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Splitting water into renewable energy

In the way that solar light can generate electricity, splitting water could also become a valuable renewable energy source.

Scientists have been able to split water for some time, but the key to making it a viable and economical energy source lies in the efficiency of the process.

According to Professor Huijin Zhao, Director of Griffith’s Center for Clean Environment and Energy (CCEE), the answer lies in highly efficient catalysts. The process of splitting water also generates clean chemical fuel: hydrogen.

Opined Zhao, “The world is now facing five major issues for humanity: energy, environment, water, food security and public health. Global warming is ranked first and it’s all resulting from burning fossil fuels because that’s where carbon dioxide comes from.”

“To reduce this and to make the global temperature not rise beyond 2C you have to find clean, renewable energy and hydrogen equals clean energy. It’s part of the solution – if we really can split water into two, that will be one scientific solution for the future of sustainable energy supplies.”

Zhao argues hydrogen is a more advantageous fuel compared to gasoline or diesel, at least for now.

“Scientifically it’s already demonstrated, it’s already working, but to do this in a way that’s economically viable, there’s still a bit of work to do and we need government policy, general public support, and you also need those big companies to realize they should not dig up out of the ground anymore. It’s not just a simple technology issue,” he said.

Professor Zhao was also recently awarded $401,000 by the Australian Research Council Projects for 2017 in support of his 2D-nanoporous structured high-performance gas evolution electrocatalysts. The heterogeneous electrocatalytic gas evolution reactions created by this technology could potentially be a very useful tool for clean energy production. However, such reactions tend to be less efficient, as a result of the high overpotentials caused by slow-gaseous products. High overpotentials mean higher energy consumption needed for the reaction to take place, reducing or even cancelling energy efficiency gains.

Zhao aims to address this problem by creating two-dimensional porous electrocatalysts with better gas detachment properties leading to lower overpotentials. If successful, the project could encourage the production of higher-efficiency electrocatalysts.

By Olivia Harvey, Staff Writer

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