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You are here: > News > Aug. 27, 2004

Solar Hydrogen Process Produces Energy from Water

Special titanium oxide ceramics harvest sunlight and split water to produce hydrogen fuel. Researchers at University of New South Wales anticipate an energy-harvesting device with no moving parts within 7 years.

Press Release from:
University of New South Wales


Scientia Building at UNSW
UNSW Scientia Building

A team of Australian scientists predicts that a revolutionary new way to harness the power of the sun to extract clean and almost unlimited energy supplies from water will be a reality within seven years.

Using special titanium oxide ceramics that harvest sunlight and split water to produce hydrogen fuel, the researchers say it will then be a simple engineering exercise to make an energy-harvesting device with no moving parts and emitting no greenhouse gases or pollutants.

It would be the cheapest, cleanest and most abundant energy source ever developed: the main by-products would be oxygen and water. Rooftop panels placed on 1.6 million houses, for example, could supply Australia's entire energy needs.

"This is potentially huge, with a market the size of all the existing markets for coal, oil and gas combined," says Professor Janusz Nowotny, who with Professor Chris Sorrell is leading a solar hydrogen research project at the University of NSW Centre for Materials and Energy Conversion. The team is thought to be the most advanced in developing the cheap, light-sensitive materials that will be the basis of the technology.

"Based on our research results, we know we are on the right track and with the right support we now estimate that we can deliver a new material within seven years," says Nowotny.

Sorrell says Australia is ideally placed to take advantage of the enormous potential of this new technology: "We have abundant sunlight, huge reserves of titanium and we're close to the burgeoning energy markets of the Asia-Pacific region. But this technology could be used anywhere in the world. It's been the dream of many people for a long time to develop it and it's exciting to know that it is now within such close reach."

The results of the team's work was presented today at an international conference.

Eminent delegates from Japan, Germany, the United States and Australia were Sydney on August 27 for a one-day International Conference on Materials for Hydrogen Energy at UNSW.

Among them were the inventors of the solar hydrogen process, Professors Akira Fujishima and Kenichi Honda. Both are frontrunners for the Nobel Prize in chemistry and are the laureates of the 2004 Japan Prize.

Since their 1971 discovery that allowed the splitting of water into hydrogen and oxygen, researchers have made huge advances in achieving one of the ultimate goals of science and technology - the design of materials required to split water using solar light.

The UNSW team opted to use titania ceramic photoelectrodes because they have the right semiconducting properties and the highest resistance to water corrosion.

Professors Nowotny and Sorrell say that with appropriate government support and financial backing, their technology could help Australia become part an OPEC of the future.

'"We have a solar energy empire in Australia and have a moral obligation to utilise this," says Nowotny. "The very same sentiments were shared by David Sukuzi when he visited Sydney recently. He said he hoped Australia would serve as an example to the rest of the world."

Solar hydrogen, Professor Sorrell argues, is not incompatible with coal. It can be used to produce solar methanol, which produces less carbon dioxide than conventional methods. "As a mid-term energy carrier it has a lot to say for it," he says.

At present, the UNSW work is backed by Rio Tinto, Sialon Ceramics and Austral Bricks A major producer of titania slag, Rio Tinto hopes that an early outcome will be a more environmentally friendly and economically attractive local source of fuel for its remote mining operations while Sialon Ceramics is interesting in production and marketing of a solar-hydrogen production device.

Issued Monday 23 August.

Background on solar hydrogen

  • 1.6 million individual households equipped with 10m x 10m solar hydrogen panels would meet all of Australia's energy needs.
  • Hydrogen generated from water using solar energy constitutes a clean source of energy as neither its production nor its combustion process produces greenhouse or pollutant gases. Hydrogen produced by existing conventional methods emits carbon dioxide at the production stage.
  • When this technology matures it would allow Australia to be a leader in solar technology, becoming part of an OPEC of the future. Australia is ideally placed to commercialise this technology as it has abundant sunlight.
  • This technology ultimately will reduce Australia's total reliance on coal, gasoline and natural gas, providing energy security.
  • Titanium dioxide is plentiful and cheap. Titania ceramics also have many other applications, including water purification, anti-viral and bacteriacidal coatings on hospital clothing and surfaces, self-cleaning glasses, and anti-pollution surfaces on buildings and roads.
  • As sources of fossil fuels disappear, the race is on to be the world's leading provider of hydrogen. The US Government recently committed an extra US$1.2 billion to hydrogen research. Japan has launched a 20-year research program that is sending satellites into space in the hope that it can harvest solar energy and send it back to the earth by laser onto cells of titania (TiO2). The European Commission has instituted an intense R&D program in pursuit of solar hydrogen. Iceland aims to be the world's first hydrogen economy.

UNSW'S Solar Hydrogen Program

  • The UNSW team's particular expertise is in photosensitive oxide semiconductors.
  • UNSW's research program aims for the development of a commercial (i.e., practical and inexpensive) device for the production of hydrogen from photolysis of water using solar energy.
  • The UNSW device can be marketed internationally.
  • The hydrogen-generating device has no moving parts, so maintenance is minimal.
  • Already offers to be involved in UNSW's research are coming from the US, Europe and Asian countries (the LA Resource Policy Institute, for example, has proposed that it become a partner organisation of UNSW.)


Media contact: Mary O'Malley, ph 9385 2873, 043 888 1124, or Susi Hamilton, ph 9385 1583, 0422 934 024.

Other Coverage


  • Sunlight Used to Produce Hydrogen From Water - Solar Hydrogen Energy Corporation has demonstrated that solar energy can be concentrated to over 1500°F and used to produce Hydrogen. (PESN July 9, 2004)  Expected arrival in the market: 1 year.
  • Chemical Compound Turns Water to Hydrogen Gas - Supramolecular complexes created by Karen Brewer of Virginia Tech can convert solar energy into a fuel, such as hydrogen gas in a process has been called artificial photosynthesis. (Solar Access; Aug. 26, 2004)

See also

Page posted by Sterling D. Allan Aug. 27, 2004
Special thanks to Paul LeBreton for submitting the news tip.
Last updated December 24, 2014





"It is harder to crack a prejudice than an atom." // "I'd rather be an optimist and a fool than a pessimist and right." -- Albert Einstein

ADVISORY: With any technology, you take a high risk to invest significant time or money unless (1) independent testing has thoroughly corroborated the technology, (2) the group involved has intellectual rights to the technology, and (3) the group has the ability to make a success of the endeavor.
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   First, it is ridiculed;
   Second, it is violently opposed; and
   Third, it is accepted as self-evident.

-- Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

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of the crowd you're a genius.
When you're two steps ahead,
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