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Producing hydrogen
from water
and solar energy

Interview with Kevin Sivula

In 2016, the Group launched a contest called the "Air Liquide Essential Small Molecules Challenge". Competing on the topic "Sunny H2 in a bottle", American researcher Kevin Sivula was recognized for his work on using photoelectrocatalysis to produce hydrogen.

You have been awarded for a project that involves producing hydrogen from water and solar energy using photoelectrocatalysis. Could you tell us more about your project?

Making hydrogen from water and solar energy is not new. However, the process we developed is innovative thanks to semiconductor oxide materials we use. . The main advantage of this project is that it uses intrinsically stable materials like iron and copper oxide that are made from cheap and widely available raw materials. That’s a key point. For a technology to have a significant societal impact, it must meet these two requirements.

Why is producing hydrogen from photoelectrocatalysis so important for the energy transition and the environment?

Hydrogen is useful because it’s easy to store on a large scale for a long period of time. It’s also a renewable energy vector that doesn’t pollute. Indeed, through its high-energy combustion process, hydrogen can provide either heat or electricity with no other residue but water. Photo electrocatalysis produces hydrogen directly from light without any added energy and without generating CO2, making it a potential path forward in the transition to cleaner energies. I feel very privileged to work on a technology that could have such a significant impact on society.

What drove you to participate in the ‘Essential Molecules Challenge’, and what have you taken away from this six-month collaboration with Air Liquide?

I had reached a turning point in my research work and needed support to go beyond the preliminary stages of my project. My collaboration with Air Liquide made all the difference. It allowed me to focus on the technology’s feasibility, and that’s now coming along nicely. My goal is to build a demo by the end of 2018. This life-size model will allow me to simulate any constraints that might ‘kill the idea.’ I wouldn’t have had the capacity or necessary resources without Air Liquide’s support. The various technical discussions and feedback sessions I had with the company were extremely useful. I also had the opportunity to visit Air Liquide’s R&D Center in Paris-Saclay, and I was very impressed by the teams’ knowledge and resources.

Is the research on hydrogen in the world encouraging?

For 15 years, hydrogen has been the subject of a wide range of research. Whether it be production, storage, catalysis, or semi-conductors, no stone has been left unturned. This uptick in interest is without doubt due to the fact that many people now think this type of technology has become essential. While renewable hydrogen technology is not yet an efficient and economically competitive solution compared to fossil fuels, science is on the way to contribute a viable solution.

Gas Encyclopedia

Comprehensive information on over 60 molecules, including argon, hydrogen, and methane, used in research, industrial, and health applications is available for free on Air Liquide's online Gas Encyclopedia.