A team of scientists at the University of East Anglia has discovered a method of producing hydrogen from water by using solar energy. The concept of water + sunlight = hydrogen is nothing extraordinary, but converting 60 percent of the energy in light into hydrogen power is. The production of hydrogen is quite energy intensive. Conventional production methods include stripping hydrogen from other fuels like methane or using electrolysis to split the hydrogen out of water. These traditional photovoltaic processes are nearly 20 percent to 40 percent efficient in generating energy, but researchers claim 60 percent efficiency for a process in which hydrogen is produced from water using sunlight.
Hydrogen fuel cell technologies could benefit from this breakthrough in the production of hydrogen from solar energy. The scientists have devised a process that is capable of generating hydrogen with 60 percent efficiency from water by the photons in light that strike a specially designed submersed electrode. The team used a nanophotocathode that lead to the success of their research. A gold electrode coated with nanoclusters of indium phosphide absorbs incoming photons of light. The nanoclusters then pass electrons liberated by the sun’s energy into an iron-sulfur complex that behaves like a matchmaker between the negatively charged electron and a hydrogen proton in the surrounding water molecules. This entire process resulted into gaseous hydrogen. Now the team is looking forward to demonstrate the process with cheaper materials.