Breakthrough Nanotechnology for Making Renewable Hydrogen from Sunlight
Hydrogen (H2) is the most abundant element and cleanest fuel in the universe. Unlike hydrocarbon fuels, such as oil, coal and natural gas, where carbon dioxide and other contaminants are released into the atmosphere when used, hydrogen fuel usage produces only pure water (H2O) as the byproduct. Unfortunately, pure hydrogen does not exist naturally on Earth and therefore must be manufactured. Historically, the cost of manufacturing hydrogen as an alternative fuel has been higher than the cost of the energy used to make it. This is the dilemma of the Hydrogen Economy, and one that HyperSolar aims to address.
For over a century, splitting water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen using electrolysis has been well known. Theoretically, this technology can be used to produce an unlimited amount of clean and renewable hydrogen fuel to power a carbon-free world. However, in practice, current commercial electrolysis technologies require (a) expensive electricity, and (b) highly purified water to prevent fouling of system components. We believe these are the major barriers to affordable production of renewable hydrogen.
The Perfect and Sustainable Energy Cycle
As it turns out, Mother Nature has been making hydrogen using sunlight since the beginning of time by splitting water molecules (H2O) into its basic elements - hydrogen and oxygen. This is exactly what plant leaves do every day using photosynthesis. Since the produced hydrogen is immediately consumed inside the plant, we can't simply grow trees to make hydrogen.
If technology can be developed to mimic photosynthesis to split water into hydrogen, then a truly sustainable, low cost, and renewable energy cycle can be created to power the Earth for millenniums. However, cost has been the biggest barrier to realizing this vision.
In the process of splitting a water molecule, input energy is transferred into the chemical bonds of the resulting hydrogen molecule. So in essence, manufactured hydrogen is simply a carrier or battery-like storage of the input energy. If the input energy is from fossil fuels, such as oil and gas, then dirty carbon fossil fuel energy is simply transferred into hydrogen. If the input energy is renewable such as solar and wind, then new and clean energy is stored in hydrogen.
While the concept of water splitting is very appealing, the following challenges must be addressed for renewable hydrogen to be commercially viable:
Energy Inefficiency — Since hydrogen is an energy carrier, the most energy it can store is 100% of the input energy. However, conventional systems approach to electrolysis lose so much of the input energy in system components, wires and electrodes that only a fraction the solar electricity actually makes it into the hydrogen molecules. This translates to high production cost and is the fundamental problem with water splitting for hydrogen production. HyperSolar is addressing this problem with its low cost and energy efficient technology.
Need for Clean Water —Conventional electrolysis requires highly purified clean water to prevent fouling of system components. This prevents current technology from using the large quantities of free water from oceans, rivers, industrial waste and municipal waste as feedstock. HyperSolar's technology is designed to use any natural water or waste water for the unlimited production of renewable hydrogen.
Electrolysis water-splitting in its simplest form is the transfer of "input electrons" in the following chemical reactions.
Cathode (reduction): 2 H2O + 2e- -> H2 + 2 OH-
Anode (oxidation): 4 OH- -> O2 + 2 H2O + 4 e-
From these equations it is easy to see that if every input electron (e-) is put to work and not lost, then a maximum amount of input electrons (i.e. energy) is transferred and stored in the hydrogen molecules (H2). Additionally, if there were a very high number of cathode and anode reaction areas within a given volume of water, then a very high number of these reactions could happen simultaneously throughout the medium to split every single water molecule into hydrogen wherever electrons are available.
To address this fundamental electron transfer efficiency problem, HyperSolar is developing a novel nanoparticle to maximally ensure that every single electron is put to work in splitting a water molecule. Our nanoparticle has two very important features:
Self-contained Photoelectrochemical Nanosystem — Our low cost nano-size particle technology is designed to mimic photosynthesis and contains a solar absorber that generates electrons from sunlight, as well as integrated cathode and anode areas to readily split water and transfer those electrons to the molecular bonds of hydrogen. Unlike solar panels or wind turbines that produce a sizeable number of electrons that will be lost before reaching the hydrogen bonds, our nanoparticles are optimized at the nano-level to ensure maximal electron generation and utilization efficiency. Consequently, our nanoparticle technology uses substantially fewer photovoltaic elements, an expensive material, than conventional solar panels to achieve the same system level efficiency. Thereby significantly lowering the system cost of what is essentially an electrolysis process.
Protective Coating — The biggest problem with submerging photovoltaic elements in water for direct electrolysis is corrosion and short circuiting. To address this problem, we have developed a protective coating that encapsulates key elements of the nanoparticle to allow it to function for a long periods of time in a wide range of water conditions without corrosion. This allows the nanoparticles to be submerged or dissolved into virtually any source of water, such as sea water, runoff water, river water, or waste water, instead of purified distilled water.
By managing the science of electrolysis at the nano-level, we believe that our nanoparticle technology can deliver unmatched cost reductions to enable the commercial production of renewable hydrogen from any sources of water, with sunlight as the only source of energy.
Our nanoparticle technology is a next generation solution. However, during the process of developing this technology, we have achieved a number of discrete technology breakthroughs that have allowed us to develop a commercial solution for today's renewable hydrogen market (see HyperSolar H2Generator).