An article on Science Daily reported, “Materials scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have designed a way to harvest small amounts of waste energy and harness them to turn water into usable hydrogen fuel.” The authors of the new paper wrote: “This study provides a simple and cost-effective technology for direct water splitting that may generate hydrogen fuels by scavenging energy wastes such as noise or stray vibrations from the environment.” It was a little ambiguous what they were doing at first.
The scientists grew nano crystals of common crystals and applied noise vibrations to them producing piezoelectricity. Piezoelectricity is electricity produced by mechanical pressure on certain crystals (notably quartz or Rochelle salt); alternatively, electrostatic. The scientists had 18% efficiency with the nano crystal fibers. They then used that energy to break the chemical bonds of water to separate the oxygen and hydrogen gas. The hydrogen can then be used as fuel. Neat.
Xu one of the scientists involved believes, “With the right technology,  this method [would be] useful for generating small amounts of power from a multitude of small sources — for example, walking could charge a cell phone or music player and breezes could power streetlights.