June 14 (UPI) -- Scientists in Australia have developed a solar paint capable of pulling water molecules from the air and splitting them into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter of which can be stored for use as fuel.
The paint's power relies on a new material, synthetic molybdenum-sulphide. The compound acts like silica gel, absorbing moisture from its surroundings. But it also serves as a catalyst in combination with energy derived from the sun, triggering a chain of chemical reactions that divides water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen atoms.
"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," lead researcher Torben Daeneke, a material scientist at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, said in a news release. "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."
Unlike other water-splitting technologies, a supply of clean, filtered water is unnecessary. Hydrogen fuel can be produced anywhere there is water vapor in the air.
Many scientists believe hydrogen gas is the most promising clean alternative to fossil fuels. Researchers all over the world have been hard at work developing cheaper and more efficient methods for hydrogen production.
"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 vapor can then be absorbed to produce fuel," siad Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh, a professor at RMIT. "This is an extraordinary concept -- making fuel from the sun and water vapor in the air."
Researchers detailed their breakthrough in the journal ACS Nano.