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A new solar powered device could produce more affordable hydrogen powered vehicles.

A team from UCLA has created a new device that can efficiently create and store energy that could be used to power electronic devices and create hydrogen fuel.

The device produces hydrogen using nickel, iron and cobalt—elements that are significantly cheaper and more abundant than the platinum and other precious metals that are currently used to produce hydrogen fuel.

“Hydrogen is a great fuel for vehicles: It is the cleanest fuel known, it's cheap and it puts no pollutants into the air—just water,” Richard Kaner, the study's senior author and a UCLA distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and of materials science and engineering, said in a statement. “And this could dramatically lower the cost of hydrogen cars.

“People need fuel to run their vehicles and electricity to run their devices,” he added. “Now you can make both electricity and fuel with a single device.”

Traditional hydrogen fuel cells and supercapacitors have both a positive and negative electrode. However, the researchers used a third electrode that acts both as a supercapacitor that stores energy and as a device for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen.

All three electrodes connect to a single solar cell that serves as a power source. The electrical energy harvested can then be stored electrochemically in the supercapacitor or chemically as hydrogen.

The electrode was designed at the nanoscale to ensure the greatest surface area would be exposed to water, which increased the amount of hydrogen the device can produce and also stored more charge in the supercapacitor.

Currently, about 95 percent of hydrogen production comes from converting fossil fuels in a process that releases large quantities of carbon dioxide in the air. However, the new device can produce hydrogen fuel in an environmentally friendly way.

“Hydrogen energy is not 'green' unless it is produced from renewable sources,” Maher El-Kady, a UCLA postdoctoral researcher and a co-author of the research, said in a statement.

The new device is currently too small to be used for hydrogen cars, but the researchers believe a larger version is possible.

“For hydrogen cars to be widely used, there remains a need for a technology that safely stores large quantities of hydrogen at normal pressure and temperature, instead of the pressurized cylinders that are currently in use,” Mir Mousavi, a co-author of the paper and a professor of chemistry at Iran's Tarbiat Modares University, said in a statement.   

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