An article on this topic appeared on the pages of Nature and describes the achievements of a team led by three scientists: Xue Jun Min, Wang Xiaopeng and Vincent Lee Wee Siang. Their research led to a situation where they discovered that light could trigger a specific mechanism in a catalytic material used in the electrolysis of water.
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The story begins with the accidental turning off of the ceiling lamps in Jun Mina’s laboratory nearly three years ago. The lamps were initially lit for 24 hours, but eventually went out due to a power outage. Then the scientists witnessed something surprising: darkness affected the performance of the nickel oxide material in an experiment involving the electrolysis of water. The drop in that performance was really noticeable.
No one had noticed this drop in performance before because no one had ever run an experiment in the dark. Furthermore, the scientific literature says that such a material should not be sensitive to light; light should not have any effect on its properties. Jun Min explains
The new method of producing hydrogen should reduce costs and increase production
To rule out the involvement of chance in the observed phenomenon, the researchers conducted a series of experiments. After making sure that something was really happening, they came up with a proposal to design new methods of extracting hydrogen. One idea is to make the water-containing cells transparent so that light can participate in the splitting of the water.
What would be the consequences? Less energy will be used in the electrolysis process and the whole thing should become easier. As a result, more hydrogen can be produced in less time and with lower energy consumption. According to Jun Ming, the best way to advance science is not to constantly find new ways to do what has already been done, but to keep pushing the boundaries.
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Among the beneficiaries of the scientists’ breakthrough will be food companies that use hydrogen to turn unsaturated oils and fats into saturated ones. The oil industry would also be on this list, as its representatives use gas to remove sulfur from oil. In the long term, however, hydrogen should not be forgotten as an alternative to fossil fuels.