Chemical engineers from China have constructed a unique mechanical instrument that splits seawater and isolates pure hydrogen.
Typical hydrogen production methods utilise fossil fuels, emitting significant amounts of greenhouse gases during the process.
Hydrogen fuel can be produced from renewable resources, like seawater, and once isolated in its natural state, is one of the greenest energy sources available.
Vehicles powered by hydrogen cells emit nothing but water and warm air. Unlike coal and oil, hydrogen is abundant and will never suffer scarcity issues.
It is an incredibly efficient power source, with an economy equivalent to about twice that of gasoline and other petroleum-based fuels.
Traditional means of capturing the element in its base state are, however, far more expensive than alternative renewable energies and often require high inputs of coal or liquid natural gas (LNP) to produce.
Developed by researchers representing China’s Nanjing Tech University, the device is a membrane-based electrolyser that is reported to be far more resistant to corrosion and side reactions (unwanted chemical reactions that occur during hydrogen production, resulting in unwanted by-products.)
According to lead scientist, Zongping Shao, the electrolyser endured a rigorous 3 200 hours of “practical application” and did not experience any failures.
His creation was efficient enough to be produced at scale, with operation costs remaining on par with freshwater equivalents, said Shao, whose research paper was published in the blue ribbon science journal Nature.
Shao’s method of electrolysis utilises a pair of electrodes treated in a chemical bath of concentrated potassium hydroxide.
The treatment process protects the electrodes from corrosion that occurs from oxidation and chlorine gas exposure.
The probes are coated in a fluorine-infused membrane that filters water fluids and vapours, allowing only the latter to move freely within the system.
During the electrolysis process, seawater within the potassium hydroxide solution is split into its original components – a mixture of mostly water, made up of hydrogen and oxygen (96.5%) and several other elements that give water its salinity, including chlorine, sodium and magnesium.
The chemical transformation results in a pressure disparity between the electrolyte solution and the seawater, facilitating the evaporation of water gases.
Shao and his colleagues are reportedly confident that the treatment system is capable of filtering out and recovering other valuable elements like lithium, which has a number of industrial applications, such as battery manufacturing, medicine, and ceramics.
His creation could find other uses beyond hydrogen production, such as cleaning industrial freshwater used for cooling, transportation, fabrication and processing, said Shao.