Water-Splitting Device May Allow for Round-Trip Space Travel
Many scientists envision a future in which hydrogen replaces oil as our primary fuel. In addition to the benefits for the environmental movement, an efficient method for creating hydrogen fuel could allow us to re-fuel space ships while on foreign planets for the trip back to Earth. Scientists from the University of Glasgow have built a device that can sustainably produce pure hydrogen by splitting water molecules, and could therefore allow for round-trip space travel.
We already have the means to use hydrogen as fuel that can power everything from cars to buildings using fuel cells, but thus far we haven't discovered a means for efficiently and sustainably producing the hydrogen gas that is input into these fuel cells. Previous methods have all required a great deal of electricity, with renewable sources such as wind or sunlight proving insufficient. Artificial leaves have been bandied about as resources for splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen, but unfortunately they are not efficient enough to keep the two gases apart. "All they do is build up oxygen and hydrogen until they explode," said study leader Lee Cronin.
Cronin and his colleagues attempted to circumvent this obstacle towards sustainable production of hydrogen by building a device that can split water using only one blast of electrical power, which means that the low energy capacity of renewable resources would suffice. The device releases the oxygen from water molecules with a burst of electricity, and then uses a chemical medium to store the protons and electrons of the hydrogen in order to keep the gases separate. Then, when the hydrogen gas is needed, exposure to a platinum catalyst recombines the protons and electrons to form the gas. This device could not only open new opportunities in space travel, but also change the face of the field of sustainable energy, and be used to generate power in developing countries.
Via New Scientist