Hydrogen is an alternative fuel which can be synthesized from various domestic resources. Highly abundant in the environment, hydrogen is stored in water, hydrocarbons, and other organic compounds. Interest in hydrogen as a substitution for conventional fossil fuels spurs from its ability to produce zero emissions when burned with oxygen. However, challenges of using hydrogen as a fuel emerge from efficiently deriving the gas from compounds.
Researchers from the University of Central Florida, led by researcher and assistant professor Yang Yang, established a method to produce hydrogen by extracting the gas from seawater. Unlike previous methods which utilize electricity and can be costly, the new process relies on the help of photocatalysts to split water. Photocatalysts are substances which activate chemical reactions when exposed to light.
To create a substance which can withstand the corrosive nature of seawater, Yang and his team resorted to hybrid nanomaterials. They developed a nonmetal plasmonic molybdenum disulfide and titanium dioxide heterostructure to achieve efficient hydrogen generation. Tiny nanocavities were carved into an ultrathin film of titanium dioxide, a common photocatalyst. Nanoflakes of molybdenum disulfide, a material as thick as a single atom, were then coated inside these nanocavities.
Unlike other photocatalysts which can only convert a limited range of light into energy, the newly developed material has a broader range. Energy ranging from ultraviolet to infrared light wavelengths can be harvested. Because of this, it is twice as effective as normal photocatalysts. Additionally, the substance can endure the harsh conditions of seawater.
“We can absorb much more solar energy from the light than the conventional material,” Yang stated.
“Eventually, if it is commercialized, it would be good for Florida’s economy. We have a lot of seawater around Florida and a lot of really good sunshine.”
Through the study, the team demonstrated the effectiveness of nonmetal-based photocatalysts in converting solar energy to chemical fuels. Manufacturing of such material is relatively inexpensive. The researchers are currently finding ways to expand the process in an industrial scale, while also improving performance. Additionally, they are considering the possibility of splitting hydrogen from wastewater.
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Editor: Olivia Vo