Less costly methods for producing oxygen from water have been developed by researchers in the US and Australia, potentially enabling increased use of fuel cells to produce energy in future.

Fuel cells have been touted as an important future source of energy, combining hydrogen and oxygen to produce power without any damaging pollution and often in the press for all the right reasons.

While expensive platinum has previously been used as a catalyst in the process of producing oxygen, new research seems to suggest the utilisation of more commonly used chemicals and the study from both the US and the Southern Hemisphere comes as something of a breakthrough.

Chemist Daniel Nocera of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is thought to have added cobalt and phosphates to neutral water and then inserted a conductive-glass electrode. When the researchers applied an electrical current, a dark film formed on the electrode from which tiny pockets of oxygen began to appear, eventually building into a stream of bubbles.

Such a development raises the possibility of using solar energy to generate electricity in daytime and using excess power to get oxygen from water.

In the second report, researchers led by Bjorn Winther-Jensen at the Australian Centre for Electromaterials Science, developed an electrode that consists of a conducting polymer on a Goretex membrane. It was reported that the large surface area of the membrane allows oxygen production at rates close to those of platinum electrodes, says a report by the Associated Press.