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Fuel from Water and the Sun

An Application of Electrochemistry and Thermodynamics

Co Authors:

Joshua D. Hartman
Department of Chemistry
University of California, Riverside

Jack F. Eichler
Department of Chemistry
University of California, Riverside


This problem-based case study presents recent advancements in the development and application of technologies geared towards harnessing sunlight for the production of hydrogen from water. A PowerPoint presentation introduces the topic with a New York Times excerpt about a growing market of fuel cell-powered toys. Might similar technologies also address our transportation needs? Students next read a general overview from Chemical & Engineering News about the challenges associated with developing robust and economically feasible water-splitting catalysts and the recent development of a low-cost heterogeneous cobalt phosphate catalyst. Students also read a primary literature article from Science on the cobalt phosphate catalyst and then complete a three-page worksheet (included in the teaching notes) as a collaborative learning activity designed to increase understanding of the basic electrochemical principles underlying hydrogen production. This case study was originally written for a second semester/third quarter general chemistry course and presented after the units on thermodynamics and electrochemistry have been covered.

  • Highlight the relevance of chemistry to current world issues.
  • Apply basic chemical knowledge to complex, multi-faceted problems.
  • Develop the ability to critically analyze primary literature and draw conclusions based on the data and evidence contained therein.
  • Develop the ability to communicate scientific and technical concepts in both written and verbal form.
  • Improve the development of fundamental chemistry skills such as identifying half-reactions, calculating cell potentials, using tables of standard reduction potentials as well as the relation of free energy and cell potential.
Keywords: Electrochemistry; electrolysis; hydrogen fuel; alternative fuels; PEC; photoelectrochemical cells; thermodynamics; renewable fuels; half-reactions; cell potentials; standard reduction potentials; free energy
Topical Area: Policy issues
Educational Level: Undergraduate lower division
Formats: PDF, PowerPoint
Type/Method: Analysis (Issues), Journal Article, Problem-Based Learning
Language: English
Subject Headings: Chemistry (General)   Chemical Engineering   Environmental Science  
Date Posted: 9/10/2015
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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