A recent scientific breakthrough in hydrogen fuel production technology could be a major boost to the car industry.

Two institutions of higher learning banded together to tackle hydrogen fuel production innovation in a new breakthrough. This tech plays a key role in helping to reduce humanity’s dependence on carbon-based fuel sources.

What is this breakthrough and how does it differ from the recently developed University of Exeter method?

Breaking Down Hydrogen Fuel one Atom at a Time

Unlike our previous coverage of hydrogen fuel production innovation, this method doesn’t involve sunlight. In fact, the researchers relied heavily on deciphering the chemical mechanism that allowed for more efficient photo-chemical processes.

The Technion Israel Institute of Technology and Ben-Gurion University of Negev (BGU) researchers joined forces, conducting research for their paper on the subject, published in Nature Communications.

Though the University of Exeter method used lanthanum iron oxide as a solution, the group from these two universities took a more holistic approach.

They wanted to reveal the chemical reaction that takes place in solar power.

Thus, they connected that missing link in generating electricity from sunlight. This method allows for a more natural process as opposed to man-made or precious metal-derived energy dependence.

In order to crack the code, the team started with how to produce hydrogen fuel.

First, you split water molecules into one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms. From there, the researchers broke down how H2O2 (two of each atom type) oxidizes under photo-chemical inputs.

Without summarizing the whole paper, the team essentially reverse-engineered the photo-voltaic reaction in order to more efficiently create hydrogen fuel. As they say in their Nature paper:

“Photoelectrochemical (PEC) water splitting is an elegant route to store radiant solar power in chemical bonds by producing hydrogen…”

Maybe that’s why the researchers themselves think this could be a win for carmakers.

image of a hydrogen fuel cell car graphic for article Researchers Hope Hydrogen Fuel Discovery Helps Car Industry
An example of how a hydrogen fuel cell car like the Toyota Mirai might function. | Firehouse

The Toyota Mirai Heralds More of its Kind

In 2017, we wrote about how international car manufacturer Toyota wanted to make a totally renewable plant. This plant, of course, included hydrogen power. As it turns out, Shell joined them in this venture with funding from the state of California.

There are other fuel cell cars, but the Toyota Mirai remains one of the original consumer cars. The website for the car touts the many advantages to hydrogen fuel including:

  • zero CO2 emissions (the only emission, in fact, is water)
  • eligible for the California HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lane
  • only takes five minutes to refuel
  • comes standard with $15,000/3-years of complimentary fuel

Though that last one is Toyota specific, the Mirai exhibits exactly what the research team hopes for with hydrogen fuel. Those leading the BGU team spoke about their intents in their announcement.

“Car manufacturers seek to develop hydrogen-powered vehicles that are considered efficient and environmentally friendly and unlike electric vehicles, allow for fast refueling and extended mileage.”

But the breakthrough wouldn’t have happened if Prof. Avner Rothschild at Technion hadn’t reached out. As a result of Dr. Iris Visoly-Fisher and Dr. Arik Yochelis at BGU helping, his team got past their research plateau.

What are your thoughts on hydrogen-fueled cars as an alternative to carbon-fueled vehicles?

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