UI engineering researcher works with California company to manufacture pure hydrogen energy

A diagram of HyperSolar’s electrochemical device that converts water into hydrogen energy. (HyperSolar, Inc.)
Jenna Ladd | June 22, 2016

A University of Iowa chemical engineering professor is working closely with a California start-up to produce clean energy using only sunlight and water.

With College of Engineering Professor Syed Mubeen as head scientist, the University of Iowa has signed a second one-year research contract with HyperSolar. In tandem with Iowa researchers, HyperSolar is working to commercialize low-cost renewable energy using hydrogen.

Hydrogen is considered a green energy source because its byproduct is water rather than carbon emissions. However, pure hydrogen is hard to come by. There is only a tiny fraction of 1% of pure hydrogen floating around in Earth’s atmosphere, therefore it must be produced.

The majority of hydrogen is manufactured through a chemical process that converts fossil fuels into hydrogen. This practice produces climate-changing greenhouse gases. Hydrogen can also be produced in a more sustainable fashion called electrolysis, using extremely pure water and electricity. While this method does not emit greenhouse gases, the costs associated with it are very high.

Mubeen and the HyperSolar team have discovered a much more environmentally sound and low-cost means of hydrogen production. Mimicking plants during photosynthesis, their electrochemical device can convert any type of water into hydrogen with a little help from the sun. Here’s how it works: the device sits in any type of water (freshwater, sea water, wastewater, etc.), and when sunlight shines through and hits the device water is converted into pure hydrogen. The hydrogen is then stored in the device and available for use.

Mubeen is striving to drive costs for this energy source down even further so that is may be available globally. He explains, “Currently, we understand how clean energy systems such as solar cells, wind turbines, et cetera, work at a high level of sophistication. The real challenge going forward is to develop inexpensive clean energy systems that can be cost competitive to fossil fuel systems and be adopted globally and not just in the developed countries.”

For a more detailed description of this process, watch the video below.

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