Solar-Hydrogen: Fuel for the Future
Oil Reserves Running Out
The price of oil has just crossed $100 a barrel for the first time, driven by the ever growing global demand for energy. The need to develop a new type of fuel is becoming more and more urgent. Whilst hydrogen is widely considered to be best alternative, it is vitally important that it is produced in a renewable and environmentally friendly manner which is not the case at present. Solar-hydrogen, on the other hand, is the most promising fuel for the future as it is derived entirely from renewable sources; water and sunlight. A team of researchers at the Centre for Materials Research in Energy Conversion, University of New South Wales, has developed an increasingly mature processing technology for photoelectrodes that generate hydrogen fuel via solar-driven water splitting (solar-hydrogen).
The Idea of Solar-Hydrogen
The photoelectrode for solar-hydrogen is made from a new generation of oxide semiconductors that are able to split water into its principle components; hydrogen and oxygen, when illuminated with sunlight. The key functional properties that a photoelectrode must display have been established and reported by this team in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 32 (2007) 2607-2663. The process is based on a "photoelectrochemical chain" which may be formed using "defect engineering" which is described by the team in a feature paper that has appeared in the Journal of Physical Chemistry C on January 31, 2008. In order to convert this idea into reality, the team has established the International Network on Solar-Hydrogen which forms the critical mass required to bring solar-hydrogen technology to commercial maturity. This network includes prominent scientists from Japan, the EU, the US and Australia.
The ultimate aim of the Centre's research is to develop solar-hydrogen panels for individual households, particularly in areas where fuel supply is difficult, such as the Australian "Never-Never". These panels will provide hydrogen for a wide variety of purposes such as the generation of electricity, heating or vehicle fuel. A schematic representation of such a panel is shown below in Figure 1.
Covering an area of 40km × 40km, which is equivalent to 16 million individual households equipped with a 10m × 10m solar-hydrogen panel, is expected to meet all of Australia's current energy requirements (see Figure 2).
Donations Towards the Development of Solar-Hydrogen
Progress in solar-hydrogen research depends on funding. In order to intensify the research, donations are welcomed. The contact person concerning donations is Dr. Leigh Sheppard, the leader of the solar-hydrogen program at the Centre for Materials Research in Energy Conversion, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia 2052, Tel. +61 2 9385 6459, fax. +61 2 9385 6467, email: L.Sheppard@unsw.edu.au