Potentials of Water-Splitting Reactions

February 27, 2017
Seung Hyun Hwang Arnold O. Beckman High School 10th

Seung Hyun Hwang Arnold O. Beckman High School 10th

Our livelihood depends on the use of energy. From driving to school to warming our homes, energy plays an invaluable role in the society we live in today. Because of this, the well-being of our lives depends on the global availability of clean and affordable energy. Regarding the status the status quo, it is a global concern as our energy consumption on earth (~15.8 TW in 2006) is expected to increase in an exponential rate over the subsequent decades. As scientists and laymen alike strive to solve our impending energy crisis, we must look towards the sun as it is the most reliable source of energy – delivering a year’s worth of energy within 80 min.

We have become reliant on fossil fuels as their high energy density sufficiently provides us for our needs. However, the combustion of fossil fuels negatively affects the environment and our health. In addition to the increase in CO2 emissions, the large amounts of pollutants released such as sulphurous oxides, nitrous oxides, and particulate matter have become significant problems in many countries. In order to meet future energy demands, scientists are researching the potentials of water oxidation or water-splitting reactions.

Water-splitting reactions, as its name suggests, refers to the splitting of water (H2O) into hydrogen gas (H2) and oxygen gas (O2). The goal of the scientific community is to extract the energy in sunlight and use it to split water and yield a chemical fuel: hydrogen. But this oxidation of water must be achieved using abundant materials including but not limited to: earth abundant (therefore cheap) metal oxides, a catalyst that oxidizes oxygen, a catalyst that reduces protons to hydrogen, and solar energy. The task for these scientists is to find these catalysts and metal oxides that is suitable for the water-splitting reaction, so organizations such as the NSF Center for Chemical Innovation in Solar Fuels (CCI Solar) use outreach branches for research.

The Solar Army is an outreach branch of CCI Solar that provides outreach projects where high school and undergraduate students can join in the search for these materials. Many high schools and universities in California and all over the United States have taken on the projects offered in the hopes of changing the way the world produces energy. These projects have the potential to change the world, and offers students experience into the fields of STEM, especially chemistry. Moreover, it is important for many high schools and universities alike to get involved in these projects as future generations will ultimately have to face the inevitable energy crises created by us today.

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