Small Gains Nanotech and solar power create hydrogen innovation

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CPLAS research associate Dr Anastasiia Zaleska was interviewed by the Insitute of Mechanical Engineers about the future of green hydrogen production.

In the article she explains how how green hydrogen can be produced photo-electrochemically from water using energy from renewable sources and nanomaterials.

The interview was part of a larger group of stories prodcued on The Rise of Offshore Hydrogen in the Professional Engineering’s Sustainability digital edition.

Green hydrogen: the sustainable, carbon-free hydrogen

Green hydrogen is the term used for hydrogen that is made by means of electrolysis using renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar or hydro power. Electrolysers use an electrochemical reaction to split water into its components of hydrogen and oxygen – emitting zero greenhouse-gas emissions in the process. Green hydrogen is the clean alternative to fossil fuels and has tremendous potential as a critical enabler in the global transition towards a sustainable energy economy.

What’s the best way to make green hydrogen?

Currently, there are many ways to produce hydrogen in an energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly way such as reformation of natural gas, biomass and water electrolysis, with some of these being carried out at scale. The industry is also exploring new, scaleable technologies to produce hydrogen using renewable energy. Powered by the rise in nanotechnology, industry and research groups are exploring how hydrogen can be produced photo-electrochemically from water using energy from renewable sources and nanomaterials consisting of semiconductors and/or metals. In this case, water molecules can be directly dissociated into hydrogen and oxygen using light energy. As a result, research efforts are focused on scaling up the fabrication techniques of such systems for commercial exploitation with high sustainable conversion efficiency.

What’s your research focusing on?

My research is looking at reducing carbon dioxide emission levels using earth-abundant materials. The idea is to create an artificial carbon cycle, using electricity from a renewable energy source and then electrochemically or photo-electrochemically reducing carbon dioxide to useful hydrocarbons that can be used as valuable chemicals and fuels through the use of small catalysts at the nanoscale. This happens in an aqueous solution (water) where as a by-product, water, is split into hydrogen and oxygen – to later be used.

During the conversion of CO2 in an aqueous solution, the hydrogen evolution reaction can also occur due to the water electrolysis where water is split into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Our ultimate goal is to design and develop efficient, selective and low-cost nanocatalysts with a high surface area and light absorption that drives these types of chemical reactions using sunlight. Such inexpensive and recyclable systems can be constructed on-site at the point of end-use to overcome the barriers to efficient hydrogen and chemical distribution.

The above text is an extract from Anastasiia’s interview – Small Gains – Nanotech and solar power create hydrogen innovation