Stanford Researchers Use Seawater to Make Hydrogen Fuel

As the world continues to embrace alternative energy, hydrogen fuel from water has been one of the options looked at. A team from Stanford University has developed a way to create this energy from seawater using solar power. Their current prototype could reveal tremendous opportunities in energy generation from non-fossil fuel sources.

Harnessing Seawater for Energy

Hydrogen is a great alternative source of energy for cars and other uses. When it burns, the only by-product is water, and this is a huge benefit in the push to lower pollution and excess carbon dioxide. The electrolysis process of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity has been around for a very long time, but until now there were some major obstacles to doing it on a large scale.


The major challenge with traditional water electrolysis is that it requires purified water. This is already a precious resource, and using this can only drive up the cost of hydrogen production. The research team has been working with saltwater from the San Francisco Bay. Their findings are published in a recent edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As pointed out by the researchers, water is already scarce in a place like California, so it is not practical to use huge volumes of purified water to create energy. Most of the Earth’s water is in the oceans as salt water. If this can be used to produce hydrogen fuel, this could be a very cost-effective alternative.

Purified water is preferred over seawater in conventional electrolysis because of the corrosion that takes place. The metal electrodes are completely corroded because of all the high volume of chlorine in seawater. Co-senior author of the paper and Stanford University professor in chemistry, Hongjie Dai, and his team have come up with a lab prototype that solves this challenge. This uses heavy nickel compound coatings on one of the electrodes.


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