[ASC-media] Media release: power without end

JCA Media jcamedia at starclass.com.au
Tue Aug 17 09:29:23 EST 2004


August 17, 2004 


Australian researchers are actively pursuing one of the building blocks of a future 'hydrogen economy', using sunlight to extract hydrogen from water.

Hydrogen can quite easily be obtained by electrolysis, breaking water into its components, oxygen and hydrogen, but this requires large amounts of electrical energy. However sunlight can do the job for you, with the aid of a photocatalyst - a material that can convert the energy contained in solar radiation to electrical or chemical energy without being consumed.

CSIRO's Ian Grey says that Australia has one of the world's highest combined levels of sunshine and unpopulated area available for collection, and so is in a unique position to benefit from any breakthrough in developing a commercially viable photoelectrolysis process.

"The first demonstration of the use of a semiconductor material as a photocatalyst to split water was made by Japanese researchers in the early 1970s," says Dr Grey. "But the efficiency of conversion of the sunlight to hydrogen fuel was very low. Since then there's been an international research effort, focussing on the use of titanium dioxide as the catalyst."

The special photocatalytic properties of titanium dioxide are already being extensively applied in the market place to applications ranging from self-cleaning surfaces to anti-fogging windows and mirrors to breakdown of organic pollutants in air and water purifiers.

Dr Grey says that Australia, as the world's leading producer of the titanium-bearing mineral, ilmenite, has unique experience of titanium dioxide and its properties. Dr Grey is a solid state chemist whose career has been devoted to the chemistry of processing Australia's vast reserves of mineral sands. He was awarded a Clunies Ross Medal in 2004 for his work on titania mineral processing.

"Looking for a titanium based photocatalyst is a very exciting research project," he says. "As part of the Energy Transformed Flagship it involves researchers throughout CSIRO and crosses many scientific disciplines, including semiconductor physics, electrochemistry, the biophysics of photosynthesis, and solid state chemistry. We are confident that the material, or combination of materials, does exist which will have the right characteristics of high efficiency, low cost of production and long term stability - meaning it doesn't degrade."

Dr Grey is one of more than 160 eminent Australian scientists available for interview about their work and science in general during National Science Week. For details visit: www.scienceweek.info.au

To contact Dr Ian Grey: phone 03-9545 8500
Ian.Grey at csiro.au

For information on National Science Week:
Telephone: 02 6205 0281
Mobile: 0407 781 891
Facsimile:02 6207 0072
E-mail:scienceweek at orac.net.au

For more events in National Science Week 2004, please visit:

National Science Week is supported by the Commonwealth Government Department of Education Science and Training (DEST) and the Department of Industry Tourism and Resources (DITR).

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