Sometimes when you get stuck at an impasse in regard to technological progress it is worth taking a look into the past to see what had worked then. And this is just what John Turner of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is doing is regard to creating hydrogen from water and sunlight.
In 1998 Turner had then created breakthrough technology using sunlight and water to extract hydrogen gas at a record 12.4-percent efficiency. But because the price of gasoline was around $1 per gallon back then there wasn’t the political or commercial will to seek alternatives.
Now that gasoline prices are back up, however, there is a renewed interest in creating cheap hydrogen as an alternative fuel going forward. According to NREL, “Recent NREL analysis indicates a path to getting a gallium-arsenide-based solar cell down to about $2 per watt. Using that as the base for the Turner water-splitting device would produce hydrogen at about $3 per kilogram. That would make it fairly competitive with gasoline.”
And competing with the price of gasoline is not the only benefit as there are some green considerations in play, too. For instance right now, over 90-percent of the hydrogen produced in the U. S. is created by steam reformation of natural gas. In the process, some carbon is released.
Again, according to NREL, “The amount of greenhouse gases such a method can save is almost unfathomable. Consider that in the United States alone, 9 million tons of hydrogen are made each year, much of it in petroleum refineries and primarily via a process called steam reforming of natural gas.
“For each kilogram of hydrogen produced that way, about 12 kilograms of carbon dioxide are produced. A process that could replace all that natural gas reforming with the sun and water can save 100,000 trillion kilograms of carbon dioxide from reaching the atmosphere each year. Hydrogen produced from water and sunlight can replace natural gas reforming if it is made near the refinery and used in place of the hydrogen typically made from reforming.”
If the Turner Cell, as it is called, can be upgraded, updated and renewed with more modern technology and thought, then this old breakthrough technology may just have a chance in today’s world to drop jaws just like it did during its first go-around.