It may be the most abundant substance in the entire universe but Hydrogen is notoriously tricky to acquire. On Earth, it's rarer than you may think, because it's so light it just floats off into space. Our humble 1G gravity just doesn't have enough pulling power to hold on to those tiny atoms. Most of the hydrogen on Earth is actually stored in water, combined with oxygen in the guise of the fundamental molecule required for Earth-like life.
Hydrogen loves to react with oxygen to make water, and when it does, it releases a lot of energy. Scientists have been using hydrogen as an energy source for a long time, rocket fuel is a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen. It's a clean fuel, because the only by-product is water. This makes it highly valuable when considering the effects of fossil fuels on the environment and our health. The toxic fumes from petrol and diesel don't do any favours for anyone and if their energy can be replicated with cleaner technology, it only pushes us forward.
Finding hydrogen is expensive and so far the financial benefits of sticking to dirty fuels have caused the gasoline culture to continue despite the ill effects. But this may be coming to an end someday soon, as many alternatives are being seriously researched. Hydrogen is one real alternative, and now it seems that we are one step closer to finding a way of mass producing the gas on a scale required to feed the road hungry public.
Plants make hydrogen as part of their photosynthesis which they use to make sugar. Photosynthesis is a very complicated process that works on such subtle levels of chemistry that it's near impossible to discover the exact mechanical steps involved. We only know the basics, to put it another way. However, a team of scientists from the Brookhaven National Laboratory and Virginia Tech in the USA have created a molecule capable of doing the first bit. Isolating hydrogen with a chemical process is a goldmine area of research in new fuel technology, as the implications are potentially global.
Two years ago the team developed a pair of supramolecules capable of isolating the hydrogen, but the rates were variable and they didn't know why. It couldn't be pinned down to a scientifically valid process until all the facts were known so they had to get to the root of the issue. Because these supramolecules were doing a lot of work, absorbing photons of light, transferring electrical charge, and then isolating hydrogen, there was a lot of scope for error within their structure. They discovered that the larger of the two molecules had slightly less electrons which made it more efficient. Knowing this, they are armed with the know-how to truly utilise the technology.
Releasing their findings in this paper, which is summarised here, we all wait for the advancement of this process so they can make it commercially viable.
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