[Image above] Credit: RMIT University; YouTube
A good deal of research has been devoted to creating solar energy sources that are less expensive than fossil fuels. Last year, experts reported that solar panels, for example, can be cheaper than other comparable energy sources.
Earlier this year, new research indicated that perovskite solar cells might be the next big thing in producing high efficiency and low cost solar energy.
There is no shortage of innovators who are creating unusual methods to harness solar energy. Some states in the U.S. are taking advantage of highways to generate power. A small town in Argentina has created solar panels made from trash. And, not to be outdone, researchers at the University of Melbourne have come up with a way to turn every surface into a solar panel.
What will scientists think of next?
How about paint?
Another team of researchers from down under has come up with a novel way of producing hydrogen fuel from solar energy and humid air. The team from RMIT University developed a paint containing a semiconducting material—synthetic molybdenum sulfide— that splits water atoms into hydrogen and oxygen.
“We found that mixing the compound with titanium oxide particles leads to a sunlight-absorbing paint that produces hydrogen fuel from solar energy and moist air,” RMIT research fellow Torben Daeneke, who led the research, says in a news release on the university’s website.
Synthetic molybdenum sulfide behaves like those silica gel packets typically placed in dry goods—they pull moisture from the air. When combined with titanium oxide, a white material already used in wall paint, the mixture can easily be painted onto a surface to absorb sunlight and water vapor to generate hydrogen fuel.
“Our new development has a big range of advantages,” Daeneke says. “There’s no need for clean or filtered water to feed the system. Any place that has water vapour in the air, even remote areas far from water, can produce fuel.”
Hydrogen is a clean energy source and could very well replace conventional fuel sources.
“This system can also be used in very dry but hot climates near oceans,” Daeneke’s research partner, distinguished professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh says in the release. “The sea water is evaporated by the hot sunlight and the vapour can then be absorbed to produce fuel.”
The next step for the researchers is to develop a system for storing the hydrogen fuel until needed.
If they successfully scale the technology, it could transform the entire home improvement industry.
The paper, published in ACS Nano is “Surface water dependent properties of sulfur-rich molybdenum sulfides: Electrolyteless gas phase water splitting” (DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.7b01632).
Watch the video below to learn more.
Credit: RMIT University; YouTube