Perhaps among all clean energy alternatives, nothing can be as clean as hydrogen. Burning hydrogen in fuel cells produces only water as a byproduct. In that sense, it's also truly renewable.
Yet, manufacturing hydrogen fuel cells on a larger scale hasn't been that easy, primarily because fuel cells require rather complex and, until recently, expensive materials.
A team of researchers working at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, together with scientists from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), have discovered an alternative way of producing hydrogen as fuel.
The key is to produce hydrogen from water using a combination of sunlight and photosensitive lipids. Their work was published in the journal ACS Nano.
This new research offers a potentially more efficient and cost-effective way of producing hydrogen fuel. Accordingly, it's possible to get hydrogen from water through solar power, using special compounds like titanium dioxide to act as photocatalysts.
The US and Russian team of researchers inserted a photosensitive protein into nanodiscs - made from circular fragments of cell membrane composed of a lipid bilayer - to mimic a natural cell membrane called bacteriorhodopsin.
To induce photocatalysis, they dissolved the nanodiscs into water together with titanium dioxide. They also added platinum into the mix, to make the reaction more effective.
Their setups involved green and white light, with the latter producing 74 times more hydrogen. In both cases, however, hydrogen emission was maintained at an almost constant rate for some two to three hours.
"Our laboratories working with membrane proteins, in particular with nanodiscs, are mostly focused on biophysical and medical issues," MIPT's Vladimir Chupin, whose work is usually in anti-aging research, said in a press release.
"However, the recent joint study with our US colleagues shows that by bringing together biological and technical materials, nanodiscs can be used to obtain hydrogen fuel."