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Australian scientists demonstrate new source of clean energy

22 June 2010

Australian scientists have demonstrated a new source of clean energy – a breakthrough which has just been published in the prestigious science journal, Nature Materials.

The discovery has been made by Dr Zhiguo Yi and Professor Ray Withers, from the Research School of Chemistry at the Australian National University in Canberra, working with colleagues at the National Institute of Materials Science in Japan and Nanjing University in China.

The scientists have shown that the inorganic compound, silver orthophosphate, can oxidise water with the power of light. This oxidisation process can be used to break down organic contaminants in water and raises the possibility of using solar energy to efficiently ‘split’ water into oxygen and hydrogen, allowing the hydrogen to be used as clean fuel.  

Dr Yi discovered the new property of silver orthophosphate some years ago when he was working in Japan, but it was only after he joined the Australian National University that the research team solved the problem of how to stabilise the compound.

Dr Yi said that compounds such as silver halides, used in photographic applications, are not stable under light illumination, and that the silver orthophosphate they used is no exception. However, their work had shown that silver orthophosphate can be regenerated in an energy-efficient manner by an electrical method.

The researchers have commented that the next step will be to look at the use of electricity to power the process, and that there is good potential for industrial applications.

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