Well, if we are going to have a Photosynthesis The Key To The Hydrogen Future, it’s either going to be based on fossil fuel in the form of a fuel cell reformer – the part of fuel cell that takes whatever you feed it and strips out the hydrogen- or it going to be based on some other way of generating hydrogen. The oil companies are of course hoping for a fossil fuel-based system, but the plant folk is made great progress on figure out how to split water into its two components via artificial photosynthesis.
The German researchers from Research Centre Jülich working with researchers from Emory University have managed to create an inorganic, Ruthenium – rare earth, transition metal- the catalyst which is the first piece needed for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen without being destroyed in the process. (Organic “catalysts” work, but are destroyed in the process- some catalyst, huh – they are renewed by being regrown)
Now, they haven’t exactly used sunlight to make the system work yet, claims the “very important paper’, but they have synthesized the inorganic catalyst part.
There are two takeaways from this announcement. First, since this catalyst is inorganic, it doesn’t need to be renewed as it would if it were organic. I suppose if your H2 generator were “alive”, you would probably have to maintain a sludge tank on top of your fuel cell car of the future, to contain the renewable photosynthetic system. On the other hand, once they can couple this inorganic catalyst to the sun, all you need is the sun, of course, and the powered catalytic body to peel off the H2 from plain old water.
The second take away is – my what a beautiful horse race this will turn out to be. Big oil vs. big plant. If the plant guys, or for that matter anyone who has a competing system to split water up wins, big oil could be screwed! I know of some other catalytic systems that are in the works as well, so stay tuned. This could turn out to be great grist for the conspiracy mill!
Imagine the headlines “Big Oil gulps the solution to cheapThe Hydrogen Future!” or “Cargil vs. Exxon – Who passed the big Gas!?” It’s just like the 100 MPG carburetor; you know, the one that works on the water! The National Inquirer will have a field day.