Turning Sunlight and Water Into Hydrogen Fuel

May 11, 2011

In a key step toward advancing a clean energy economy, scientists have engineered a cheap, abundant way to make hydrogen fuel from sunlight and water. The team, led by SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory researcher Jens Norskov, paired a molybdenum sulfide catalyst with a light-absorbing electrode to split water into its components.

Hydrogen is an energy-dense fuel that releases water upon combustion. Today, most hydrogen is produced from natural gas, which results in carbon dioxide pollution. An alternative is called photo-electrochemical (PEC) water splitting. When sunlight hits the PEC cell, solar energy is absorbed and used to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. However, the process requires a catalyst and while platinum is already recognized as an efficient catalyst, its high cost makes widespread use difficult. See the Energy Blog post.