New Solar-Powered Invention Creates Hydrogen Fuel from the Air

A high-tech sponge can absorb water vapor from the air and convert it to pure hydrogen for use in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and machines.

This sponge uses electrolysis to extract pure hydrogen, and can be powered by solar or wind energy, producing renewable fuel from renewable electricity.

The only portable green fuel source that could replace diesel or kerosene at scale, pure hydrogen is not abundant in nature, and finding ways to produce it sustainably is the key to expanding its use in industry and transportation.

Vehicles can be equipped with hydrogen fuel cells, which combust the pure hydrogen with oxygen to create an effect similar to when fossil fuels are combusted, except the only emission is hydrogen plus oxygen—water.

Similar to those silica gel sachets you find in packaged goods, a team of chemical engineers in Australia have developed a hygroscopic gel which absorbs moisture from the air. Once inside the gel, it’s split via electrolysis into hydrogen and oxygen.

Ten square feet of the material can produce 24 gallons of pure hydrogen every hour, and the scientists calculate that 100 square feet can replace natural gas for an entire family home.

“This module can work under a bone-dry environment with a relative humidity of 4%, overcoming water supply issues and producing green hydrogen sustainably with minimal impact to the environment,” the authors write. “The modules can be easily scaled to provide hydrogen to remote, (semi-) arid, and scattered areas.”

Germany has swapped out some of the diesel locomotives used on its regional and freight trains for ones powered by hydrogen, while New Zealand is trying to hydrogen-ize stretches of its highway system to facilitate hydrogen-powered 18-wheelers.