New solar paint may be able to store energy

Researchers at RMIT University in Australia have developed a new type of solar paint that may be able to one-day help store fuel, a new study in the journal ACS Nano reports.

The substance relies on a material known as synthetic molybdenum-sulphide. The compound is unique because it absorbs moisture from the surrounding air and splits it into oxygen and hydrogen. In this way, it acts as a catalyst in combination with energy taken from the sun and uses that process to produce fuel. 

“We found that mixing the compound with titanium oxide particles leads to a sunlight-absorbing paint that produces hydrogen fuel from solar energy and moist air,” said lead researcher Torben Daeneke, a material scientist at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, in a statement. “Titanium oxide is the white pigment that is already commonly used in wall paint, meaning that the simple addition of the new material can convert a brick wall into energy harvesting and fuel production real estate.”

This new system, unlike other water-splitting techniques, does not need a supply of clean, filtered water to work. This is because hydrogen fuel can be produced anywhere water vapor exists. This makes it much more efficient to use and allows it to have a wider range than previous models. This could be especially helpful in remote or more secluded areas that do not normally have easy ways to gather energy, UPI reports.

It will not take too much adaptation to switch to this material, which one of the reasons it is so interesting. Not only is it versatile, but researchers believe the paint could be especially helpful in coastal areas to take energy from the sea.

“This system can also be used in very dry but hot climates near oceans,” said study co-author Kourosh Kalantar-Zadeh, a professor at RMIT University, in another statement. “The sea water is evaporated by the hot sunlight and the vapor can then be absorbed to produce fuel. This is an extraordinary concept — making fuel from the sun and water vapor in the air.”

Currently, hydrogen gas is thought to be the most promising clean alternative to fossil fuels. Scientists all over the world have been working to develop cheaper and more efficient methods to generate the resource, and the solar paint may be one of the most promising.

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