This reality is inching ever closer after researchers from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in Australia developed a "solar paint" capable of pulling water vapor from the air and splitting it into hydrogen and oxygen using energy provided by sunlight.
"Hydrogen is one of the cleanest fuels, since it turns into water when burned," Daeneke told ResearchGate. "Hydrogen can be used either in fuel cells or directly in combustion engines. The first hydrogen fueled cars and busses can already be found in some cities around the globe. The key advantage here is that no harmful side products are emitted. This can drastically reduce smog, which is a serious issue in today's megacities, and greenhouse gases if the hydrogen is produced from renewable energy sources."
The paint contains a new, silica-gel-like compound—synthetic molybdenum-sulphide—that not only absorbs moisture from its surroundings but can also trigger chemical reactions that splits water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen atoms.
"We found that mixing the compound with titanium oxide particles leads to a sunlight-absorbing paint that produces hydrogen fuel from solar energy and moist air," Daeneke said in a statement. "Titanium oxide is the white pigment that is already commonly used in wall paint, meaning that the simple addition of the new material can convert a brick wall into energy harvesting and fuel production real estate."
The technology is also ideal because the hydrogen created by the solar paint is not produced by fossil fuels nor is a constant supply of clean water necessary.
"The technique we developed avoids the use of liquid water altogether," Daeneke explained to ResearchGate. "Instead, our system captures water vapor from air ... This avoids all of the issues arising from the use of liquid water."
Theoretically, the solar paint could be applied or sprayed onto any surface where water vapor is present. Even evaporated moisture from salty or waste water would be sufficient, Daeneke noted.
Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh, a professor at RMIT, added that "this system can also be used in very dry but hot climates near oceans. The sea water is evaporated by the hot sunlight and the vapor can then be absorbed to produce fuel."
Daeneke envisions that the paint could one day be used in conjunction with other renewable energy technologies.
"Photocatalytic paints may find application in multiple settings, one obvious one could be the local production of hydrogen as an energy carrier, side by side with photovoltaics generating renewable electricity," he told ResearchGate. "Further steps are necessary in order to fully see the scope of this technology. For example, our next targets are to incorporate this system together with gas separation membranes that will allow selectively harvesting and storing the produced hydrogen."
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.