1 August 2008

Turning water into rocket fuel

How to turn water into rocket fuel - scientists unlock power of the sun

The Independent (London), August 1, 2008 - Scientists have devised a cheap and simple method of turning water into rocket fuel using solar power in a development that could generate a new source of green energy for the home and workplace.

The researchers used electricity from solar panels to split water into oxygen and hydrogen - the constituents of rocket fuel - with a technology that scientists believe could solve many of the problems that have hampered the development of solar energy.

With the help of a simple and yet highly efficient "chemistry set" made out of commonly available materials, the scientists have found a way of storing solar energy as a chemical fuel that can be used to power pollution-free electricity generators known as hydrogen fuel cells.

The technique of using sunlight to split water lies at the basis of photosynthesis, the way plants convert the energy of sunlight into a chemical store that can be used for growth, but emulating the biological process has not been easy. Existing methods of splitting water using electrolysis are used in industry but are not suited for artificial photosynthesis as they are expensive and cumbersome to use on the sort of small scales needed for homes and offices.

Within a decade, Dr Nocera predicts that people will be powering their homes in the daytime from photovoltaic solar panels, and using the spare energy to generate that hydrogen that will power fuel cells at night with little or no pollution. "This is just the beginning. The scientific community is really going to run with this," Dr Nocera said.

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