Johan Martens, Tom Bosserez and Jan Rongé

Green hydrogen from sunlight and air

Technical field
Electrical machinery, apparatus, energy
KU Leuven
Johan Martens, Tom Bosserez and Jan Rongé have invented a solar panel that produces clean hydrogen gas from sunlight and ambient moisture, potentially providing an alternative source of green energy for buildings around the world.

Finalist for the European Inventor Award 2022

Hydrogen can act as an environmentally friendly fuel by being either burned or run through a fuel cell to generate electricity. Despite the potential advantages of this green energy source, researchers in this field are facing several challenges. Current methods to extract hydrogen are typically very energy intensive, require massive facilities and often involve the use of precious metals. Johan Martens and his two graduate students, Tom Bosserez and Jan Rongé, have overcome these hurdles and developed the first solar panel capable of extracting clean hydrogen fuel from air.

They created materials to absorb ambient humidity during the night and trigger chemical reactions during the day, when sunlight strikes the water molecules and splits them into oxygen and hydrogen gases. Unlike previous laboratory attempts to split water using sunlight, the invention requires no external supply of pure water and is composed entirely of cheap and abundant materials. According to the inventors, twenty panels would provide enough heat and electricity for a modern building to make it through a typical Belgian winter. By modifying the design, the panels could be tailored to specific climatic conditions, such as in drier areas in Africa or on rooftops with low sun exposure in Nordic countries.

Growing market for green innovation

Martens has worked with Bosserez and Rongé on the solar hydrogen panel since 2013 and they are currently field-testing their technology. The trio plan to establish a spin-off company later this year, leaving them placed to capitalise on the green hydrogen market that is estimated to grow to over EUR 3 billion within the next five years.

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