KU Leuven scientists crack the code for affordable, eco-friendly hydrogen gas

27/02/2019

Bioscience engineers at KU Leuven have created a solar panel that produces hydrogen gas from moisture in the air. After ten years of development, the panel can now produce 250 litres per day – a world record, according to the researchers. Twenty of these solar panels could provide electricity and heat for one family for an entire year.

A team of researchers at the University of Leuven has reported a breakthrough in the creation of green energy from hydrogen.

Hydrogen energy is a sort of Holy Grail for energy researchers. As a source of energy, it is not only clean – involving no production of noxious substances or greenhouse gases – but also endlessly renewable. The problem until now has been to find a way to harness the energy available in workable volumes and at a cost that is not prohibitive.

The Leuven researchers have been working for the last ten years on a solar panel which produces energy drawn from the hydrogen contained in water vapour in the air. They are now claiming to have produced a record volume of 250 litres a day.  An average household would need 20 such panels to provide itself with electricity and heating for an entire year.

The team led by Professor Johan Martens from the Centre for Surface Chemistry and Catalysis, part of the bio-engineering faculty of KU Leuven, is now at the stage of beginning a field project. The panel looks like an ordinary solar panel, to which the team have attached a flask of water, VRT reports so that the hydrogen bubbles can be seen.

“This is, in fact, a unique combination of physics and chemistry,” Prof Martens explained to the VRT, who were allowed to see the panel in action. “In the beginning, we had a yield of 0.1%, and really had to search for the hydrogen molecules. Nowadays you can see them bubbling up to the top. That's the result of ten years of work, constant improvement, looking for solutions. That's how you finally achieve something that works.”

Even before the KU Leuven breakthrough, Belgium was a world player in hydrogen energy, boasting the world's largest H2 network made of 600km of underground piping. The drawback at present, however, is that the hydrogen in question is produced by the cracking of hydrocarbon molecules derived from fossil fuels. The area around the Port of Antwerp is a European centre, from where the “grey” hydrogen is circulated and shared with industries in Belgium, France and the Netherlands.

If Prof. Martens and his team succeed in making H2 production feasible on a large scale, Belgium will be able to produce clean energy from a clean source. “If this really works, then our demand for energy will be for the most part satisfied,” commented Johan Danen of Groen.


Source: The Brussels Times, KU Leuven
Picture: © Tom Bosserez