A Stanford University research lab has developed new technologies to tackle two of the world’s biggest energy challenges – clean fuel for transportation and grid-scale energy storage.
The researchers described their findings in two studies published this month in the journals Science Advancesand Nature Communications.
Hydrogen fuel has long been touted as a clean alternative to gasoline. Automakers began offering hydrogen-powered cars to American consumers last year, but only a handful have sold, mainly because hydrogen refueling stations are few and far between.
“Millions of cars could be powered by clean hydrogen fuel if it were cheap and widely available,” said Yi Cui, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford.
Unlike gasoline-powered vehicles, which emit carbon dioxide (CO2,), hydrogen cars themselves are emissions free. Making hydrogen fuel, however, is not emission free: today, making most hydrogen fuel involves natural gas in a process that releases CO2 into the atmosphere.
To address the problem, Cui and his colleagues have focused on photovoltaic water splitting. This emerging technology consists of a solar-powered electrode immersed in water. When sunlight hits the electrode, it generates an electric current that splits the water into its constituent parts, hydrogen and oxygen.