Scientists at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, in Stockholm, Sweden, report that they have unlocked a major barrier to exploiting a renewable energy source through extracting pure hydrogen from water. Because the best-performing catalysts for electrochemical oxidation, or “water splitting”, are expensive precious metals, the research team led by KTH Professor Licheng Sun developed molecular catalysts for water oxidation with an efficiency approaching that of natural photosynthesis comprising common, abundant elements, all of which could help change the economics of large-scale hydrogen fuel production.
Meanwhile, Daniel Nocera, a professor of energy at Harvard University, and Pamela Silver, a professor of biochemistry and systems biology at Harvard Medical School, have co-created a system that uses solar energy to split water molecules and hydrogen-eating bacteria to produce liquid fuels. Their paper, whose lead authors include post-doctoral fellow Chong Liu and graduate student Brendan Colón, was recently published in Science.
“This is a true artificial photosynthesis system,” says Nocera. “Previously, people were using artificial photosynthesis for water-splitting, but this is a true A-to-Z system, and we’ve greatly exceeded the efficiency of photosynthesis in nature.”