25 August 2004
Solar Hydrogen Not Far Away Say Aussie Boffins
by Kate Melville
Since the 1970's, science has made major advances in achieving one of the ultimate goals of science and technology - the design of materials required to split water using solar light. Now, Australian scientists say that harnessing the power of the sun to extract clean and almost unlimited energy supplies from water will be a reality within seven years. Using special titanium oxide ceramics that harvest sunlight and split water to produce hydrogen fuel, the researchers say it will then be a simple engineering exercise to make an energy-harvesting device with no moving parts and emitting no greenhouse gases or pollutants. The team's work will be presented this week in Sydney to delegates attending the International Conference on Materials for Hydrogen Energy at the University of New South Wales (UNSW).
"This is potentially huge, with a market the size of all the existing markets for coal, oil and gas combined," says Janusz Nowotny, who with Chris Sorrell, is leading a solar hydrogen research project at UNSW.
The team is thought to be well advanced in developing the cheap, light-sensitive materials that will be the basis of the technology. The UNSW team opted to use titania ceramic photoelectrodes because they have the right semiconducting properties and the highest resistance to water corrosion.
"Based on our research results, we know we are on the right track and with the right support we now estimate that we can deliver a new material within seven years," says Nowotny. Sorrell says Australia is ideally placed to take advantage of the enormous potential of this new technology: "We have abundant sunlight, huge reserves of titanium and we're close to the burgeoning energy markets of the Asia-Pacific region. But this technology could be used anywhere in the world. It's been the dream of many people for a long time to develop it and it's exciting to know that it is now within such close reach."