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HyperSolar harnesses sunlight to produce cleaner-than-clean hydrogen fuel

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January 26, 2012

If HyperSolar has its way, solar hydrogen farms like that imagined here may not be so very...

If HyperSolar has its way, solar hydrogen farms like that imagined here may not be so very far away (Image: HyperSolar)

HyperSolar claims it is developing a zero carbon method of producing hydrogen gas from wastewater by harnessing solar energy. Hydrogen gas is a clean source of fuel in that, theoretically at least, the only waste product is water. But hydrogen gas does not occur naturally on Earth, and requires energy to create. Typically that energy comes from traditional, carbon dioxide-emitting sources, rendering hydrogen fuel rather less environmentally friendly than it has the potential to be. HyperSolar's work may mean truly clean, renewable hydrogen fuel could be a commercial reality sooner than we might have imagined.

"If hydrogen is meant to be the ultimate fuel that will enable a clean energy future with zero carbon emissions, then its production must also be zero carbon," said HyperSolar CEO, Tim Young in a press release on Monday. "Powering cars with fossil fuel based hydrogen is not sustainable, not renewable and not much cleaner than today's fuels."

Young has a point. Because hydrogen fuel has to be made, it is better to think of it as an energy store rather than an energy source - after all, energy had to go into making it. A car running on HyperSolar hydrogen gas would effectively be solar powered - the Sun being the ultimate energy source powering the car, with hydrogen gas merely the energy carrier. Alternatively, the hydrogen can alternatively be reacted with carbon dioxide to produce a sort of unnatural version of natural gas, which is not a completely clean fuel.

HyperSolar's approach adopts a breakthrough "solar-powered nanoparticle system" inspired by the natural process of photosynthesis. The photoelectrochemical nanoparticles float in wastewater in transparent vessels, creating hydrogen gas using solely the energy of sunlight. The company says the process is optimized for wastewater, which is simultaneously purified by the process. HyperSolar's solar concentrators that we discussed last February are not involved.

The process appears to be similar to that developed by Emory University which we reported in March 2010, and though it is not clear precisely what stage HyperSolar's technology has reached, this announcement indicates they at least have a working prototype system cable of producing hydrogen gas. The company stresses the commercially viability of the technology, since it effectively monetizes the process of wastewater treatment, as well as producing the marketable byproducts, hydrogen bromide and hydrogen chlorides. Additionally, HyperSolar claims the technology is eminently scalable - all you need is more water vessels with more nanoparticles, the company claims, though presumably there is also the consideration of the infrastructure required to remove the gas from the vessels.

In a similar vein, nanocrystals have been used at the research level to create hydrogen from water by harnessing the power of ambient noise.

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life.   All articles by James Holloway
13 Comments

It has to be cheaper to produce using this method than using dirtier methods. If we learned anything from the Supreme Court decision in California, it that both legally and based on the principles of a free market you can't force someone to use the hydrogen from this Vs from any other process.

abe
26th January, 2012 @ 07:21 am PST

Anyone can use any legal form of power generation and sell it into the power grid.

Robert DuBois
26th January, 2012 @ 10:21 am PST

Regarding: "Powering cars with fossil fuel based hydrogen is not sustainable, not renewable and not much cleaner than today's fuels."

True that fossil fuel based hydrogen generates emissions in the "production" of hydrogen, but that's where the pollution ends since the end use of hydrogen, in cars for example, is 100% clean!

This translates to a 50% reduction in emissions overall, and 50% is a VERY BIG step forward in carbon emission reduction.

furnortner
26th January, 2012 @ 12:32 pm PST

To make this big leap away from fossil fueled vehicles we need to settle on a similarly based fuel for all companies to develop cars or any other vehicles around. I believe Hydrogen will be the catalyst for electric cars because Hydrogen fuel cells can be producing electricty while the car uses it.

The only other question to answer with something like the Dearman angine ready in the next 2 years is that a Dearman engine is more efficient than Hydrogen as a energy converter (power torque needs etc taken into account as Dearman will lag and electric engines 100% from start).

Either of these solutions can be implemented with todays infrastructure with hot swapable bottles able to be placed at any service station where they are currently located.

Governments need to drive the end solution by setting place common sense (how we going to get that froma government??) plans for the immediate future of transport, particularly around traffic congestion and the only viable solution to that right now is what I term a Personal Transport vehicle, something like the Nissan Glide and similar cambersteer vehicle (4wheels please not 3!!), Motorcycles like the Quattro which will ease more people into motorcycle commuting.

Then you can address things like the CO2 emmission moving buses cabs and taxi trucks to Zero emissions in a 3 year project etc. All very acheivable if somebody buts their line in the sand and says tommorrow never comes and today we have to make our best decision.

Gavin Greaves
26th January, 2012 @ 05:14 pm PST

Nice to see some of these concepts getting off the ground.

