Raise a toast for clean energy with a sparkling glass of water. A research team at the University of Houston, led by assistant professor Jiming Bao, has discovered a new way to split liquid water into its base elemental components of oxygen and hydrogen using little more than light and a few nanoparticles.
The nanoparticles are made up of cobalt oxide and function as a photocatalyst that splits the water when exposed to light. A photocatalyst is a substance that provides the initial spark for a chemical reaction to take place, but only after it receives the correct wavelength of light particles. The researchers used several different light sources to test the reaction, ranging everywhere from short-burst laser beams to regular white light. Bao expects the reaction to occur even in regular sunlight.
Once the light and nanoparticles start, the reaction occurs almost instantaneously. What's even more astounding is that the hydrogen and oxygen rates are even produced at the expected 2:1 ratio of hydrogen to oxygen, since each water molecule has two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.
Experiments to split water are hardly new and have been going on since the 1970s, but these efforts have been largely inefficient and required complicated machinery, as opposed to simple nanoparticles and natural light. In contrast, the implications for the future of this technology are enormous. Hydrogen can be used for exotic purposes like rocket fuel and even fusion power. Such a process is doubly useful in the future of space travel, since a byproduct of the chemical reaction is breathable oxygen.
One of the only downsides of this finding is the fact that there is only about a five percent conversion rate. That means that of any given amount of water, the cobalt oxide and sunlight trick will only convert five percent of the water into the respective gasses. Still, this is an excellent start, and the future of nanotechnology will only increase the efficiency at which fuel and energy is reclaimed from water.
Edited by Cassandra Tucker