Zero-emissions hydrogen fuel cells seem like a great idea. At least they do until you realise that isolating the hydrogen that powers them creates a crapload of greenhouse gases. Now, a Stanford grad student thinks he's found the answer — and it involves a AAA battery.
Under the guidance of Stanford chemistry professor Hongjie Dai, grad student Ming Gong built a device that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen with cheap metal and only 1.5V of electricity. "Using nickel and iron, which are cheap materials, we were able to make the electrocatalysts active enough to split water at room temperature with a single 1.5V battery," Dai explained in a release. "This is the first time anyone has used non-precious metal catalysts to split water at a voltage that low. It's quite remarkable, because normally you need expensive metals, like platinum or iridium, to achieve that voltage."
This is great news, but it's not necessarily the silver bullet when it comes to making hydrogen fuel cells affordable. Even though some automakers, namely Toyota, are already manufacturing cars with hydrogen fuel cells, there's still a lot of work to be done in terms of setting up the infrastructure needed to support the new technology. But still! Generating electricity with water as the only byproduct really is a great idea. So keep the innovations coming, scientists. You're doing a great job. [Stanford]