There is an intriguing article in Physorg that talks about how researchers at the University of Salerno, Italy have revisited a hydrogen producing device developed by G. D. Botto in 1833. This was not long after Francois Isaac de Rivaz of Switzerland developed the first internal combustion engine to run on hydrogen in 1807.
The Botto device basically consisted of a chain of platinum and iron wires wrapped around a stick. Heat from an alcohol burner was applied to one side and the disparity in temperatures caused an electrical charge. This electrical charge was then used to electrolyze water to produce hydrogen.
The Salerno scientists believe also that they can improve upon this design. Instead of using expensive platinum and iron wires for instance they will use thermoelectric semiconductors. And, instead of using an alcohol burner for heat, they intend to use a couple of parabolic solar collectors plus water in a hollow core to cool the system.
According to Salerno scientist Roberto De Luca, “We think that this idea can be used in the production of hydrogen gas directly from solar energy, through electrolysis. However, nowadays, one would not use thermocouples, as in Botto’s experiment, but could, more efficiently, use thermoelectric semiconductors to obtain a much higher power output. The important point in this work is also that, while there has always been solid scientific ground for these ideas, there has also been a lot of resilience in their applications.”
The past is always present, someone once said. And, it’s good to know that many modern day scientists are revisiting the past for clues for efficient future hydrogen production.