Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena have developed a new way to split water at low temperatures in order to create hydrogen and oxygen. While many scientists are working on ways to create hydrogen using solar panels or wind turbines, the Pasadena scientists are looking to create H2 gas using waste heat given off by large industrial plants, worldwide.
Caltech says about Professor Mark Davis, “Figuring out ways to decrease the operating temperatures is at the heart of Davis’s interest in this project … He speculates that there could be a day when water-splitting plants are able to run on the heat given off by a variety of manufacturing industries such as the steel- and aluminum-making industries and the petrochemicals industries, and by the more traditional power-generation industries.”
According to Professor Davis, “What we’re trying to ask is, ‘Where are the places around the world where people are just throwing away energy in the form of heat? The lower the temperature that we can use for driving these types of water-splitting processes the more we can make use of energy that people are currently just wasting.”
While other similar experiments are using high temperatures (over 1,000 degrees C) and a one or two cycle system, Caltech is using low temperatures (under 1,000 degrees C) and a 4-step process to create hydrogen.
According to Caltech, “The four-reaction cycle the team came up with begins with a manganese oxide and sodium carbonate, and is a completely closed system: the water that enters the system in the second step comes out completely converted into hydrogen and oxygen during each cycle. That’s important because it means that none of the hydrogen or oxygen is lost, and the cycle can run over and over, splitting water into the two gases.”
Of course this experiment will need to be scaled up and produced thousands of time in order to verify that it is viable. More work is yet to be done. But, if this is any indication of what the future holds, I’d say they are off to a roaring good start.
Imagine if all power plants, steel mills and other big industries that give off a lot of waste heat could one day sell the hydrogen (and oxygen) that they create from the that heat, or even use some of it to help power their own facilities, how much cleaner and greener this will make our world? These companies would have another revenue stream. They would cut down on their own power bills. And we would benefit from the excess hydrogen for our cars. It’s a win-win for everyone.