Northeastern Researchers Use Coated Nanotubes to Improve Splitting of Water Into Hydrogen and Oxygen

April 25 2009 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 5 Hot

Northeastern splitting hydrogen from waterResearchers from Northeastern University and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have improved the efficiency of clustered nanotubes used in solar cells to produce hydrogen by splitting water molecules.

By layering potassium on the surface of the nanotubes made of titanium dioxide and carbon, the photocatalyst can split hydrogen gas from water using ‘about one-third the electrical energy to produce the same amount of hydrogen as an equivalent array of potassium-free nanotubes.’

Rethinking the Possibilities at the Nanoscale
Energy is about manipulating the interactions of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, metals, biological enzymes and sunlight.

When we design core enabling energy systems (e.g. catalysts, membranes, cathodes/anodes, et al) at the nanoscale (billionth of a meter) we find performance that is fundamentally different from the same systems designed at the 'microscale' (millionth of a meter). 

Because smaller is better when it comes to manipulating molecules and light, the research teams used ‘tightly packed arrays of titania nanotubes’ with carbon that ‘helps titania absorb light in the visible spectrum.’ Arranging catalysts in the form of nanoscale-sized tubes increases the surface area of the catalyst which in turn increases the reactive area for splitting oxygen and hydrogen.

Hydrogen - Moving Beyond Hype and Skepticism

Hydrogen is the most misunderstood and misrepresented piece of the future energy landscape. Devotees tend to overstate it as the Savior of Planet Earth, and staunch critics fall victim to paradigm thinking while underestimating the short term challenges for longer term potential of chemical energy systems.


Hydrogen and Electricity are sister energy carriers.  So let's clear up the confusion:

Electricity powers the future, and the image of a 'Hydrogen Economy' is actually a world powered by electricity. 

A 'Hydrogen' powered car is an 'electric' car.  The difference is how you choose to store the energy carrier in a hydrogen fuel cell and battery.


Hydrogen is a way of storing electron power via chemical bonds of hydrogen in order to achieve levels of performance not possible with mechanical combustion engines, and batteries.

Fuel cells capture energy released when coated membranes strip apart those hydrogen-hydrogen bonds and merge it with oxygen to get water. This is a much more efficient (and cleaner) process when compared to blowing up carbon-hydrogen bonds via combustion.


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