ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — As fossil fuels phase-out in some aspects of our lives new fuels will be needed to replace them. One of them might be made from Hydrogen, which is the most abundant element in the universe. Researchers at the University of Rochester are working to make the process of developing hydrogen fuel more efficient and environmentally friendly.

“We want to develop systems that make hydrogen, H2 fuel out of water and this process needs some kind of energy input to it and we want to do this using light,” said Dr. Kara Bren, the Richard S. Eisenberg Professor in Chemistry at the University of Rochester, and the leader of the project.

Dr. Bren elaborated that while the process shares some similarities to natural photosynthesis it does bear different results more suited to our needs.

Natural photosynthesis has different end products but what natural photosynthesis does is it takes light energy and it makes fuel,” said Dr. Bren. “We instead are making hydrogen, something that we would like to use as a fuel.”

The process Dr. Bren and her colleagues use to make that fuel, involves water, light, and bacteria among other things. In this case, the bacteria are actually local to our region.

“This bacterium was discovered in Lake Oneida by a scientist named Ken Nielsen back in 1988,” said Dr. Bren.

How it all comes together is simply chemistry at work, nanocrystals absorb light and become energized. These release electrons into water which is filled with protons. These combine to create H2 or hydrogen fuel. 

“And then meanwhile the bacteria are munching on on their food and then as part of their respiration they’re ejecting these electrons and those electrons go back, some of them anyway go back, into the nanocrystals to complete the whole cycle,” said Dr. Todd Kraus, a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Rochester and one of the other researchers working on the project.

While mass production of hydrogen fuel is far off from this process, it does show promise according to the team; and as for if this is the fuel of the future, that answer will come with time too.