Artificial photosynthesis breakthrough promises low cost hydrogen automobiles

February 11, 2014 // By Paul Buckley
HyperSolar, Inc. is claiming that the company's artificial photosynthesis technology is now capable of producing 1.2 volt open circuit voltage for use in direct solar hydrogen production.

The achievement represents another 10% increase compared with the previous 1.1 volt reached late last year and marks a significant step towards truly renewable low cost hydrogen.

"We now see a path to production of hydrogen through immersion of low cost semiconductor materials in water," suggested Tim Young. "Our approach uses only one type of inexpensive semiconducting material and reduces manufacturing complexity. Use of low cost materials with an industrial scaleable process and may even make it a viable approach for fabricating low-cost photovoltaic modules for other applications beyond water splitting."

"With the recent announcements of Hyundai, Honda, Toyota and other major auto manufacturers to begin shipping hydrogen fuel cell cars next year, there will be increased demand in the near future for clean hydrogen," continued Young. "We believe our technology can address two serious drawbacks impeding major adoption of hydrogen automobiles: First, the lack of hydrogen production infrastructure near the point of distribution or the fueling stations is addressed by our solar hydrogen production process. Second, hydrogen is currently produced from a fossil fuel - natural gas - in a process that releases substantial amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere."

The theoretical voltage for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen is 1.23 volts, and approximately 1.5 volts in real-world systems. Achieving 1.5 volts using inexpensive solar cells has eluded the world. Silicon solar cells are the most inexpensive and abundant solution but they produce 0.7 volt open circuit voltage  which is not sufficient to split water. Commercially available high voltage solar cells are considered to be far too expensive for use in hydrogen production.

HyperSolar's research is centered on developing a low-cost and submersible hydrogen production particle that can split water molecules under the sun, emulating the core functions of photosynthesis. Each particle is a complete hydrogen generator that contains a novel high voltage solar cell bonded to chemical catalysts by a proprietary encapsulation coating.

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