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Clean Energy Breakthrough

Aiming to extract hydrogen for energy generation, scientists are looking at various ways of production, especially ones that do not strain existing natural resources.

Illustration showing the application of the benefits of clean hydrogen

In a breakthrough, an international team of scientists from the University of Adelaide has devised a cost-effective method to split seawater to produce hydrogen directly. The research gains significance as earlier methods needed seawater to be treated using an energy-intensive process before splitting it using electrolysis.

The scientists were motivated by the fact that the only thing emitted by hydrogen fuel is water. So, if it can be harnessed cheaply and efficiently, it will become an important alternative to fossil fuels.

The team has published their research in the journal Nature Energy. "We have split natural seawater into oxygen and hydrogen with nearly 100 percent efficiency to produce green hydrogen by electrolysis, using a non-precious and cheap catalyst in a commercial electrolyzer," said Shizhang Qiao, a professor at the university.

The team reports that the performance of their seawater with catalysts of cobalt oxide and chromium oxide is close to the performance of expensive platinum/iridium catalysts running in a feedstock of highly purified de-ionized water.

“Increased demand for hydrogen to partially or totally replace energy generated by fossil fuels will significantly increase scarcity of increasingly-limited freshwater resources,” explained another researcher.

Seawater is an almost infinite resource and is considered a natural feedstock electrolyte, which would be very practical for regions with long coastlines and abundant sunlight.

The team is now working on scaling up the system by using a larger electrolyzer so that it can be used in commercial processes.

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