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NSF/DOE partnership to award up to $18M for H2 production via advanced solar water-splitting technologies; separate DOE solicitation

A National Science Foundation and US Department of Energy (DOE) partnership on hydrogen production via solar water-splitting will award (NSF 14-511) up to $18 million to support the discovery and development of advanced materials systems and chemical processes for direct photochemical and/or thermochemical water splitting for application in the solar production of hydrogen fuel.

NSF and DOE are jointly funding this program solicitation issued by the NSF Chemical, Bioengineeering, Environmental and Transport Systems (CBET) Division; NSF expects to make 3 to 5 awards, each of up to 3-years duration. The DOE Fuel Cell Technologies Office also issued a separate solicitation for work a broader range of hydrogen production technologies. (DE-FOA-0000826)

A key benefit of this joint effort is the direct coordination of NSF-funded use-inspired basic research and EERE-funded applied R&D toward the development of cost-effective large-scale systems for the low-carbon production of hydrogen through advanced solar water-splitting technologies.

The funding partners are especially looking for projects which integrate advanced methodologies in theory, synthesis and characterization to facilitate the discovery and optimization of novel materials, materials systems and interfacial processes through enhanced scientific understanding of important fundamental unit processes, such as material/photon interactions (across the full solar spectrum); materials interactions at the nano- through meso-scales; bulk material heat and charge transport mechanisms; as well as interfacial reactions, kinetics, and corrosion.

Specific areas of interest under this solicitation include:

  • Material/light interactions over the full solar spectrum fundamental to photon absorption and to the conversion of photon energy to thermal and electrochemical energy;

  • Thermodynamic properties of materials systems fundamental to driving thermal, chemical and electrochemical processes and sub-processes; Thermal and radiative properties of materials systems fundamental to heat transfer efficient thermal management;

  • Optoelectronic properties of materials systems fundamental to efficient separation and transport of photo-excited charge carriers to relevant reaction sites for the reactions and sub-reactions in water dissociation cycles;

  • Kinetic properties of materials at interfaces fundamental to the facilitation of chemical and electrochemical reactions and sub-reactions in water dissociation cycles, as well as the mitigation of corrosion and other competing side-reactions;

  • Physical and surface chemistry of multi-phase materials systems fundamental to compound and inter-phase formation, mass diffusion properties, and junction and interface formation and properties; and

  • Validated ab-initio models to support “Materials by Design” methodologies for bulk materials and interfaces with physical, optical, chemical and electronic properties optimized for solar to hydrogen conversion.

Relevant topic areas considered responsive include, but are not limited to the theory-guided discovery and development of:

  • Novel multi-component solid-state materials with physical, optical, chemical and electronic properties optimized for photochemical and/or thermochemical solar to hydrogen conversion;

  • Innovative materials junctions and interfaces with physical, optical, chemical and electronic properties optimized for photochemical and/or thermochemical solar to hydrogen conversion;

  • Innovative catalysts, co-catalysts and appropriate linking apparatus to optimize reaction kinetics of the primary and secondary reactions in photochemical and/or thermochemical cycles for stable and efficient water dissociation; and

  • Efficient and stable materials and sub-systems for separation of multi-phase reactants and products, including hydrogen/oxygen gas separation in direct photochemical water dissociation and reactant/product management in electrolytic stages of hybrid thermochemical cycles for water splitting.

Of interest are innovative materials and catalyst systems and processes capable of solar hydrogen production rates equal to or greater than 100 J/s-m2. The research should focus, though, on the fundamental thermal/physical/chemical/electrochemical/opto-electronic processes of the problem to be investigated including performance assessment rather than on a larger demonstration and testing effort.

The funding partners expect that fundamental connections will be made between the understanding of the problem to be studied on a sub-process scale and the associated efficiency and durability gains projected for integrated solar-to-hydrogen processes based on photochemical and/or thermochemical conversion.

Proposals for incremental improvements to traditionally-studied solar water-splitting materials systems incapable of achieving solar hydrogen fuel production rates of 100 J/s of chemical energy per m2 of solar energy collection (e.g., thermochemical processes based on ceria or zinc oxide, or photochemical processes based on titanium dioxide, tungsten trioxide or iron oxide) will not be considered responsive. Additionally, proposals relying on precious metals or other non-sustainable materials systems for enhancement of efficiency or durability will not be considered.

DOE opportunity. The DOE also issued its own solicitation (DE-FOA-0000826) for hydrogen production research and development.

The long-term goal of production and delivery research and development (R&D) is a high-volume hydrogen cost goal of $2-$4 per gallon gasoline equivalent (gge) (delivered and dispensed, but untaxed) to allow fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) to be competitive on a dollar per mile basis with gasoline in hybrid electric vehicles. More specifically, the portion of the cost goal apportioned to production is <$2/gge hydrogen.

With this FOA, the DOE through the Fuel Cell Technologies Office will seek to fund hydrogen production research and development projects in order to move technologies towards reaching the hydrogen production cost goal of <$2/gge.

The FOA includes the following topics:

  • Topic 1: Integrated or hybrid systems for central, semi-central or distributed production of low-cost, low carbon hydrogen from natural gas;

  • Topic 2: Thermochemical conversion of bio-derived liquids for distributed or semi-central production of low-cost hydrogen; and

  • Topic 3: Hydrogen production through direct solar water-splitting technologies: Advanced materials-based systems for direct solar water-splitting for central or semi-central production of low-cost renewable hydrogen.



It will be great if they can reach below 2$ a kilo of hydrogen and we know that a fuelcell suv got 70 miles per kilo. That will be a lot of mpg for few dollar. Im eager to buy.


Very interesting way to produce lower cost clean hydrogen for future FCEVs. This could help to make FCEVs stronger competitors in the ultra clean vehicles field in the not too distant future.

PHEVs and BEVs may have more competition than many expected.


cost goal of $2-$4 per gallon gasoline equivalent (gge)

Cost is not price, it costs $2 per gallon for refined gasoline, the wholesale price is $3 per gallon, the retail price is $4 per gallon. Profit at every level is the capitalist system, then people complain about prices and inflation.

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