University of Vermont

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Engineering and Mathematical Sciences

UVM researchers explore harvesting hydrogen with energy from the sun

Release Date: 01-29-2007

Author: Dawn Marie Densmore
Phone: Array Fax: 802-656-8802

Walter VarhueDr. Walter Varhue, professor in The University of Vermont's College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, has submitted a grant proposal to the United States Department of Energy (DOE) for a three-year grant of $750,000 per year for research involving nano-structured catalysts for the photoelectrochemical production of hydrogen.

Today, energy is transported via two basic forms: electricity and hydrocarbons such as gasoline, natural gas, diesel and heating oil. In the future, power will be delivered in the form of electricity and hydrogen, which doesn't pollute the environment.

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"The idea is to create a material that can catalyze the chemical reaction of converting water into hydrogen and oxygen when powered by the sun," Varhue explains.

Although there is enough energy in a particle of light from the sun to break water into hydrogen and oxygen, the conversion process is not efficient. New materials inspired by nanotechnology, however, may solve this problem. "If the current efficiency of 2% can be increased to 10%," Varhue says, "it would be feasible to create farms across America that could produce hydrogen instead of grow corn."

Varhue, a professor of Electrical Engineering, is the principal investigator on the grant. Collaborators include representatives from the Department of Chemistry as well as the Mechanical and Electrical Engineering programs.

The grant process is very competitive with 17 EPSCoR states submitting grant proposals and only 3 awards typically granted.

Find out more

To read more about Dr. Varhue's research, see "UVM team tries to unlock hydrogen potential" (Burlington Free Press, March 12, 2007).

The Vermont Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) contributes to building an infrastructure that improves the research competitiveness of Vermont scientists and engineers, and brings NSF resources to the service of the broader community.