Today most energy comes from fluid fossil fuels, and increasing demand makes the search for cleaner, renewable resources imperative. Hydrogen is an extremely clean and potentially abundant alternative, and its use could lead to the energy independence and security of many nations. However the challenge is to convert it into a safer molecule that is not prone to explosion, is easily liquefied, and safer to transport and store. Attractive candidates for such fuels are fertilizer materials that are based on nitrogen and hydrogen compounds such as Urea and different ammonia salts. The challenges in this project include the development of efficient and safe ways to extract the energy from these new fuels while preventing the formation of undesired byproducts. If successful, such new fuels will provide a fuel that has a much lower CO2 footprint than the conventional fossil fuels we use today. The use of such fuels could have a major impact on global warming in the future. In addition such fuels could offer much higher efficiency during operation, thus lowering the overall cost of energy to the end user.
People have been using biomass fuels since ancient times, burning wood, animal fats and plant oils to provide heat and light, and converting sugar into alcohol. Today’s challenge is to convert normal wood and plant material (cellulose) into alcohol on an industrial scale, cleanly and efficiently. The goal is to develop an industrial process that can convert foliage and agricultural refuse into an easily transportable fuel such as ethanol or methanol. In addition, new technologies are required to increase plants biomass, especially for those plants grown under harsh conditions. Ultimately, the plan is to utilize genetic engineering to develop a platform technology for conferring new genetic traits to various species of plants for biofuel extraction – plants that can be grown on marginal lands with minimal water supply.
The Bioenergy Laboratory and Temperature Regulated Greenhouse for Growing Transgenic Plants at the Technion were established for this purpose by GTEP with the support of The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.
Efficient hydrogen generation and storage is a major challenge. Technion researchers propose reforming hydrocarbons for hydrogen generation from natural gas, and using efficient energy-coupling technologies along with membranes to achieve high-purity hydrogen at lower costs and higher efficiency. This approach could overcome the hydrogen distribution problem by generating hydrogen in situ on demand from safely transportable fuels; for example, the process could be conducted on a small scale in a car, capitalizing both on the current low price of natural gas compared to liquid fuels and on the high efficiency of fuel cells.
The Hydrogen Technologies Research Laboratory at Technion was established by the Grand Technion Energy Program (GTEP) and the Adelis Foundation in a joint effort with the Israeli Centers for Research Excellence (I-CORE).
Solar Hydrogen Production
Photoelectrochemical cells (PECs) can split water into H2 and O2, and thereby promise renewable, clean production of hydrogen from sunlight. PECs involve great challenges in tuning the photoelectrode electrical and optical properties to optimally balance the requirement for stability against (photo) corrosion on the one hand, and efficient solar energy harvesting on the other. Technion researchers propose several innovative strategies that will advance the science of photoelectrochemistry and bring water splitting closer to technological realization. They are exploring new materials and developing advanced PEC schemes designed to achieve high photoconversion efficiencies, using highly innovative approaches: (a) advanced nanostructures; (b) innovative semiconductors; and (c) fundamental studies on model systems. The most successful materials will be used to model and construct test devices.