schwit1 shares a report from IEEE Spectrum: A team at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, or KU Leuven, says it has developed a solar panel that converts sunlight directly into hydrogen using moisture in the air. The prototype takes the water vapor and splits it into hydrogen and oxygen molecules. If it scales successfully, the technology could help address a major challenge facing the hydrogen economy. A small but growing number of facilities are producing “green” hydrogen using electrolysis, which splits water molecules using electricity — ideally from renewable sources such as wind and solar. Other researchers, including the team in Belgium, are developing what’s called direct solar water-splitting technologies. These use chemical and biological components to split water directly on the solar panel, forgoing the need for large, expensive electrolysis plants.
KU Leuven sits on a grassy campus in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern region of Belgium. Earlier this month, professor Johan Martens and his team at the Center for Surface Chemistry and Catalysis announced their prototype could produce 250 liters of hydrogen per day on average over a full year, which they claim is a world record. A family living in a well-insulated Belgian house could use about 20 of these panels to meet their power and heating needs during an entire year, they predict. The solar panel measures 1.65 meters long — roughly the height of a kitchen refrigerator, or this reporter — and has a rated power output of about 210 watts. The system can convert 15 percent of the solar energy it receives into hydrogen, the team says. That’s a significant leap from 0.1 percent efficiency they first achieved 10 years ago.