Solar Paint: New Source for Clean Energy?

Researchers at RMIT University in Australia have developed a solar paint. It captures water vapor from the air and then uses the energy from the sun to split the water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen could then power fuel cells or combustion engines.

This new solar paint could offer endless amounts of clean energy.

“Hydrogen is one of the cleanest fuels, since it turns into water when burned,” explained the paper’s lead researcher, Torben Daeneke, in an email to Fusion. “The key advantage here is that no harmful side products … are emitted … no greenhouse gases are emitted if the hydrogen is produced from renewable energy sources.”

For long-time supporters of hydrogen as an energy source, this “photocatalytic paint” could really put hydro-energy on the map. Especially because, researchers claim that once properly stored, hydrogen can be used to power a whole range of applications. According to Daeneke:

“Photocatalytic paints may find application in multiple settings, one obvious one could be the local production of hydrogen as an energy carrier. [The paint could] also be integrated into complex systems, where the produced hydrogen is directly used in following chemical reactions to create more complex chemicals; similar processes already occur in plants, where solar energy is converted into complex sugar molecules.”

Although the idea of the hydrogen economy is being referenced as a green alternative to fossil fuels, it is criticized as unrealistic because of its inefficiencies. Even more, one of the most common methods of hydrogen production uses fossil fuels for a process called “steam reforming,” pretty much negating the idea that it is in fact a zero emission fuel source.

Daeneke is hoping that the photocatalytic paint could be a game changer for the hydrogen economy.

“Our new development has a big range of advantages,” explained Daeneke. “There’s no need for clean or filtered water to feed the system; any place that has water vapor in the air, even remote areas far from water, can produce fuel.”

This new technology still has a ways to go before it can be released, but it leaves supporters of the hydrogen economy in high hopes.