Stately Sun and the Noble Metal for a Baronial Cause

Do you know the BMW 1 Series Fuel Cell Hybrid car released in 2010?[1] Then you know that scientists are trying to find alternative fuels in place of the defamatory fossil fuels… And people are dying to own eco-friendly vehicles. Yes! Experts from different fields work in various colours to produce long-awaited new fuels using sustainable and/or natural resources. One such approach is to get hydrogen fuels. The BMW 1 Series Fuel Cell Hybrid car is reported to use compressed hydrogen as its food.

To use this molecule as a fuel, there are technologies to oxidize it, to leave free electrons to do their job. Thus, you can imagine a bunch of strategies and methods to ionize hydrogen. The most common method is to use fuel cells, and they leave water as the by-product. So, you need molecular hydrogen as a raw material. Recent trends are in line to use water and sunlight to produce hydrogen, which can then be used in fuel cells. This mumbo-jumbo is named as water-gas shift (WGS) reaction.

Industries were doing this WGS, classically using methane from the steams[2] of natural gas or coal, to start with. They work at feverishly high heat (~350ºC) to produce hydrogen. This produces the villainous carbon-di-oxide, in addition to hydrogen. But not anymore, hopefully! Thank Hermenegildo Garc´ıa and his colleagues from Universidad Polit´ecnica de Valencia, Spain, for their results in the recently published article in the journal Energy & Environmental Science (RSC Publishing).[3]

Author Created Image - photo-WGS for H2 productionTheir key novelties lie in (a) employing visible light to simulate sunlight as energy source, (b) to produce hydrogen in ambient temperature, by (c) utilising a photocatalyst standard P25 Titanium-di-oxide. They say that, this new photocatalytic WGS reaction was possible, mainly because of the specific surface-bound catalytic property of gold nanoparticles on the photocatalyst.

To test this reaction, they have employed surface plasmon resonance spectroscopy as their technique, expending discrete compositions of various catalysts along with the gold nanoparticles. They used a LED quasi monochromatic visible light source corrected to 450 nm. Thus, they were able to quantitatively determine the hydrogen producing efficiency, comparatively with other versions of Cerium (IV)- or Titanium-di-oxides, besides of Platinum and Palladium. The use of this specific P25 Titanium-di-oxide gave the best results for them. Though they have used artificial light to test their idea, they are positive about tapping sunlight in real life industrial approach. Now we will hear what their peers say!

RSC’s Chemical World News site[4] reports the views of two experts in the field, on this study. Alexis Bell from the University of California Berkeley, USA wonders at the plausibility of these outcomes, yet puzzled about its mechanism. Whereas, Wonyong Choi at Pohang University of Science and Technology, South Korea, appreciates that Garc´ıa’s group has sun-shined new look to an old chemical reaction. In the same news, Garc´ıa admits optimistically that it will not take long time for their significant work to meet the challenges, and compete with the current, cost-effective hydrogen production technologies. So, we just have to wait for another good news from them, or a new hydrogen car using their invention!



  1. BMW 1 Series Fuel Cell Hybrid, Accessed 18 June 2013.
  2. Wikipedia, Steam reforming, Accessed 18 June 2013.
  3. F. Sastre, M. Oteri, A. Corma, and H. Garcia, Photocatalytic water gas shift using visible or simulated solar light for the efficient, room-temperature hydrogen generation, Energy Environ. Sci. 7, pp. 2211–2215, 2013.
  4. R. Frame, Hydrogen generation using sunlight, Accessed 18 June 2013.