Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Uni NSW research harnesses sea, sun for hydrogen fuel.

University of NSW researchers have been working on a revolutionary technology that uses sunlight to split sea water into hydrogen fuel, and water. It could be developed within a decade, and take another five years to be commercialised. But this is how long nuclear plants take to be built, and hydrogen fuel has two advantages - it's unlimited when sourced from seawater, and 100% clean, with water as the only by-product. It is yet-to-be-developed, but then so is the so-called 'clean-coal' saviour technology that the Howard government is pinning all our futures on.

Best of all it decentralises energy production. :::[SMH]

Leigh Sheppard, of the University of NSW, estimated that 1.6 million of the solar devices, installed on rooftops, would be able to produce enough hydrogen gas to supply Australia's entire energy needs.

He believes, "It is the cleanest, greenest energy option for a sustainable economy.".

Its technique relies on using a light sensitive material, titanium dioxide, to harness the power of the sun to split water into oxygen and hydrogen gas. "The process has the additional advantage that it works best in sea water," Dr Sheppard said.

Australia was rich in titanium, and had abundant sunshine. "And we are surrounded by ocean."

It might also be possible to use artesian water, or pump sea water inland, to a large array of solar panels which could produce hydrogen for local use and even for export.

An area covering 40 square kilometres would meet the country's energy needs.

The process is safe because it mimics nature.

The small UNSW team, led by Professor Janusz Nowotny, is a world leader in using titanium dioxide as a catalyst to split water. The researchers have developed instruments which can measure the electrical properties of the material so they can improve its performance by altering its oxygen content or adding impurities.

A visiting German solar expert, Helmut Tributsch, of the Free University in Berlin, said research was urgently needed into ways to covert the sun's power into usable energy, such ashydrogen fuel and photovoltaic electricity. Professor Tributsch said water splitting was a process nature used to harness the sun's energy. "We should really follow the example of nature. It is the only safe way to handle our environment in the long term."

Hydrogen was a clean and efficient fuel for powering everything from vehicles to furnaces and air conditioning. "When you burn it, it gives water, so there is no pollution of the environment," he said.

Professor Tributsch will give a public lecture on solar energy at the university on Monday night.

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