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Hydrogen-Producing Solar Panels Nearly Ready for Commercial Market

Belgian researchers from KU Leuven have created a hydrogen panel that uses solar energy to convert water vapour into hydrogen gas. The panel was created as part of the Solhyd project, a long-term project intended to make green hydrogen accessible to everyone around the world.

The researchers claim the panels have an efficiency of 15%, meaning they can produce 250 litres of hydrogen a day. The panels are currently being developed from a prototype into a commercial product.

What is a hydrogen panel?

A hydrogen panel is a type of solar panel that uses sunlight to separate water molecules and produce hydrogen gas. They work much like electrical solar panels, but are connected via gas tubes rather than an electric cable.

Hydrogen panels are made up of a spongy material with a hygroscopic fluid. This liquid absorbs water molecules from the air, which are then split into hydrogen and oxygen gas via electrolysis.

hydrogen graphic

What is the potential of hydrogen panels?

The researchers claim their panels can convert ambient moisture into 99% pure hydrogen gas, working in areas with as little as 4% relative humidity. The panels would allow zero-carbon hydrogen to be produced even in regions where water on land is scarce.

Dr Gang Kevin Li, the study’s lead author, said that a prototype produced hydrogen for more than 12 consecutive days in a monitored trial: “[For] one of them, we left it to run by itself for eight months.”

When will hydrogen panels be ready for commercial use?

Although the prototypes are still small in size, the team plans to create 1 sq metre and 10 sq metres units in the coming year. They hope to scale up production to 5,000 panels a year by 2026.

The panels have been designed to plug directly into most commercial modern PV modules, so they can benefit from the ongoing developments and cost reductions in the solar PV industry.

The team are aiming to keep hydrogen panels affordable by using only non-precious materials. When they achieve mass production, they predict the price will be close to that of conventional solar panels on sale today.

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