Imagine if painting the outside of your house not only made it look easy on the eye, but also took care of all of your home’s energy needs.
This, it seems, could soon be a reality as researchers in Australia have come up with a “solar paint” capable of absorbing moisture from the air and turning it into hydrogen fuel for clean energy.
Based at RMIT University in Melbourne, southern Australia, the research team has developed a unique paint containing a newly developed compound that acts like silica gel — that’s the stuff used in those little sachets that absorb moisture to keep things like food, medicines, and electronics in good shape.
But where they differ is that the new material, called synthetic molybdenum-sulphide, “also acts as a semiconductor and catalyzes the splitting of water atoms into hydrogen and oxygen,” a report on the university’s website explained.
RMIT lead researcher Dr. Torben Daeneke said his team discovered that “mixing the compound with titanium oxide particles leads to a sunlight-absorbing paint that produces hydrogen fuel from solar energy and moist air.”
He continued: “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.”
Daeneke said the the team’s findings offer “a big range” of advantages, including the elimination of “the need for clean or filtered water to feed the system. Any place that has water vapor in the air, even remote areas far from water, can produce fuel.”
So besides damp climates, the solar paint will also be effective in, for example, hot and dry climates near oceans, with the absorbed vapor coming from the nearby sea water as it evaporates in the heat.
The team described it as “an extraordinary concept, making fuel from the sun and water vapor in the air.”
Daeneke told Inverse that the team hopes the special paint can one day be used alongside traditional solar cells, “potentially coating areas that receive too little light to be viably covered with expensive solar cell modules.”
He added that it’s likely to take at least five years to commercialize and should be cheap to produce.
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