A team of scientists at Stanford has discovered a way to make hydrogen fuel from saltwater. The discovery could open the world’s oceans as a potential source of energy. Researchers see electrolysis, or the act of dividing water into hydrogen and gas, as a promising new source of renewable energy. But it comes with many obstacles; One of the main ones is that only purified water can be used in electrolysis. Seawater tends to corrode water separation systems.
Unfortunately, purified water is in itself a scarce resource. That’s why Stanford chemistry professor, Hongjie Dai, and his team looked for a way to prevent salt water from breaking down the devices used to divide the water. “We barely have enough water for our current needs in California,” Dai said in a press release.
The Stanford team placed a layer of nickel-iron hydroxide and nickel sulphide over a core of nickel foam, essentially creating a barrier that would slow the decomposition of the underlying metal. By acting as a conductor, the nickel foam carries energy from the energy source and the nickel-iron hydroxide causes electrolysis. What happens without the nickel coating? The water separation device lasts approximately 12 hours, unable to withstand the corrosion of seawater. But with the nickel layer, the device can continue to operate for more than a thousand hours.
We are still far from taking advantage of ocean water as a new source of renewable energy. The new discovery has not been attempted outside of the Stanford research laboratories. But scientists hope they pave the way for greater use of hydrogen fuel.
Source: Stanford University