Researchers have succeeded in developing a solar paint which uses absorbed water vapor to generate hydrogen for use as clean energy.

The paint splits the absorbed water vapor to generate the hydrogen. The paint utilizes a newly developed compound which functions like a silica gel, the sort that is typically used to keep food and other electronics dry. Yet unlike silica gel, the new compound, which has been dubbed synthetic molybdenum-sulphide, also functions as a semiconductor. It catalyzes the division of water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.

“We found that mixing the compound with titanium oxide particles leads to a sunlight-absorbing paint that produces hydrogen fuel from solar energy and moist air,” says the project’s lead researcher, Dr. Torben Daeneke of RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.

Daeneke continues on to explain that titanium oxide is a white pigment already commonly found in wall paint, which means that the simple addition of the new compound can make a brick wall an energy harvesting device.

“Our new development has a big range of advantages,” Daeneke said. “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.”

Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh, Distinguished Professor at RMIT University Melbourne, explains that hydrogen is the cleanest source of fuel available. It can be employed for use in fuel cells as well as conventional combustion engines as a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels.

“This system can also be used in very dry but hot climates near oceans. The sea water is evaporated by the hot sunlight and the vapour can then be absorbed to produce fuel. This is an extraordinary concept – making fuel from the sun and water vapour in the air,” says Kalantar-zadeh.