Energy crisis. Water crisis. Some regions of the world are facing both simultaneously. Researchers may have found a solution for them. Through an “artificial leaf” that produces both clean water and green hydrogen from solar energy.
For several years, researchers have been working on the development of “artificial leaves.” Systems inspired by photosynthesis produce, for example, green hydrogen from water sources. With the floating system detailed in the pages of Nature Water, a team from the University of Cambridge (United Kingdom) takes it a step further. Their device is capable of simultaneously producing hydrogen and clean water directly from saltwater or heavily polluted water.
Hydrogen and Purified Water Thanks to the Sun
To measure the achievement, it is important to note that traditionally, hydrogen production by electrolysis is carried out using pure water. Any contaminants can disrupt the system by causing undesirable chemical reactions. To address this issue, researchers at the University of Cambridge have applied a photocatalyst to a nanostructured carbon mesh. Keeping it away from water and other contaminants improves the absorption of light and heat to create steam, which the photocatalyst uses to release hydrogen.
To better harness solar energy, the researchers have coated the hydrogen production floating device with a UV-absorbing white layer. This allows the remaining spectrum of solar light to pass through to the bottom of the device, vaporizing the water for subsequent collection. With their “artificial leaf,” they aim to mimic real leaves further by enabling them to transpire.
A Solution to Both the Energy and Water Crises
The researchers report that their system is currently only in the proof-of-concept phase. However, they hope to have it operational soon in numerous regions around the world that are grappling with both an energy crisis and a water crisis. This innovation would be particularly valuable considering that around 2 billion people globally still lack access to clean water.
Featured Image: A floating, solar-powered device that can turn contaminated water or seawater into clean hydrogen fuel and purified water, anywhere in the world, has been developed by researchers. Chanon Pornrungroj/Ariffin Mohamad Annuar