Engineers at Belgium research university KU Leuven have created a hydrogen gas panel that produces a world-record 250 litres of hydrogen gas per day. 

According to the team, 20 of these panels could provide electricity and heat for one family for an entire winter. 

A product of decade-long research, KU Leuven’s hydrogen gas panel looks like a traditional solar panel, but instead of converting sunlight into electricity, it turns sunlight and water vapour into hydrogen gas. 

Product image of hydrogen panel in park
© KU Leuven - Tom Bosserez

Hydrogen gas is an energy vector that can easily be stored, transported, and converted at will into both electricity and heat, the university explains. The gas doesn’t release any greenhouse gases or toxic substances, provided it is produced with clean energy. Their hydrogen gas panel prototype, which is being tested on campus, does just that.

“It’s a unique combination of physics and chemistry,” Professor Johan Martens, who led the research team, said.

“In the beginning, the efficiency was only 0.1 per cent, and barely any hydrogen molecules were formed. Today, you see them rising to the surface in bubbles.”

Most hydrogen gas is produced using oil and gas today—an expensive and unsustainable process. It is also difficult to produce and store, although easier to store than electricity. 

Professor Martens’ team hopes their prototype, which could produce enough gas in summer to be stored in an underground pressure vessel until winter, will be able to change the game. 

“Twenty of these panels produce enough heat and electricity to get through the winter in a thoroughly insulated house and still have power left," KU Leuven researcher Jan RongĂ© says. “Add another twenty panels, and you can drive an electric car for an entire year.”

© KU Leuven - Rob Stevens

The next step for the team is a pilot project to field-test their theory, which will see them installing the prototype panel at a home in Oud-Heverlee, a rural town in Flemish Brabant. 

The well-insulated house currently gets most of its power from solar panels, a solar boiler and heat pump. It is not connected to the gas grid, and only taps into the grid in winter. 

If this first phase goes smoothly, 20 more hydrogen gas panels will be added to the mix. Eventually, the goal is to install enough panels on a piece of land in the street that will produce enough gas in the summer to power 39 more homes in the winter.

Group photo of bioscience engineers with hydrogen panel
Professor Johan Martens and his team at KU Leuven. © KU Leuven - Tom Bosserez

“We wanted to design something sustainable that is affordable and can be used practically anywhere. We’re using cheap raw materials and don't need precious metals or other expensive components,” says Professor Martens. 

“[It was] ten years of work—always making improvements, detecting problems. That’s how you get results.”