How solar technology is being used to harvest hydrogen from seawater

Posted 14/08/2019 by E.ON

Globally, the energy industry is always looking for innovative ways to create greener, more sustainable energy. One exciting recent development is creating hydrogen from seawater using solar energy.

History of hydrogen

The energy sector is interested in greener ways of harvesting hydrogen as it can be used as a fuel to create electricity.

One of the ways hydrogen is harvested is extracting it from water. It has to be split from the oxygen in water using a process called electrolysis, which essentially uses an electrical current to separate the two elements.

Traditionally, electric currents have been created by using electricity generated from coal and oil, and the water needed to be purified.

But now teams at Columbia University in New York City, and Stanford University in California, have engineered greener solutions that are powered by solar panels and use energy generated by the sun to create the electrical current needed to extract hydrogen from the seawater.

Columbia released details of their invention in 2017, and Stanford in 2019.

So how do the technologies work and have both teams invented the same system?

Floating solar rigs

The system invented by Columbia Engineering is a solar-powered electrolysis device that operates as a standalone platform which floats on open water. Like an oil rig but generating hydrogen from the seawater it's floating on rather than drilling under the seabed.

Stanford University's version does the same thing but is not attached to a floating rig and has only been tested in lab conditions so far.

Both concepts are now being tested and researched further to see if they can be scaled up to generate electricity on a larger scale - the potential for this as an energy source is huge. Not only would it generate electricity that has no carbon emissions, it could work using non-purified water, meaning places where freshwater is already scarce can potentially have clean, green, and abundant energy from any water source.

From providing solar panel and solar battery storage so customers can generate and store solar power to use when the sun goes down, to providing our customers with electricity backed by 100% renewable sources1, we're always looking for innovative solutions that help make our customers lives smarter, personalised and more sustainable.



1. Electricity sourced from E.ON’s renewable generation assets, supply agreements with independent UK wind generators and the purchase of renewable electricity certificates. The electricity supplied to your homes comes from the National Grid. Find out more at

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