Multinational research team hopes to find unlimited energy from water

2 Apr 2014

Prof Martyn Pemble

A collaboration between Irish and American researchers is attempting to use electrodes placed in water to generate clean hydrogen fuel.

In what would be a major breakthrough for the clean-technology sector, the project will aim to use a combination of semiconductor materials and sunlight to isolate energy-laden hydrogen in water by replicating processes found in nature.

While previous processes for harvesting hydrogen for fuel have required the use of additional energy, or have been heavily reliant on the presence of ultra-violet light, the project known as RENEW will focus on using natural light and will experiment with a range of semi-conducting materials.

According to the team’s explanation about the project’s potential hydrogen-producing fuel cell, the researchers will first seek to create the optimum ‘artificial leaf’ using layers of semiconducting materials, such as silicon.

These would be water resistant and used to ultimately create clean fuel by splitting the molecules of water into hydrogen and oxygen under natural conditions without any additional energy.

One of the lead investigators of the project being undertaken at the Tyndall National Institute in Cork, Prof Martyn Pemble, has said the ultimate goal of the project could be life-changing if results should go their way.

“The ultimate goal is to combine our expertise to get to a point where you just drop the electrodes into water and when the sun comes out they would start to bubble away, generating an unlimited, free and completely clean source of hydrogen, as well as oxygen.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic