A Penn State University research group has announced it is only a few steps away from developing an inexpensive and easily scalable technique for water photoelectrolysis, a breakthrough that could help power the proposed hydrogen economy.

The technique involves splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using light energy and as an environmentally friendly approach would produce hydrogen from water using the renewable energy of sunlight.

Most current methods of hydrogen production split hydrogen from natural gas in a process that produces climate changing greenhouse gas while consuming a non-renewable resource. This discovery, which may now be 'only a couple of problems away', could provide a greener, more flexible avenue for hydrogen use.

Craig Grimes, professor of electrical engineering in the Materials Research Institute of Penn State University, led the research group behind the technology and commented, $quot;As I see it, we are a couple of problems away from having something that will revolutionise the field of hydrogen generation by use of solar energy.$quot;

These problems could be the production material for solar cells and the delivery of end product. Titanium oxide (Ti02) which is commonly used in white paints and sun-screens, has excellent charge-transfer properties and corrosion stability, making it a likely candidate for cheap and long lasting solar cells.
However, as ultraviolet light contains only about 5 percent of the solar spectrum energy, the researchers needed to find a means to move the materials band gap into the visible spectrum.

The team is now looking into optimising the nanotube architecture to overcome the low electron-hole mobility of iron.