Sauvage, Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2016: The Future Is Called Hydrogen

By October 5, 2023 5   min read  (814 words)

October 5, 2023 |

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The French researcher Jean-Pierre Sauvage, who won this award in 2016, talked about the best technique for replacing fossil fuels.

“When hydrogen is burned, no CO2 is produced, only water is created. Hydrogen is the ideal fuel,” Sauvage explained in an interview with EFE during one of the sessions of the Passion for Knowledge (P4K) science outreach festival, which in its fifth edition this week brings together 16 prestigious international researchers in San Sebastián and Bilbao, eight of whom have been awarded the Nobel Prize.

The main challenge in obtaining hydrogen from water, as explained by Sauvage, lies in the fact that it is a “very difficult” reaction, requiring a “lot of energy,” and it has been researched by “thousands” of scientists since the 1960s and 70s with progress that has been “very slow.”

Although this process is still very energy-intensive at present, there is beginning to be a glimpse of a way to make it more cost-effective through renewable sources.

The sun, the best option

At the right time, the French Nobel laureate considered the sun to be the best option. “If we could only harness one part in 10,000 of the solar energy that reaches the Earth, we would have it, it would be more than enough,” he said optimistically.

Currently, there are two main avenues of work in this field. The first, “purely molecular,” is based on natural photosynthesis and attempts to “mimic the process that occurs in plants,” he clarified.

This is a field in which Sauvage is working, with “insufficient results” as of now, but with the confidence that it will eventually lead to the development of “commercial tools” from this line of research.

He did not hide, however, that in the meantime, the second avenue, which uses “semiconductor instruments and photovoltaic elements” in the process, could still be “more successful.”

The Electric Car

Despite his strong commitment to hydrogen, the French scientist sees no contradiction in the current push for electric cars. He believes that in the future, there will also be “very efficient photovoltaic instruments” that will allow harnessing solar energy in these vehicles.

However, he dismissed batteries from this equation. While they are “very useful” at present, he believes they “cannot be the future.” He likened it to nuclear power plants, which currently produce a lot of needed energy but are not the future despite their current enormous usefulness.

Climate change is another issue that concerns Sauvage. He pointed out that it is “completely obvious” and that “no one” can deny it, not even Donald Trump. He also acknowledged that it is a problem with a “very difficult” solution.

Personal Behavior

“Politicians should insist on something they don’t do, which is the personal behavior of individuals,” where, in his opinion, the real “key” lies.

“It is important,” he added, “to work on large energy projects, but it is just as important to work on the personal attitude of individuals and how they behave regarding energy use.”

“Do not buy large cars that consume ten liters of fuel. These high-consumption vehicles should be heavily penalized with higher taxes. Many people are wasting too much energy,” he summarized.

Climate Change

“Personal behavior is the most important thing against climate change, and we are not emphasizing it,” emphasized the French Nobel laureate, who also highlighted the importance of “simple things like sorting household waste.”

Sauvage, who has also researched the development of nanorobots and, along with his team, conceived the first molecular muscle, does not shy away from discussing “delicate” matters, such as the potential possibility of creating artificial life in a lab or the perverse use of artificial intelligence.

Issues that he sees no reason to be alarmed about because, in his view, humans are still “very, very far from artificial life.”

Artificial Life

“Producing an artificial living organism is beyond our current capabilities. We can modify living organisms, change their DNA, alter their genetics, but creating one is far from reach,” he emphasized.

He also pointed out that while artificial intelligence is taking on an unprecedented dimension, it is, in fact, “quite old,” having existed for “at least 30 years.”


“There are databases so large that it’s even hard to imagine their size, and this is what creates such an astonishing effect on people. But the principles were already here; the difference lies in the enormous amount and scale of the data it can process,” he commented.

In any case, he does not believe we should be worried about this phenomenon, because the “key” lies in the “databases,” which are “fed by people,” and everything will therefore depend on “the data that is included in them.” He also does not rule out the need to introduce some ethical rules, “especially when it comes to matters related to living beings.”



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