Plastic ‘leaves’ turn water into fuel

Chun Hin (credit Tom Rayner)

Chun Hin Ng presenting at Fresh Science in the Pub (credit Tom Rayner)

Monash University researchers have developed a new plastic material that can extract hydrogen from water. It could be the start of a water-fuelled energy revolution.

The idea of splitting water (H2O) into hydrogen and oxygen is not a new one. If the two can be split efficiently enough, that hydrogen becomes a valuable potential fuel.

But previous methods to extract the hydrogen from water have either been very expensive or very inefficient, requiring a huge amount of energy to split water and produce hydrogen.

Chun Hin Ng has worked out a way to make this process cheaper, more sustainable and efficient, by using a carbon-based plastic material that can conduct electricity.

When light is shone onto this plastic, the energy from the light is harnessed to reduce the overall energy requirement to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

This hydrogen can then react with oxygen to produce ‘clean’ energy, with the only emissions being water vapour, which can then be put back into the cycle and used again.

It’s early days yet – currently, only small amounts of hydrogen have been produced. But this could be the spark of new cheaper, renewable energy.

Chun presented his research at Fresh Science, a national program that helps early-career researchers find and share their stories of discovery. Fresh Science is in its 19th year and has kick-started the science communications skills of over 400 Australian scientists. In 2016, Fresh Science ran in every mainland state, with over 100 early-career researchers nominating for Fresh Science in Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Sydney.

In 2016, Fresh Science Victoria partnerd with Museum Victoria, CSIRO, Deakin University, Monash University, RMIT University, Swinburne University of Technology, the University of Melbourne and New Scientist.

Contact: Chun Hin Ng, Monash University, 0425 255 881,

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