Splitting Hydrogen and Oxygen from the Water - A Breakthrough discovery to make Clean Energy - Seeker's Thoughts

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Splitting Hydrogen and Oxygen from the Water - A Breakthrough discovery to make Clean Energy

The clean energy is the need of the hour. The climate change and emission of green house gases at larger scale has out the human lives at risk. Energy is needed for human growth, but without switching it to cleaner sources, humans can't expect to live at all in next centuries. 

In Japan, scientists have successfully split water into hydrogen and oxygen using light and meticulously designed catalysts, and they did so at the maximum efficiency meaning there were almost no less and undesired side reactions.

This latest breakthrough in solar hydrogen production makes the likelihood of scalable, economically viable hydrogen production more than likely, paving the way for humanity to make the switch to clean energy.

Understanding the process of Hydrogen Production

Water splitting using catalysts and sunlight – called “photo-catalysis” has been a promising method of achieving solar hydrogen production for decades.

However, most previous attempts only yielded an external quantum efficiency of less than about 50% representing the difficulty in efficient catalyst design for real-world use. 

The catalyst needed to be designed better so every absorbed photon from the light source is used to make hydrogen. The key to improving efficiency was the strategic placement of the co-catalysis and preventing defects in the semiconductor.

What is Hydrogen?

Hydrogen is the first and the lightest element in the periodic table in Chemistry. Do you know that it mainly occurs in the gaseous state?

It is an insipid element that does not have taste, color, and odor but is highly flammable. Its chemical symbol is H and the atomic number is 1. Its atomic weight is 100797g/mol. It was recognized as a unique gas by Robert Boyle in 1671, who dissolved iron in diluted hydrochloric acid. 

There are three isotopes of hydrogen having the same atomic number but different atomic masses: protium, deuterium, and tritium.

Why hydrogen is so important?

It widely accepted knowledge that the universe, upon its creation, and even now, is mainly composed of hydrogen. This light gas is so common, yet important it is to our universe and how many great uses it can have in the technological application.

Our own sun, as well as trillions of other stars in the universe, fuses hydrogen into helium to produce energy. 

Its energy is known on Earth as light and heat. However, when the sun runs out of hydrogen, it moves on to heavier elements, each occasion of fusion resulting in a new element every time. 

It is strongly believed that organic material could have come from the dead star’s matter when it was dispersed into space. If this is true humans are built of stardust.

Also Read -The dying glaciers will be the end of humanity?
Hydrogen plays a very significant role in the birth of stars around nebulae. Vast clouds of hydrogen are needed for stars to be born. Eventually, the hydrogen begins heating up and igniting due to a chain reaction from the collision of atoms. Since there is no gravitational force acting upon the nebulae, it is very likely to take millions of years for the stars to complete the form in the void of space. However, it is amazing to think that our sun was born in the same manner.

Hydrogen fuel

The invention of the vehicle that occupies hydrogen fuel has been phenomenal in developing a clean source of energy. Hydrogen can be used to power vehicles and leave behind no trace of pollution. In fact, if you ever drive a car that is powered by hydrogen, the only by-product of fuelled expense is water. Despite the advantages, most cars powered by hydrogen do not accelerate quickly nor reach high speeds.

Also Read - Hydrogen- the fuel of the future


Water is composed of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, but what you probably dint know about water is its violent creation. Hydrogen and oxygen in the same environment create water in an explosive reaction. The atoms release large amounts of energy to bind into water molecules. The same kind of reaction is used to propel the Atlas rocket.

What is the function of hydrogen in the human body?

Hydrogen is the first element of the periodic table. The most important function of hydrogen in the human body is to keep you hydrated. Water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen and is observed by the cells of the body. Therefore, it is a crucial element that is used not in our body but also as fuel, in military weapons, etc. 

So how scientists split water into hydrogen?

 Broke through new frontiers in power production by using aluminum-doped strontium titanate as a photocatalyst, whose properties have been extensively studied and there the best understood.

They choose co-catalysts rhodium for hydrogen with chromium oxide, and cobalt-oxide for oxygen, by fine-tuning them to engage in only desired reactions. This method made it possible for the reaction to have no recombination losses.

How the new findings would be helpful to the world?

It might open the doors to achieve scalable and economically viable solar hydrogen production. Their design strategies succeeded in reducing defects that lead to near-perfect efficiency, and knowledge obtained will be applied to other materials with intense visible light absorption. More work is still needed before we can run our cars on hydrogen because this study focused on the use of ultraviolet light and abundant visible light from the sun remained unused. However, this great breakthrough has made that possibility no longer too good to be true.

However, in theory, just a matter of time. Hopefully, it will encourage scientists, researchers, and engineers to engage in this field, bringing the use of solar hydrogen power that much closer.

Reference – materials provided by Shinshu University

Tsuyoshi Takata, Junzhe Jiang, Yoshihisa Sakata, Mamiko Nakabayashi, Naoya Shibata, Vikas Nandal, Kazuhiko Seki, Takashi Hisatomi, Kazunari Domen. Photocatalytic water splitting with a quantum efficiency of almost unity.

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