The possibility of generating hydrogen from sea water using sunlight energy is now one step closer, say scientists at Atmos Technologies. They claim to have successfully developed a completely new, environmentally friendly technique for the production of photo voltaic diodes at a lower cost and with a substantially lower carbon footprint than that created by conventional methods.

They say the hydrogen produced using their technology can be generated economically and efficiently and utilized either in fuel cells or in conventional engines as a replacement for petrol. Current techniques cost more in energy to generate the hydrogen than what is given out when the hydrogen is used.

Photo voltaic diodes work by using sunlight to generate electrical power, which is applied to two terminals submerged in sea water. The sea water is separated by the electrical power, generating hydrogen at one terminal and oxygen at the other. The oxygen can either be collected or released back into the atmosphere. The hydrogen is collected and stored for use either in fuel cells which can power electric motors or in conventional engines.

Production of the photo voltaic power generating diodes involves a new 'flame spraying' method as an alternative to conventional silicon based diodes that have been used to-date. The objective of this new development is to produce photo voltaic power generating diodes, with the same efficiencies as current silicon devices, but at substantially lower costs, both financially and to the environment.

Traditionally, the production of all silicon power generating diodes consumes a total of 150 kilowatt hours of electricity required to manufacture 1 kg of silicon for production into power generating devices. This means that it takes up to five years before more energy is produced than was used during manufacture, even when operated in tropical regions. Furthermore, 'clean room' conditions are always required due to the necessary use of toxic substances, such as phosphorous, arsenic and hydro-fluoric acid.

In contrast, the Atmos power generating diodes are produced by a unique flame spraying method - a more flexible process that uses no toxic chemicals, does not require clean room conditions and does not generate hard to dispose of toxic waste. Current tests show that Atmos' flame spraying method uses approximately 1/60th of the energy required to make conventional elements. This results in a substantial energy saving and a much faster energy payback.

Jeff Boardman, Managing Director at Atmos Technologies said: "Atmos' non toxic manufacturing process means that it is now demonstrably possible to generate hydrogen from sea water without harming the environment in the process. In fact, our technique can be considered a virtually pollution-free means of generating hydrogen from seawater using sunlight, providing an ever renewable, non polluting fuel from a free energy source that could be used in fuel cells for petrol engines or to produce electricity for homes."

Professor Colin Whitehouse, STFC's Director of Knowledge Exchange said: "Atmos Technologies has made a major breakthrough in what stands to benefit both the UK economy and the environment. The UK has an ever-increasing reputation for commercialising science and this is yet another credible example of what happens when a small, innovative company benefits from access to the advanced skills and facilities such as those provided at the Daresbury Science & Innovation Campus."