It is common knowledge that an alternative to fossil fuels must be found. The search is on for a clean energy source and it looks like hydrogen could be the answer. However most of the hydrogen we use today comes from fossil fuels. It is the production method of the hydrogen that is the deciding factor as to whether the fuel is environmentally friendly or not. A European project has now developed a way to produce hydrogen from some of the greenest raw materials available: water and sunlight.
Anthanasios Konstandopoulos (Director of the APT Lab, CPERI) is the head of the European project Hydrosol. The goal of the project is to produce hydrogen from exclusively renewable resources. Dr. Konstandopoulos is an expert in catalytic converters for car engines and has used his knowledge of this technology to produce hydrogen using a green method.
Hydrogen is the most abundant element on the Earth. The problem is that hydrogen is a very reactive atom, so it is hard to find as a free element. The most appropriate source of hydrogen is water. However the water molecule is one of the most stable molecule structures. It is therefore very difficult to break it up into hydrogen and oxygen.
These technical challenges have already been overcome. The hydrosol device was developed in Greece together with partners in Britain, Denmark and Germany. It uses the thermal content of solar energy to split the water molecule. The solar reactor is a ceramic body with many channels coated with a nano-material, through which water vapour flows. A set of mirrors is used to concentrate the solar energy, increasing the temperature in the reactor. With an efficiency of about 70%, the water vapour is converted into hydrogen. It is a wonderfully simple setup, a reactor with no moving parts.
The isolated hydrogen gas is then of great value to the automobile industry, but can also be used for many other devices (for example fuel cells, PCs, or as a battery). In the BMW Hydrogen 7 automobile the hydrogen is burnt in a modified internal combustion engine. The driver can switch between the petrol tank and the hydrogen tank. The required infrastructure to support the use of hydrogen as a fuel is gradually being developed. In Berlin, Germany, there are two hydrogen filling stations open to the public.
Hydrogen has a high potential to help us with the problem of global warming. The aim for this application of hydrogen is to replace carbon-based fuels, fossil fuels. If this can be achieved, the advantages will be clear: when driving a fuel cell car the only substance to come out of the exhaust pipe is water.