New ‘wonder’ device could power homes and cars with clean hydrogen

20 Nov 2017175 Shares

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Hydrogen fuel cells similar in scale to one developed at UCLA. Image: science photo/Shutterstock

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A team of engineers has created a device that it claims could not only make hydrogen cars affordable, but could power homes cleanly, too.

Affordable, plentiful and clean hydrogen fuel could offer the greatest way for us to ditch our internal combustion engine cars, but the cost of its production and use of rare minerals in harvesting has kept it as a niche solution.

But now, a new device developed by a team of engineers from UCLA aims to allow people to produce their own hydrogen energy from abundant supplies of water to power their cars as well as their homes.

In a paper published in the journal Energy Storage Materials, the team revealed its device that uses solar energy to convert water into hydrogen energy, which would be particularly helpful in rural areas.

How it works

Unlike typical hydrogen energy production, this method uses the abundant minerals of nickel, iron and cobalt, making it much more affordable.

Also, unlike traditional hydrogen fuel cells and supercapacitors that have two electrodes – one positive and one negative – to create the hydrogen, this new device has a third electrode.

This extra electrode means it can act as both a supercapacitor to store energy, and as a device for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen – a process known as water electrolysis – to create the energy.

Hydrogen fuel cell

From left: Richard Kaner and Maher El-Kady holding a replica of the new energy storage and conversion device they developed. Image: Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

All three electrodes connect to a single solar cell that serves as the device’s power source, and the electrical energy harvested can be stored in one of two ways: electrochemically in the supercapacitor, or chemically as hydrogen.

Its creators say the device is a major step forward in hydrogen fuel production because it does so in an environmentally friendly way. Currently, about 95pc of hydrogen production worldwide comes from converting fossil fuels such as natural gas into hydrogen.

A breakthrough moment

Richard Kaner, the study’s senior author, compared the breakthrough to the first time a phone, web browser and camera were combined on a smartphone. He added that its full range of applications may not yet be known to science.

Currently capable of fitting into the palm of your hand, the team believes the device can be expanded, given that its key components are all made from abundant and inexpensive minerals.

Mir Mousavi, a co-author of the paper, said: “For hydrogen cars to be widely used, there remains a need for a technology that safely stores large quantities of hydrogen at normal pressure and temperature, instead of the pressurised cylinders that are currently in use.”

Colm Gorey is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

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