Hydrogen energy technique eliminates risk of explosions

Esteban Toledo works with the decoupled water splitting prototype in Stockholm, Sweden. Image: David Callahan

A less risky way of producing hydrogen energy has been unveiled by researchers in Sweden.

Developed at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, the new method is more efficient as it splits water into oxygen and hydrogen without the risk of mixing the two gases, which can be dangerous.

Hydrogen can be produced from many sources in different ways for use as a fuel. To produce hydrogen from water, it must be separated from the other elements in the molecules where it occurs.

Standard electrolysis splits water molecules by applying an electric current, producing oxygen and hydrogen gases in the same cell, where they need to be separated by membrane barriers. In contrast the new approach results in oxygen and hydrogen gases being produced separately, eliminating the possibility of mixing gases and the risk of explosions.

PhD student Esteban Toledo co-authored the paper, published in Science Advances journal, along with Joydeep Dutta, professor of applied physics at KTH. The two researchers have patented the system and formed the company Caplyzer through KTH Innovation, to scale the technology.

Toledo says re-conceptualising water electrolysis sets the stage for a more reliable form of green energy production, incorporating intermittent sources such as solar or wind. It also eliminates the need for rare Earth metals.

“Since we don’t risk mixing the gases, we can operate over a wider range of input power,” says Dutta. “It’s much easier then to couple with renewable energies that generally provides variable power.

“It’s a lot like a rechargeable battery producing hydrogen – alternately charging and discharging. It’s all about completing the circuit.”