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Biofuels "Electron shell diagram for Hydrogen, the 1st element in the periodic table of elements."

Published on May 31st, 2011 | by Glenn Meyers

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More Advances in Producing Inexpensive Hydrogen



"Electron shell diagram for Hydrogen, the 1st element in the periodic table of elements."

There is now more good news out on producing hydrogen, the clean-burning fuel that leaves behind water as an emission.

An international scientific team has announced that it can create hydrogen using ambient temperatures and pressure through a combination of sunlight and ethanol. This news has been reported in Nature Chemistry.

The research team hails from Spain’s Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Scotland’s University of Aberdeen, and New Zealand’s University of Auckland. The team’s research concludes that this method for producing hydrogen is potentially cheaper and can produce a higher yield.

The news is important because standard hydrogen production today requires high temperatures and pressure, thus demanding a considerable amount of energy, which is generally obtained from fossil fuels. The net result: while hydrogen is very appealing because it is a clean fuel, producing it has traditionally been too costly to have appeal in the marketplace and actually relies on dirty energy.

Jordi Llorca, director of the Institute of Energy Technology and researcher at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya’s Nanoengineering Research Centre, is one of the authors of the study, which represents a major step towards using hydrogen as an alternative to fossil fuels. In the framework of the research, a fully scalable powder photocatalyst was created that makes the hydrogen production process simpler and cheaper as it takes place at ambient temperature and pressure.

As reported by Science News, the process that was reported uses a powdered photo catalyst and ethanol in a container. The mixture is agitated and exposed to ultraviolet light from the sun. A titanium dioxide semiconductor within the container generates electrons when exposed to the light, and those electrons are captured by metallic gold nanoparticles in the catalyst. Those captured electrons proceed to react with the ethanol’s alcohol molecules and produce hydrogen.

The researchers say they have been able to produce up to five liters of hydrogen per kilogram of catalyst (1.32 U.S. gallons per 2.2 pounds) within in one minute. Because no high temperatures or pressures are required, the system uses less energy than conventional methods.

This is not the first time that sunlight has been used to generate hydrogen, writes gizmag, which reported in February on another discovery at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

The team reports it is now looking at designing reactors that can generate hydrogen to produce electricity for homes.

Image & Caption Credit: Wikimedia user Pumbaa (original work by Greg Robson)

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About the Author

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers is editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributor to CleanTechnica, and founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.



  • Anonymous

    What am I missing here?

    You start with ethanol and use a lot of energy and equipment to turn it into (harder to store and distribute) hydrogen.  Why wouldn’t you just use the ethanol in a fuel cell without all the other costs?  Is the carbon in the ethanol somehow captured and sequestered?

    Then, were do we get cheap ethanol?  Not from corn….

    • Anonymous

      Good point.  How about photochemistry to produce ethanol from water vapor and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?  Then just burn the ethanol.

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