows doubling the amount of hydrogen produced per millivolt of electricity. That is a huge achievement, but, of course, it still requires electricity – there is no way around it. However, that electricity could come from renewable power sources. In fact, this technology could allow making hydrogen from otherwise wasted energy, which is produced during hours of reduced consumption.

Wind and solar power are great sources of energy. But you typically do not consume a lot of electricity when the Sun is shining. And the wind does not blow according to our energy needs. This means that a lot of excess electricity is simply wasted. That is why scientists are working on novel ways to accumulate electricity for the times when it is needed the most. Batteries can be used to this job, but they are expensive and wear out rather quickly. Using that extra electricity to produce fuel could be a better way to go.

Dr Alexey Ganin, leader of the research team, said: “Batteries are one way to do that, but hydrogen is a very promising alternative. Our research provides an important new insight into producing hydrogen from electrolysis more effectively and more economically, and we’re keen to pursue this promising avenue of investigation”.

Scientists say that machine learning algorithms could be used to fine-tune the electrolysis process. That is why the next stage of the research is the development of artificial intelligence system, which will replace human input in the search for the most effective electronic structures use in similar catalytic processes. At the end of the day, electrolysis could be even more efficient.

Hydrogen produced in this way could power trucks, cars and buses. Essentially, this would be hydrogen made from energy that would be otherwise wasted. However, we are yet to see if this will be the most efficient solution.


Source: University of Glasgow

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