Environmentally friendly fuel cells may someday power most cars, homes, and industries. Yet the energy they supply won't be all that clean if the hydrogen that the fuel cells consume derives from fossil fuels. So says Stuart Licht of the University of Massachusetts in Boston, who leads a U.S.–Israeli team of researchers that has demonstrated a new solar-powered way to produce hydrogen from water.
Typically in solar-based electricity generation, only a fraction of the sun's visible and ultraviolet light produces electrons with sufficient energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. In the new method, the researchers first use the sun's infrared radiation to heat molten sodium hydroxide mixed with water to oven temperatures that prime the water molecules to break apart.