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August 28, 2006
Volume 84, Number 35
p. 14

Splitting Water

Renewable Hydrogen

Jeff Johnson

Research on hydrogen production, storage, and use in fuel cells is an area of longtime importance to chemists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The Administration proposes spending $14 million in fiscal 2007 for hydrogen research at the lab, a boost of $5 million from last year.

Jack Dempsey/NREL

Direct From Water Turner uses photovoltaic-generated electricity to separate hydrogen from water. His research goal is to produce hydrogen directly with photovoltaic cells without electrolyzers.

NREL research, however, is but a small fraction of the "hydrogen fuel initiative" for which the President proposes spending $289 million in 2007 and will spread funds throughout DOE. The Administration's R&D focus is on producing hydrogen for vehicle fuels to ease reliance on imported oil, and the President has earmarked some $1.2 billion for a multiyear hydrogen research program.

"Vehicles are the home run," says John A. Turner, a principal scientist at the lab. Costs of hydrogen production and storage as well as costs of fuel cells could plummet with success in that huge market, he says. However, hydrogen storage and fuel cells in transportation applications-with hydrogen stations spread throughout the country filling vehicles—carry significant technological and safety challenges.

Turner's interest is in direct splitting of water molecules, producing hydrogen directly from water with sunlight. Turner wants to use natural systems to produce power, and his system uses the sun and photovoltaic technology to generate the voltage necessary to split water directly without an electrolyzer.

Overall, the renewable lab's research is directed at developing sustainable, renewable energy sources to release hydrogen—for example, by using wind and other renewable energy to power an electrolyzer, using photosynthetic microbes to split hydrogen from oxygen in water, or gasifying biomass to generate hydrogen.

The lab also operates one of the three DOE research centers exploring technologies to store hydrogen. NREL's center is examining carbon-based hydrogen storage with engineered nanostructures such as carbon single-wall and multiwall nanotubes that have the ability to store significant amounts of hydrogen at room temperature.

The lab also has programs analyzing fuel-cell systems and components.

COVER STORY

Power Surge For Lab

Energy crisis and presidential initiative bring new visibility to decades of research at 30-year-old National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Splitting Water

Renewable Hydrogen

Beyond Corn

Biomass To Bioenergy

Solar Power

Hunting for 'Disruptive Technologies'

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2010 American Chemical Society

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