@Gavin Greaves: I think I know what you are meaning, BUT hydrogen in these applications is hardly a catalyst, as a catalyst is defined as "A substance that causes or accelerates a chemical reaction without being affected (consumed) itself". In these reactions (fuel cell or ICE the hydrogen is being oxidised therefore changed/affected... sorry for nit picking, better use of words helps avoid confusion.

I hope you actually meant that Hydrogen technology is a catalyst for change from a Non Renewable Lifestyle to a renewable one.

(Forget the CO2 bizo, economics and non pollution is good enough, the climate will look after itself... at current rates the Worlds GDP isn't enough to offset Climate change if it is driven by CO2, if it is not driven by CO2 then the worlds GDP spent on the problem will only help to make certain individuals Much richer)

MD
26th January, 2012 @ 11:45 pm PST

erm the US has just spent over a trillion $ on securing Middle East gas for the next 10+ years, so the urgency for developing new fuels is low from a purely commercial point of view - that's the BIG problem.

However, there is clearly a very easy solution to all this fuel business - set up a massive solar farm on Moon Base 1, convert it into transportable Hydrogen pods, and ship it back to earth using a Space elevator. Im sure we could have built all that for less than a trillion $.......

JPAR
27th January, 2012 @ 01:05 am PST

@ about 0.20 the energy density of gasoline at 700 bar (!), I don't see it replacing transportation fuel anytime soon. Then again, an onboard catalytic converter, converting LNG, petroleum products to hydrogen may allow us to get around this.

As I suscribe to the K.I.S.S. principle whenever possible (Keep It Simple, Stupid), maybe just living closer to where we work would yield good benefit with just changes in zoning.

I'm all for reduced or even eliminating pollution, NOT using fuel would be the simplest, most effective cause for reduction.

Burnerjack
27th January, 2012 @ 08:36 am PST

This is great concept especially if we add the posibility of using the resulting clean water (coming out of the car exhaust) for human consumption in countries where clean water is not available. This way the savings will be huge.

Bassam
27th January, 2012 @ 12:10 pm PST

Hydrogen is notoriously hard to contain and has to be compressed to 10,000 psi in order to be useful at all. While it may be one option for immediately-used power generation and specific commercial applications, it is probably best thought of as an adjunct to ,but not a replacement for, gasoline and diesel.

Natural gas and liquid oxygen are probably the winning combo. The question is: who will fund the rolling test beds?

Mirmillion
27th January, 2012 @ 04:19 pm PST

I understand the artist rendering might not show the actual land usage needed for the production of Hydrogen, but thats a lot of land and capital investment. How is this any better then using the lets say off peak nighttime power production from Dams to make the gas?

Matthew Jacobs
27th January, 2012 @ 05:46 pm PST

we have 3 inputs of energy that we can use literally forever;

Solar

Nuclear

thermal from planet.

Fossil fuels where meant to be simple stop-gap measure that we have become addicted too, with consequences.

We need to develop the 3 sustainable inputs above, or face economic and climatic catastrophe caused by our addiction to fossil fuels.

Sure hydrogen energy density is low, but mix it with something else to increase its effective output? Store it with graphene (no leakage)? store it in a metal lattice at low pressure? accept that there is no equal to fossil, but deal with the problem so that it isnt a problem. Thats what humans do isn't it, adapt to survive?

There is literally nothing that gives as much bang for buck as oil, literally. But once its all gone or too expensive we will have to bite the bullet eventually anyway. We have been living a "high" energy life, but that was never sustainable as fossil fuels arnt.

Bag hydrogen all you want, but I think it is the perfect storage median which can be burnt or used in a fuel cell. we wouldn't have to change much in terms of infrastructure to use it.

cm
2nd February, 2012 @ 01:28 am PST

Cm

As you said

Bag hydrogen all you want, but I think it is the (perfect storage median)

.

As you said Energy is stored in Hydrogen not made. You have to put the energy in first from some other source .

Matthew Jacobs
4th February, 2012 @ 10:18 pm PST

I also think too many people just forget that we have more oil than we need for our lifetimes. The US is poised to once again become the source of Oil for the world. We have more Oil in our country than all of the Middle East and Venezuela combined.

Just in one deposit, it is estimated that we have 100's of Billions of barrels of oil and we have dozens of these deposit's just waiting for us to extract them.

Granted, we should learn to use other sources just for the sake of economics and being kind to our environment. But the fact remains, we do not just use oil for gas and diesel. We use it for everything from clothing, to electronics, to simple fuel sources, to toys, and tires, and the list of plastics and synthetics goes on and on. Each barrel of oil produces a magnitude of end uses.

This is an amazing discovery though that could more efficiently to a lot of good in third world countries and for treatment of waste-water, when combined with other technologies. We could solve the worlds water crises, by cleaning more water, in more countries and creating more usable water from desalinization. If that process can power itself efficiently awesome. The question is land mass and efficiency. Truly how efficient is it in producing the quantities needed for widespread commercial viability.

Justin Taylor
23rd March, 2013 @ 01:15 pm PDT
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