Low-cost, clean hydrogen fuel could be a step closer, thanks to a discovery by University scientists.
Researchers have uncovered key details about chemical catalysts that use light to break apart water molecules, splitting them into hydrogen - for use as fuel - and oxygen.
The findings will help researchers design efficient photocatalysts that can operate at a range of temperatures, making the production of hydrogen fuel from water cheaper and easier to control.
Hydrogen fuel cells work by burning hydrogen to give off heat, which can be converted into energy to power engines.
The process creates water as an end product, making it a clean way to produce energy.
Researchers made their discovery by bombarding photocatalyst materials with tiny neutron and electron particles.
By measuring how the particles scattered as they bounced off the photocatalyst, they were able to determine the atomic structure of the material.
Having knowledge of how the atoms are ordered will help scientists understand how the photocatalyst will behave when absorbing light energy.
It will also provide clues about how the material will respond to changes in temperature and pressure, all of which are important in designing photocatalysts to split water.
The study, published in Nature Chemistry, was carried out in collaboration with the Institut de Ciencia de Materials de Barcelona.
It was supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Science and Technology Facilities Council, the Royal Society, EaStChem and the Leverhulme Trust.
The class of photocatalysts we are examining have great potential. By understanding more about how they are structured, we will have greater control over their properties, allowing us to get the best results possible in producing green energy.