19 Feb 19

Researchers make fuel out of thin air

Taking water from the air and heating it with energy from the sun. That’s a new revolutionary technology being developed by Dutch researchers in Eindhoven.

Experts from Differ (Dutch Institute for Fundamental Energy Research) in Eindhoven are collaborating with Toyota Motor Europe to build a system that absorbs water vapour from the air and uses solar energy to split that vapour in hydrogen and oxygen.

“The motivation for this research project is twofold,” said a Differ spokesperson. “New sustainable fuels are needed to firstly decrease our dependence on fossil fuels and secondly lower the emission of greenhouse gases.”

One of these sustainable fuels is hydrogen, which can be used to store renewable energy. When hydrogen is combined with oxygen in a fuel cell, the energy is released in the form of electricity, with clean air as the only emission.


A first prototype was successful in extracting between 60 and 70% of the amount of hydrogen that can be taken out of water. Both research partners are now working on improvements to increase the water absorption and to increase the amount of absorbed sunlight. Currently, the system only uses UV light, which is less than 5% of sunlight that hits the Earth.

In the next stage, researchers will focus on scaling up the photoelectric cells for hydrogen production. In order for the system to be economically sustainable, their size needs to increase by a factor of two to three.

If successful, this technology could boost acceptance of hydrogen as a fuel for transportation. Read all about the challenging energy ecosystem in the next issue of Fleet Europe.

Image: PhD student Georgios Zafeiropoulos with photo-electrochemical cel in the DIFFER artificial leaf laboratory (source: Differ)

Authored by: Benjamin Uyttebroeck