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Clean Transport Image Credit: Charcoal via Flickr CC

Published on August 31st, 2013 | by James Ayre

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Inexpensive Hydrogen Fuel From Water — Producing Hydrogen With Charcoal Powder And Lasers



Originally published on sister site Green Building Elements.

A new, relatively inexpensive means of producing hydrogen fuel from water — relying on charcoal powder and lasers — has now been created by researchers. The new method owes its relative affordability to the cheaper materials involved — charcoal and carbon powder rather than expensive catalysts or high-power electric currents.

As of now, though, the technique is only proven on very small scales — until the method is modified to produce larger quantities of hydrogen, applications will be limited.

water fuel cell

Image Credit: Charcoal via Flickr CC


The press release provides more details:

Ikuko Akimoto and colleagues point out that traditional approaches to breaking down water, which consists of hydrogen and oxygen, involve use of expensive catalysts or electric current passed through water. Since economical production of hydrogen from water could foster a transition from coal, oil and other fossil fuels, scientists have been searching for less expensive catalysts. Those materials speed up chemical reactions that otherwise would not work effectively. Based on hints from research decades ago, the scientists decided to check out the ability of carbon powder and charcoal powder, which are inexpensive and readily available, to help split hydrogen gas from oxygen in water.

Akimoto’s team tested carbon and charcoal powders by adding them to water and beaming a laser in nanosecond pulses at the mixtures. The experiment generated hydrogen at room temperature without the need for costly catalysts or electrodes. Its success provides an alternative, inexpensive method for producing small amounts of hydrogen from water.

The new research was just published in ACS’ Journal of Physical Chemistry C.

The researchers acknowledge that they received funding from the Original Research Support Project of Wakayama University.

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About the Author

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.



  • Kiwiiano

    I’m curious as to how much CO2 is generated by the process? Is the carbon/charcoal purely catalyst or part of the reaction? What’s the EROEI?

  • Brian Setzler

    Don’t get too excited. Press releases are notoriously poor representations of the actual research. In reality, the researchers discovered a way to generate hydrogen from charcoal (it’s a reagent, not a catalyst) at <1% efficiency using a high power laser. This research has nothing to do with producing cheap hydrogen on a massive scale or reducing CO2 emissions, despite how the press release tries to sell it.

  • Aegys87

    This could be a potential game-changer, however there’s still plenty of challenges and questions ahead…

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