A chemical reaction taught in middle school could help solve the energy crisis.
Passing an electrical current through water splits the latter into oxygen and hydrogen molecules. Out of these, hydrogen can be used as a reliable, zero-emission source of fuel. Earlier, the process of purifying water beforehand was too energy exhaustive so this process was not considered useful. But now, according to new research published in the journal PNAS, scientists have worked out a technique to skip the purification process altogether and convert seawater into usable hydrogen.
The scientists from Stanford University and the Beijing University of Chemical Technology opined that generation of hydrogen fuel from freshwater sources would put be strenuous for everyone else who needed that water. This is especially true as climate change will likely worsen droughts around the world.
As an alternative, the scientists formed a new metal coating for the electrodes used in the experiment that permitted them to withstand the chemical reaction as it transpires in saltwater. As an electrical charge is essential to actually split the water into hydrogen and oxygen, the scientists attempted to make their kit as environmentally friendly as possible, powered with solar cells.
Stanford chemist Hongjie Dai told Fast Company, “ The system could be rigged to submarines or SCUBA gear”.
Hydrogen fuel cells could drive the sub or the diver’s gear, while the oxygen generated from the chemical reaction could keep them stocked up with breathable air. But any practical applications are still further off in the future, as this new research simply establishes that the technology could work at all.
Dai told Fast Company, “Right now, the need for hydrogen is still relatively limited because the so-called hydrogen economy hasn’t taken off yet, although it’s in its early growing stage. You could imagine there would be more demand for hydrogen.”