Photocatalysis is a photoreaction (i.e., driven by light) accelerated by the presence of a catalyst. Photocatalysis of water under ultraviolet light in the 1970’s was one of the first examples of clean hydrogen production, however, in the decades that followed steam methane reforming (SMR) emerged as the dominant production source, with electrolysis widely supported as the most viable clean alternative. Nevertheless, in recent years there have been significant leaps forward made in the productive efficiency of photocatalysis, with potential for far lower electricity requirements and lower material resource requirements than electrolysis.
With the EU and other major economies pursuing the development of a clean hydrogen economy as a tool in the decarbonisation of the energy sector, there is a growing need for cost-effective and energy efficient production means. Hydrogen can be produced in several ways, both with fossil fuels, renewable energy, or a combination of the two. However, decarbonised hydrogen in its various forms is currently not cost-competitive with hydrogen derived from fossil fuels in the vast majority of circumstances (see Molecules : indispensable in the decarbonized energy chain). This raises questions about how best to bridge that gap for the decarbonisation of existing hydrogen demand, as well as for other potential applications.
Proponents of photocatalysis and other nascent technologies such as methane pyrolysis or thermochemical water splitting argue that the hydrogen landscape is far from settled and that there will be a requirement for a range of technological solutions.
Trevor Best | Syzygy Plasmonics
Ronnie Belmans | KU Leuven and EnergyVille
Jean-Michel Glachant and Ilaria Conti | FSR Energy and Climate
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