Just as the International Energy Agency (IEA) touts the benefits of scaling up hydrogen production and energy use, scientists are developing various technologies to find a cheap, eco-friendly, and feasible way to produce hydrogen—out of thin air and sunlight. The IEA published on Friday a report, saying that “Hydrogen can help to tackle various critical energy challenges, including helping to store the variable output from renewables like solar PV and wind to better match demand. It offers ways to decarbonise a range of sectors – including long-haul transport, chemicals, and iron and steel – where it is proving difficult to meaningfully reduce emissions.”
However, the IEA noted that the widespread use of hydrogen faces several challenges currently, including expensive production, insufficient hydrogen infrastructure, and the fact that hydrogen today is almost entirely supplied from fossil fuels—natural gas and coal. Just as the IEA released its report, researchers from ETH Zurich said last week that they had developed a novel technology to produce liquid hydrocarbon fuels exclusively from sunlight and air, thanks to a solar mini-refinery.
“This plant proves that carbon-neutral hydrocarbon fuels can be made from sunlight and air under real field conditions,” Aldo Steinfeld, Professor of Renewable Energy Carriers at ETH Zurich, said. Earlier this year, the Dutch Institute for Fundamental Energy Research (DIFFER), in association with Toyota Motor Europe, started a partnership to develop a way to directly produce hydrogen out of humid air with a device that absorbs water vapor, and splits it into hydrogen and oxygen directly using the sun’s energy.
In Belgium, bioscience engineers at KU Leuven said in February that they had created a hydrogen panel that produces hydrogen gas from moisture in the air. According to the researchers and scientists at Leuven, twenty of these hydrogen panels could provide electricity and heat for one family for an entire winter. “Most hydrogen gas is produced using oil and gas – not a big win for the climate or the environment. We believe this is about to change,” the KU Leuven scientists say.