Researchers from the Shanghai Jiaotong University in China have been working on a way to boost hydrogen fuel production. Their efforts were spurred by the growing demand for hydrogen gas, which has been driven by the increasing popularity of fuel cells. The auto industry has been a champion of fuel cells and hydrogen energy for the past several years and most major car makers will be releasing hydrogen-powered cars in 2013 and 2015. As these vehicles become commonplace, the need for hydrogen fuel is expected to reach critical mass. Researchers believe that hydrogen production will be as important to the auto industry as fuel cells are.
Like other researchers around the world, Chinese scientists are turning to nanotechnology for answers. Unlike their compatriots, however, they believe that the solution to efficient and effective hydrogen production already exists and can be found in the wings of a butterfly. Researchers have been analyzing the winds of the Papilio helenus, a butterfly native to southern India and Southeast Asia, and have based a nanostructure on the design of these wings. According to researchers, this design, comprised platinum nanoparticles, is responsible for a 230% increase in hydrogen production in solar-powered fuel cells.
A butterfly is well-known for its ability to collect solar energy through its wings to heat its body. Researchers suggest that this concept can be applied to fuel cell technology to make hydrogen production a more efficient process.