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We wrote some years back about early research into solar paints. At that time, the research was aimed at making the paint act as photo-electric collectors in the same way that conventional solar panels work. We’ve seen nothing since about that research but Melbourne’s RMIT has now developed a a paint that might just power your car!
The paint that absorbs water vapour and then splits it to generate hydrogen – the cleanest source of energy. That hydrogen can then be collected and stored in fuel cells. While still in the early testing phase, the process is proven. It’s not as efficient as conventional PV solar cells are at converting sunlight to energy, but unlike solar panels, this paint can be used anywhere there is a likelihood of water vapour.
You’re already familiar with this process as it is very similar to the moisture absorbing silica gel sachets that you find in your vitamin pill container or inside the carton your new tablet was packed in. The difference is that instead of inert silica, this new process uses a synthetic molybdenum-sulphide compound that acts as a semi-conductor and catalyses the splitting of water atoms into hydrogen and oxygen.
According to RMIT lead researcher Dr Torben Daeneke,
“… mixing the compound with titanium oxide particles leads to a sunlight-absorbing paint that produces hydrogen fuel from solar energy and moist air. 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. Our new development has a big range of advantages. There’s no need for clean or filtered water to feed the system. Any place that has water vapour in the air, even remote areas far from water, can produce fuel.”
Just add humidity!
While obviously perfect for areas with morning mists and overnight dew, he process promises to be highly effective in very arid regions that are close to either the ocean or inland seas – think Dubai, Broome and even locations close to the Dead Sea!
This is not a replacement for other solar technologies but rather another innovative way to harness the energy that already exists in the atmosphere. You might not put solar panels on your tools shed but a coat of energy producing paint is an easy choice! Another use would be where the aspect is not viable for a traditional solar array – either because of shadowing or a lack of suitable sunlight hours.
Here in the southern hemisphere, this would be perfect for those south facing walls that never see the sun but where winter damps seems to hang around all day.
We say bring it on! What do you think?