Researchers at the University of Cambridge have created a portable, floating solar-powered device that can convert contaminated water or seawater into clean hydrogen fuel and purified water. This device can be used in areas with limited resources or no access to electricity, as it can function with any open water source without needing external power.
This new device is inspired by photosynthesis and can produce clean drinking water from polluted or seawater sources, while previous versions of ‘artificial leaf’ could only produce green hydrogen fuel from clean water sources.
Testing of this solar-powered device demonstrated its capability to generate purified water from heavily contaminated sources such as polluted water, seawater, and even the River Cam in central Cambridge.
Creating a device that combines solar fuels production and water purification is difficult. The researchers used a carbon mesh that absorbs both light and heat as a base for a photocatalyst. This photocatalyst uses water vapor to create hydrogen.
The carbon mesh, which was made to repel water, was used to make the photocatalyst float and prevent it from coming into contact with water, thereby ensuring that its function is not affected by contaminants.
The new solar-powered device is designed to use more of the Sun’s energy by using a white, UV-absorbing layer on top to produce hydrogen through water splitting. The remaining sunlight is directed to the bottom of the device to vaporize the water.
A solar-powered device has the potential to simultaneously produce clean fuel and clean water, which could be a solution to the energy and water crises that many regions are currently experiencing.
This device is currently only a demonstration, but it represents the type of solutions that will be necessary to create a truly circular economy and sustainable future. The problems of climate change, pollution, and health are interconnected, and finding a solution that can address all of them would have a profound impact on numerous individuals.
Reference- University of Cambridge website, Journal Nature Water, National Geographic, Interesting Engineering