Researchers create a method to make hydrogen from seawater using solar power

Researchers from Stanford University have announced they have created a new way to make hydrogen from ocean water. The scientists have demonstrated a new way to separate hydrogen and oxygen gas from seawater using electricity. The team notes that existing water-splitting methods require highly purified water.

In California, water is scarce with the state being in a drought and having barely enough water for critical needs like drinking and cooking. The team says that it's not conceivable to use purified water. Hydrogen is appealing as a fuel source for cars and other needs because it produces no carbon dioxide when burned, it only produces water.

Researchers created a proof-of-concept demo and are leaving it up to manufacturers to scale the system to mass production. The concept uses electrolysis, a process for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen gas. The hydrogen comes out at the negative end with the oxygen on the positive end. While seawater is plentiful in California, the negatively charged chloride in seawater corrodes the positive end and limits the life of the system.

Stanford's researchers have devised a way to stop seawater from breaking the positive end down as quickly. The new system coats the anode with layers rich in negative charges, which repels chloride and slows the decay of the metal. The layers are of a nickel-iron hydroxide on top of nickel sulfide, covering a nickel foam core.

The foam acts as a conductor to transport electricity from the power source. The nickel-iron hydroxide sparks electrolysis to separate oxygen and hydrogen. Without the coating the node is good for only 12 hours in seawater, with the coating, it lasts over a thousand hours. The Stanford system also generates 10-times more electricity than similar devices.