An international team of researchers, let by Monash University, has found an efficient and possibly cheaper way to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Coming up with an easy way to produce hydrogen has long been a goal of scientists as it would make it easier and cheaper to use hydrogen as fuel. Currently, most hydrogen is produced using natural gas.
The team had been working with complex catalysts in an attempt to mimic the way plants split water using sunlight and photosynthesis. And it now seems like they’ve come up with a better process. They’ve developed a cell that uses a manganese based catalyst – when a small electrical voltage is applied to the cell the manganese catalyst converts over to birnessite, which is what actually performs the separation of the water into hydrogen and oxygen. Sunlight then converts the birnessite back to manganese. Never heard of birnessite? Me neither, but apparently it’s very well known to geologists – they call it that “black stain you see on lots of rocks.”
While this is all still in the early research phase, discoveries like this could make the dream of a clean hydrogen economy finally come true.