Solar and nanoparticles and hydrogen, oh my!
The promised hydrogen economy keeps getting pushed back farther into the future, it seems, as producing hydrogen sustainably and at a low cost is always just around the bend in time, and while hydrogen has its share of opponents, it also has its boosters, such as HyperSolar, which looks to bring a breakthrough to scalable renewable hydrogen production.
Although this element is one of the most abundant in the universe, and the third most abundant on Earth, it's also the lightest, which makes it rare in our atmosphere (meaning we can't just hoover it up from the air). Hydrogen isn't exactly known for its energy-density, but it is one potential storage solution for building a more sustainable energy system, if it can be produced efficiently with renewable energy, and then stored and distributed efficiently, as opposed to the current major source of hydrogen, which is steam-reformed natural gas.
Those are some big 'ifs' that won't be solved overnight in the clean hydrogen quest, but HyperSolar believes it has the next step for producing low-cost, scalable, renewable hydrogen, with the source being polluted or dirty water, and the energy from the sun. Instead of using electricity from a separate solar array to power
an electrolyzer, this prototype has its solar energy component directly submerged in the water, with its "Self-contained Photoelectrochemical Nanosystem" technology that is "designed to mimic photosynthesis." According to the company, this nanoparticle-based system enables a much more efficient electrolysis process than one powered by a separate solar input, which would have higher losses of transmission between the sun and the actual hydrogen production, and it says its system could "significantly" lower the cost of hydrogen electrolysis.
HyperSolar calls it the H2 Generator, and so far, it's a lab-scale prototype, but the company believes it can be scaled up effectively, with the technology put to work turning wastewater or other non-potable water into hydrogen, "at or near the point of distribution."
"By optimizing the science of water electrolysis, our low cost photoelectrochemical process efficiently uses sunlight to separate hydrogen from any source of water to produce clean and environmentally friendly renewable hydrogen. Our innovative solar hydrogen generator eliminates the need for conventional electrolyzers, which are expensive and energy intensive. We believe that our solution will produce the lowest cost renewable hydrogen available in the market today." - HyperSolar
This video is a quick look at the system, which uses water from the Salton Sea as the input (not purified water as conventional electrolysis systems do), and makes a great point about the potential for this technology to reclaim water using 100% renewable energy:
If instead of transporting the bulk of the hydrogen from the point of production to the point of use, it could be produced locally, using solar energy, and then used locally as well, we might start to see more innovations in consumer fuel cell technology, but for now, hydrogen as an energy option remains firmly off the radar of the average person.
"Renewable hydrogen production offers the potential for a distributed hydrogen supply network model, which would be based on on-site hydrogen production. On-site production is considered by many to be the most likely pathway during the market development of energy systems. A distributed network of such sites could provide a cost-effective refueling infrastructure, as hydrogen must be used as close as possible to its production site to optimize the overall energy efficiency of a hydrogen-based energy system." - HyperSolar
Find out more at HyperSolar.