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Scientists have just announced a new technology able to obtain hydrogen directly from untreated seawater.
Although electric cars currently have the upper hand in the transition to clean mobility, there are other increasingly popular options, especially un public transport, such as hydrogen. One of the main advantages of this new technology is its zero greenhouse gases emissions, as water is the sole byproduct of the combustion. Also, they can be refueled just as quickly as a conventional internal combustion engine. However, besides the complexity of setting up a network of hydrogen filling stations, one of the main issues with this technology is that the production of hydrogen is expensive and, frequently, polluting. In order to produce hydrogen, fossil fuels like natural gas can be used, through what is known as the Kvaerne process, or else by employing one of the most abundant elements in our planet—water. This is carried out through electrolysis, which decomposes water into oxygen and hydrogen. So far, fresh water was required. And, when choosing between drinking water and energy, the balance was tipped towards the former, as desalination is an extremely power-hungry process. But at Stanford University they believe they have found a solution.
The key lies in a new metallic coating for the electrodes that accomplishes the breakdown of the hydrogen. The coating is composed of a layer of iron-nickel over a nickel sulfide surface. The main obstacle for seawater electrolysis is that the electrodes tend to attract chloride, which corrodes the material. Not only does the new coating prevent corrosion, but it also allows to use ten times more electricity to speed up the process. The design is also energy efficient, which means that it can run on renewable electricity. In the experiment, this was a PV solar cell. In the past, other companies and bodies have tried to produce hydrogen from seawater. However, the tests carried out by the Moonshot Factory set up by Alphabet or the US Navy proved unsuccessful. This technological project is still in its early stages, but the scientists have already shown it to be a viable solution and believe it could herald a new age of hydrogen fuel cells.
We have already mentioned that the market penetration of hydrogen-based cars remains low, but it is not the only field ripe for transformation. While we recently covered the deployment of hydrogen-powered trains in the United Kingdom, there are several initiatives world over aiming to leverage this technology. From an airplane that combines hydrogen and electric power developed by a company in Singapore to a hydrogen-powered ferry to launched this year in San Francisco (USA).
One of the most advanced proposals would be the development of vessels that obtain hydrogen at sea as a source of energy, which would allow them to replace the highly polluting fuel currently in use. And, why not, diving equipment that could generate oxygen for the divers.