Solar Electrolyzer Focus of Hydrogen Research

Granted, the Bush Administration’s Hydrogen Energy Initiative has been criticized for its frequent reliance on fossil fuels for hydrogen generation, but a number of projects do incorporate renewable energy.

Altair Nanotechnologies, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Research Foundation (UNLVRF) and Hydrogen Solar have received a $3 million grant award from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The fund is for joint research activities related to solar hydrogen production at a refilling station that is under development in Las Vegas. Vehicle integration testing and demonstration is included in the project. Altair will receive $400,000 for collaborative research and development efforts through its subcontractor agreement with UNLVRF. Additional project partners include University of Nevada Center for Energy Research (UNLVCER), Proton Energy Systems (PES), and the Las Vegas Valley Water District. “This grant award marks a groundbreaking event for the development of alternative energy sources,” said Dr. Alan J. Gotcher, chief executive officer of Altair Nanotechnologies. “The consortium’s two-pronged approach, that of developing new Tandem Cells for power along with related vehicle refilling stations, should serve to rapidly commercialize alternative energy vehicles throughout Nevada and ultimately the entire U.S.” The first phase of the project will focus on the development of a hydrogen refilling station, and work is already underway on this by the UNLVRF. Phase II comprises the expanding of capabilities of the existing station by developing a high pressure, more efficient electrolyzer. Phase II also includes the use of the Tandem Cell, which converts light and water directly into hydrogen fuel in a highly efficient, renewable and carbon-free process. The Tandem Cell concept was co-invented by the Swiss Federal University of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and the University of Geneva (UoG), and was made possible thanks to research and development support by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy over a considerable period of time. The Tandem Cell concept is the subject of a patent by Swiss Federal University of Technology Professor Michael Graetzel and University of Geneva Professor Jan Augustynski. Graetzel is a scientific advisor to both Hydrogen Solar and Altair. Central to the Tandem Cell technology is the performance of the photo-catalytic, nano-crystalline thin films developed by Hydrogen Solar. These are used to gather photons of incident light and convert them into electrons to directly split water into its constituent elements. Altair will use their nanomaterials synthesis technology to develop low cost processing for, and further improve the performance of, the thin film electrode in the front section of the Tandem Cell. “Hydrogen is the fuel of the future and solar applications to produce hydrogen are a good way to become energy independent,” said Senate Minority Leader Senator Harry Reid. “We have the capabilities in Nevada to bring these cutting-edge technologies to the market. The research performed by this grant will bring us a step closer to achieving our goals.” Under the terms of the grant, UNLVRF and UNLVCER will lead a team of industrial and technology partners to spearhead multiple research and development projects. Research projects should lead to production and commercialization of solar-based hydrogen technologies. UNLVCER will serve as the technical lead, with PES as the electrolyser developer, supplier and subcontractor. Hydrogen Solar and Altair will act as research and product development partners for developing and using nanotechnology processes. The Las Vegas Valley Water District will provide vehicles for conversion, as well as continuing site support and coordination.

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