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Cobalt oxide catalyst splits water with sunlight

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Cobalt oxide nanoparticles have been used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen for the first time by a team of engineers and scientists from the United States and China led by Jiming Bao, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Houston, according to their report in the Dec. 15, 2013, issue of the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

This is the first time any researcher has reported the ability to split naturally occurring water into hydrogen and oxygen using only light and a single catalyst (cobalt oxide nanoparticles.)

The cobalt oxide nanopartlices were prepared using ball milling and laser ablation. Each technique produced similar efficiency but ball milling is much less expensive.

The researchers tested light in small frequency groups that are a part of naturally occurring sunlight and found no specific frequency that produced an increased reaction rate.

The efficiency of this method of producing hydrogen as a fuel from water is between five and ten percent.

The researchers state that the cobalt oxide does not last long enough to make the method commercially viable as of yet but this is the first direct light to hydrogen method using only one catalyst developed to date that has been proven to work.

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