There’s big business in disguising energy-generating tech like solar panels as innocuous building elements like roof tiles, window blinds, and even stained glass. But researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne may have created the ultimate hidden energy harvester: paint.
The scientists developed a new compound that sucks water vapor from the air—much like those humidity-absorbing packets of silica gel you find in shoeboxes. But unlike silica, the new material (synthetic molybdenum-sulphide) also acts as a semiconductor and water-splitting catalyst, meaning that it takes water molecules and separates them into oxygen and hydrogen, a clean fuel source.
The compound is made more effective when mixed with titanium oxide, a white pigment often found in house paint, which makes it easily applicable to a wide range of buildings.
“The simple addition of the new material can convert a brick wall into energy harvesting and fuel production real estate,” said lead researcher Dr. Torben Daeneke. “This system can also be used in very dry but hot climates near oceans. The sea water is evaporated by the hot sunlight and the vapor can then be absorbed to produce fuel.”
The technology is likely still a few years away from commercialization, since the harvested hydrogen gas would still need to be collected somehow and stored until put to use.