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New 'solar paint' can turn anything into a hydrogen energy generator

05/07/2017
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A major new step forwards in energy production could see regular household walls being turned into conduits for hydrogen power.

Researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) have created a paint which uses sunlight and water to create the green energy, in a move that could prove a major shake up to the world of construction and fuel provision.
Researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology have invented a new solar paint that can generate hydrogen energy
Image via RMIT University

How Does It Work?

Utilising synthetic molybdenum-sulphide alongside nanoparticles of titanium dioxide, the paint harnesses solar energy, as well as residual water in the air. The paint acts in a similar way to the silica gel packets often found within the boxes of new pairs of shoes, but goes further, actually splitting the atoms into both hydrogen and oxygen, with the hydrogen then collected and stored for use. The widespread use of hydrogen as an energy source is currently being curtailed by the large cost of production, which uses a process called electrolysis, involving an electric current being passed through water. With the paint comes a radical new way of producing hydrogen, meaning that a wall can be used as a tool to create clean energy, efficiently and easily.

Where Can The Paint Be Used?

Despite the way in which the paint works, using air moisture, the paint should be functional in many different environments and climates and temperatures. A damp environment will inevitably provide the paint with much more to work with, but paint located in hot climates near water will be able to make use of water vapour within the air. Darker areas will also be able to be used, as the paint doesn’t require the levels of sun that a traditional solar panel might do to generate power. There are also few boundaries as to how the paint can be used; any surface could therefore be turned into a product to harness electricity.

When Will We See It In Use?

The lead researcher on the project, Dr Torben Daeneke, has suggested that it will take another five years for the paint to become commercially viable, but believes by this point it should be cheaply produced. This would mean that its use could become widespread within the next ten years. With the desire to move into alternative methods of fuel production constantly rising, the paint will be keenly anticipated, which should see the time period before it comes into commercial use reduced as much as possible.



What Could The Impact Be?

As hydrogen can be used to power many types of vehicle, the paint could be a significant step forwards in the attempt to move away from fossil fuel use. Another major advantage of hydrogen is its ability to store energy, meaning it has huge potential to be used as a vessel to power other items, in a similar way to batteries. The paint gives the consumer the chance to own their own method of fuel production, which could create seismic changes in the way energy companies operate. 

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