Hydrogen from water using solar radiation: new hope for cheap, clean energy. Image: Univ. of Adelaide.
Tiny metallic particles produced by Univ. of Adelaide
chemistry researchers are bringing new hope for the production of cheap,
efficient, and clean hydrogen energy.
Led by Associate Professor Greg Metha, Head of Chemistry, the researchers are
exploring how the metal nanoparticles act as highly efficient catalysts in
using solar radiation to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.
“Efficient and direct production of hydrogen from solar
radiation provides a renewable energy source that is the pinnacle of clean
energy,” said Associate Professor Greg Metha. “We believe this work
will contribute significantly to the global effort to convert solar energy into
portable chemical energy.”
The latest research is the outcome of 14 years of fundamental
research by Associate Professor Metha’s research group investigating the
synthesis and properties of metal nanoparticles and how they work as catalysts
at the molecular level.
The group works with metal “clusters” of about
one-quarter of a nanometer in size. Associate Professor Metha said these tiny
“magic clusters” act as super-efficient catalysts. Catalysts drive
chemical reactions, reducing the amount of energy required.
“We’ve discovered ways of producing these tiny metallic
clusters, we’ve explored their fundamental chemical activity, and now we are
applying their catalytic properties to reactions which have great potential
benefit for industrial use and the environment,” said Associate Professor
PhD student Jason Alvino is exploring splitting water to make
hydrogen (and oxygen) using solar energy—a process that is not viable for
industry development at the moment.
“We know this catalysis works very efficiently at the
molecular level and now need to demonstrate it works on the macroscopic
scale,” said Associate Professor Metha.
“Splitting water to make hydrogen and oxygen requires a lot
of energy and is an expensive process. We will be using solar radiation as the
energy source, so there will be no carbon emissions and because the clusters
work so efficiently as a catalyst, it will be a much better process.
“The ultimate aim is to produce hydrogen from water as a
cheap portable energy source.”
Associate Professor Metha said there were also other industrial
chemical reactions that could be made feasible by these catalysts, using solar
radiation as the energy source—with potentially significant environmental
benefits. One example was converting carbon dioxide into methane or methanol
This project ‘Solar Hydrogen: photocatalytic generation of
hydrogen from water’, has been funded under the three-year clean
energy partnership between Adelaide Airport Ltd. and the Univ.’s
Center for Energy Technology.