Scientists have found a new way to create hydrogen fuel using seawater, which could open up a new array of exciting possibilities in energy production.

Researchers at Stanford University revealed they were able to generate the fuel using solar power, electrodes, and saltwater that they took right from San Francisco Bay. While other methods rely on using purified water, the ability to generate hydrogen fuel from seawater offers far more potential, considering the vastness of the resource.

The researchers published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal. The article, titled “Solar-driven, highly sustained splitting of seawater into hydrogen and oxygen fuels,” shows how researchers made their breakthrough.

In most cases, the salt in seawater would quickly corrode the anode necessary to perform such a task. But the scientists used negatively-charged layers on the anode to repel chloride and develop relatively high corrosion resistance. They found the electrolyzer can “operate at low voltages and high currents and last for more than 1,000 hours.”

Researcher and chemistry professor Hongjie Dai told Stanford News Service the design is relatively simple. “If we had a crystal ball three years ago, it would have been done in a month,” he said.

The method offers great potential in creating more hydrogen fuel from renewable sources like solar and wind power. Dai’s showed proof-of-concept with a demo, “but the researchers will leave it up to manufacturers to scale and mass produce the design.”

Green Hydrogen Potential

This finding follows another recent hydrogen breakthrough from Belgian scientists, who presented a way to develop hydrogen gas from air moisture. That method involves a special solar panel that’s able to use sunlight to directly turn air into hydrogen gas. The scientists are preparing a field prototype of their special panels to be used on a house.

These are two new ways of developing hydrogen from renewable sources. Though both methods are in their early stages, they offer plenty of promise.

A recent study concluded that green hydrogen will become economically competitive with natural gas production by 2035. But these breakthroughs may lead to a better, more direct path. If these methods show any ability to be successfully developed on a larger scale, that timeline may even be conservative.

Electrek’s Take

Currently, hydrogen isn’t the best way to power cars and trucks – it is just way too inefficient. Most studies put it at at least 3 times more energy required than battery powered vehicles. So battery power is the main way we should be powering vehicles. But these sorts of breakthroughs may offer previously unseen applications in the future, possibly through quick refueling, or perhaps as a specialty fuel for long-distance driving.

Also, for applications like long haul airplanes or shipping, hydrogen might be the only answer in the next decade.

Hydrogen may have required scientific breakthroughs to stay relevant — but it just might be getting them.


Subscribe to Electrek on YouTube for exclusive videos and subscribe to the podcast.

About the Author