Floating solar cells to safely extract hydrogen fuel from seawater

Hydrogen fuel is one of the most promising alternatives to fossil fuels with virtually zero emissions of harmful combustion products. The problem is that hydrogen (H2) comes from a process known as "methane evaporation", which, alas, releases CO2, a major factor in global warming.

Daniel Esposito, assistant professor of chemical engineering at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Columbia University, together with his colleagues developed a technology for electrolysis of water (separation of hydrogen and oxygen O2) without the release of CO2. The pilot plant they created, called the "floating photovoltaic electrolyzer", will become a prototype of equipment for the production of hydrogen on an industrial scale. The industrial plant will be located on the open sea, outwardly resembling an offshore floating oil platform.

The device is a unique configuration of electrodes that separate and collect hydrogen and oxygen, taking into account the peculiarities of the buoyancy of their bubbles in water. The system does not require pumping of liquid inside the device, as a result of which it is possible to obtain pure 99% hydrogen.

The Esposito laboratory facility is not yet ready for testing in the marine environment. However, in the future, scientists intend to improve its design and make it more efficient and productive.

“There are many possible technological solutions in the field of energy of the future, although only in theory so far, ” explains Daniel Esposito. “Our challenge is to create scalable and cost-effective technologies that turn sunlight into usable energy that can be stored in the dark.”