There have been a few breakthroughs over the years that have promised a future where solar cells could be painted or sprayed onto surfaces for easy solar power, anywhere. A new solar paint technology from RMIT University takes a unique approach by using sunlight to split water molecules to produce hydrogen.
The paint is able to absorb water vapor in the air because it contains a substance like the silica gel packs that are used to keep moisture out of items like medicines and electronics. The material is called synthetic molybdenum-sulphide and it goes a step beyond just being an excellent sponge for moisture, it also acts as a semi-conductor and catalyses the split of water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen.
The addition of titanium dioxide to the paint boosts its sunlight absorbing abilities, making the paint into a hydrogen fuel plant that can be applied to any surface.
"Titanium oxide is the white pigment that is already commonly used in wall paint, meaning that the simple addition of the new material can convert a brick wall into energy harvesting and fuel production real estate," said Lead researcher Dr. Torben Daeneke.
"Our new development has a big range of advantages. There's no need for clean or filtered water to feed the system. Any place that has water vapor in the air, even remote areas far from water, can produce fuel."
The paint can be used in almost all climates, even very dry ones that are near the ocean.
The paint, which currently has a red hue thanks to the molybdenum-sulphide, also has the added bonus of creating a basically closed system. Water vapor is absorbed to produce hydrogen, but then the burning of hydrogen produces water vapor, which can then be absorbed by the system and produce more hydrogen.
You can watch a video about this new solar paint below.