Hydrogen has numerous commercial applications now, including compressing it into a fuel for rockets and automobiles. (NASA is now the biggest user of hydrogen as a fuel, according to the Energy Information Administration.) Hydrogen also stores energy well, meaning it could become a component in sustainable fuel cells.
“Lithium ion batteries are the worst in terms of their carbon footprint,” said Torben Daeneke, a research fellow at RMIT University. “They have to be improved a lot to bring their carbon footprints down.”
The special paint is a mixture of molybdenum sulfide — a common lubricant — and nanoparticles of titanium dioxide, a substance that gives toothpaste and sunscreen their chalky white color. The researchers used a silicone membrane they invented in previous work that separates hydrogen from other gases, creating a system to draw off and bottle the gas.
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The process depends on solar energy, the researchers stressed. But Kalantar-zadeh believes it could someday upend the solar industry. The study authors have not patented their research, he said, because they wanted as many people as possible to investigate uses for the paint.
“We are talking about going from a photovoltaic economy to a hydrogen economy,” said Kalantar-zadeh. “It’s something you don’t want to restrict.”
RMIT University and the Australian Research Council funded the study.
The researchers didn’t know if they could change the reddish color of the mixture, but said they would tweak the compound in the future with the aim of maximizing the efficiency of hydrogen production or improving the membrane to better collect the gas.
In the meantime, the beauty of the findings was that the paint could produce a closed system to generate energy, Kalantar-zadeh said. Burning hydrogen produces water, after all.
“The water can go back into the system and produce more hydrogen from the sun,” he said.
WATCH: Where Does Hydrogen Come From?