A Floating PV Solution for Clean Water and Hydrogen Energy


Researchers have discovered that an innovative solar-powered device could revolutionize the way we address the growing water and energy challenges that plague our planet. It is a floating PV device to clean water and hydrogen energy by converting contaminated water and polluted seawater into not only safe drinking water but also clean hydrogen fuel. Isn’t that amazing!

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have developed a hybrid device that is inspired by photosynthesis, the process plants use to convert sunlight into food. This prototype, unlike the “artificial leaf” which relies on clean water to produce green hydrogen, is much more versatile. In fact, the scientists were able to successfully conduct tests on River Cam’s water in central Cambridge, and the results were promising.

The device’s innovative feature is its capacity to combine solar fuel production with water purification. Dr. Chanon Pornrungroj and Ariffin Mohamad Annuar, co-lead authors from the Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry at Cambridge, explain that solar-powered water splitting is the method of breaking down water into hydrogen and oxygen, typically necessitates pure water. Otherwise, contaminants can potentially damage the catalyst or initiate undesirable chemical reactions.

According to Ariffin Mohamad Annuar, one of the study’s co-authors, the design is not only simple, but also highly effective when it comes to purifying water from a diverse range of sources.

“In remote or developing regions, where clean water is relatively scarce and the infrastructure necessary for water purification is not readily available, water splitting is extremely difficult. A device that could work using contaminated water could solve two problems at once: it could split water to make clean fuel, and it could make clean drinking water,” Ariffin Mohamad said.

According to this study, the device demonstrated remarkable durability by operating smoothly and reliably in both seawater and polluted water for over 154 hours (about 6 and a half days).

Dr. Chanon Pornrungroj said, “It’s so tolerant of pollutants, and the floating design allows the substrate to work in very cloudy or muddy water. It’s a highly versatile system.”

“The light-driven process for making solar fuels only uses a small portion of the solar spectrum – there’s a whole lot of the spectrum that goes unused,” said Mohamad Annuar.

Professor Erwin Reisner explained, “The climate crisis and issues around pollution and health are closely related, and developing an approach that could help address both would be a game-changer for so many people.”

Professor Erwin Reisner cautioned that although the device is still in the early stages of development, it shows great promise.

Also See: The Hydrogen Era: Insights into the Upcoming U.S. Energy Transformation

The Process

A UV light-absorbing panel was installed on a floating solar vapor generator, allowing it to harness the sun’s energy to purify contaminated or saline water and create green hydrogen.

The instrument contains a carbon mesh that is structured at the nanoscale and includes a photocatalyst. This innovative mesh efficiently absorbs both light and heat, producing the necessary water vapor for hydrogen generation.

Furthermore, it has a remarkable water-repellent treatment that allows it to float effortlessly while safeguarding its optimal functionality from any potential contaminants.

An impressive breakthrough is its ability to effectively utilize the solar spectrum. By incorporating a UV-absorbing layer on the top, it allows for the production of hydrogen, while the rest of the solar spectrum is directed to the bottom to vaporize water for purification. This unique dual process closely imitates the functions of a real leaf, seamlessly integrating hydrogen production with the transpiration process.

Potential Uses

The floating PV device to clean water and hydrogen energy could help solve global energy and water issues.

Many people cook using harmful fuels, resulting in over three million deaths each year. This device has the potential to address that issue and cooking with hydrogen is a safer alternative.

The device’s off-grid functionality makes it exceptionally valuable in areas with scarce resources. This device is particularly advantageous considering that approximately 2 billion individuals are deprived of access to clean drinking water, while 775 million people worldwide are living without electricity.

The team is confident that their design, simple yet highly effective, is capable of adapting to various water sources. Not only is it proficient in handling pollutants, but it also excels in processing water, disregarding any cloudiness or muddiness.

According to Professor Erwin Reisner, who led the study, the present device is merely the beginning. However, these types of solutions are absolutely essential for forging a sustainable future, simultaneously addressing the pressing concerns of climate change, pollution, and health issues.

Source: Hybrid photothermal–photocatalyst sheets for solar-driven overall water splitting coupled to water purification

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