With many auto manufacturers jumping on the fuel cell bandwagon, the question naturally arises: where is all this hydrogen going to come from? And the answer, according to the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), is rust and sunshine.
What researchers at the Laboratory of Photonics and Interfaces at EPFL claim is that they have made a giant stride in the quest for photoelectrochemical cells (PECs).
The potential importance of PECs is that they split water into hydrogen and oxygen simply using direct solar energy. Imagine the advantages: no need to provide electricity or ultra-high temperatures to produce the valuable gas. The EPFL solution, showcased last week in Nature Materials, is based on an iron oxide electrode.
Working with Technion, the team has managed to accurately characterise the rust nanostructures needed in order to produce hydrogen at the lowest possible cost, using electron microscopy. A prototype cell is up and running and the eventual goal is to produce hydrogen gas at €5 a kilo, one third of the current cost from electrolysis.