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Device ups hydrogen energy from sunlight

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4:53pm, August 5, 2003

Here's a recipe for a cleaner, healthier planet: Take some water, add solar energy, extract hydrogen, and use it to power fuel cells for running cars and other machines. Then, collect their water emissions and start the procedure again.

One look at the list of ingredients in today's fuel cells, however, shows that this ideal isn't yet being followed. Because processes that use sunlight to extract hydrogen remain costly and inefficient, fossil fuels still supply the hydrogen in most fuel cells.

Hoping to break the fossil fuel habit, a team of Israeli, German, and Japanese scientists has created a device that boosts the efficiency of solar-powered hydrogen extraction by 50 percent.

The group placed a photovoltaic cell on top of two flat, finger-long electrodes. The combination "is very efficient in converting solar energy [into an electric current] but also provides nearly the ideal voltage for splitting water" into hydrogen and oxygen, says team leader Stuart Licht

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