How To Extract Hydrogen Fuel from Seawater

It’s possible to produce hydrogen to power fuel cells by extracting the gas from seawater, but the electricity required to do it makes the process costly. UCF researcher Yang Yang from the University of Central Florida (UCF)  has come up with a new hybrid nanomaterial that harnesses solar energy and uses it to generate hydrogen from seawater more cheaply and efficiently than current materials. The breakthrough could someday lead to a new source of the clean-burning fuel, ease demand for fossil fuels and boost the economy of Florida, where sunshine and seawater are abundant. Yang, an assistant professor with joint appointments in the University of Central Florida’s NanoScience Technology Center and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, has been working on solar hydrogen splitting for nearly 10 years.

It’s done using a photocatalyst – a material that spurs a chemical reaction using energy from light. When he began his research, Yang focused on using solar energy to extract hydrogen from purified water. It’s a much more difficulty task with seawater; the photocatalysts needed aren’t durable enough to handle its biomass and corrosive salt.

We’ve opened a new window to splitting real water, not just purified water in a lab,” Yang said. “This really works well in seawater.”

As reported in the journal Energy & Environmental Science, Yang and his research team have developed a new catalyst that’s able to not only harvest a much broader spectrum of light than other materials, but also stand up to the harsh conditions found in seawater.



Renewable Fuel From Water

Physicists at Lancaster University (in UK) are developing methods of creating renewable fuel from water using quantum technologyRenewable hydrogen can already be produced by photoelectrolysis where solar power is used to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen. But, despite significant research effort over the past four decades, fundamental problems remain before this can be adopted commercially due to inefficiency and lack of cost-effectivenessDr Manus Hayne  from the Department of Physics said: “For research to progress, innovation in both materials development and device design is clearly needed.

The Lancaster study, which formed part of the PhD research of Dr Sam Harrison, and is published in Scientific Reports, provides the basis for further experimental work into the solar production of hydrogen as a renewable fuel. It demonstrates that the novel use of nanostructures could increase the maximum photovoltage generated in a photoelectrochemical cell, increasing the productivity of splitting water molecules.

To the authors’ best knowledge, this system has never been investigated either theoretically or experimentally, and there is huge scope for further work to expand upon the results presented here,” said Dr Haynes. “Fossil-fuel combustion releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, causing global climate change, and there is only a finite amount of them available for extraction. We clearly need to transition to a renewable and low-greenhouse-gas energy infrastructure, and renewable hydrogen is expected to play an important role.

Fossil fuels accounted for almost 90% of energy consumption in 2015, with absolute demand still increasing due to a growing global population and increasing industrialisationPhotovoltaic solar cells are currently used to convert sunlight directly into electricity but solar hydrogen has the advantage that it is easily stored, so it can be used as and when needed. Hydrogen is also very flexible, making it highly advantageous  for remote communities. It can be converted to electricity in a fuel cell, or burnt in a boiler or cooker just like natural gas. It can even be used to fuel aircraft.


Nano Robots Build Molecules

Scientists at The University of Manchester have created the world’s first ‘molecular robot’ that is capable of performing basic tasks including building other molecules.

The tiny robots, which are a millionth of a millimetre in size, can be programmed to move and build molecular cargo, using a tiny robotic arm.

Each individual robot is capable of manipulating a single molecule and is made up of just 150 carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen atoms. To put that size into context, a billion billion of these robots piled on top of each other would still only be the same size as a single grain of salt. The robots operate by carrying out chemical reactions in special solutions which can then be controlled and programmed by scientists to perform the basic tasks.

In the future such robots could be used for medical purposes, advanced manufacturing processes and even building molecular factories and assembly lines.

All matter is made up of atoms and these are the basic building blocks that form molecules. Our robot is literally a molecular robot constructed of atoms just like you can build a very simple robot out of Lego bricks, explains Professor David Leigh, who led the research at University’s School of Chemistry. “The robot then responds to a series of simple commands that are programmed with chemical inputs by a scientistIt is similar to the way robots are used on a car assembly line. Those robots pick up a panel and position it so that it can be riveted in the correct way to build the bodywork of a car. So, just like the robot in the factory, our molecular version can be programmed to position and rivet components in different ways to build different products, just on a much smaller scale at a molecular level.”

The research has been published in Nature.


How To Convert 90% Of Water Into Hydrogen

Researchers from North Carolina State University (NC State) have significantly boosted the efficiency of two techniques, for splitting water to create hydrogen gas and splitting carbon dioxide (CO2) to create carbon monoxide (CO). The products are valuable feedstock for clean energy and chemical manufacturing applications. The water-splitting process successfully converts 90 percent of water into hydrogen gas, while the CO2-splitting process converts more than 98 percent of the CO2 into CO. In addition, the process also uses the resulting oxygen to convert methane into syngas, which is itself a feedstock used to make fuels and other products.

These advances are made possible by materials that we specifically designed to have the desired thermodynamic properties for each process,” says Fanxing Li, an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NC State who is corresponding author of two papers on the work. “These properties had not been reported before unless you used rare earth materials.”

For the CO2-splitting process, researchers developed a nanocomposite of strontium ferrite dispersed in a chemically inert matrix of calcium oxide or manganese oxide. As CO2 is run over a packed bed of particles composed of the nanocomposite, the nanocomposite material splits the CO2 and captures one of the oxygen atoms. This reduces the CO2, leaving only CO behind.

Previous CO2 conversion techniques have not been very efficient, converting well below 90 percent of the CO2 into CO,” Li says. “We reached conversion rates as high as 99 percent. “And CO is valuable because it can be used to make a variety of chemical products, including everything from polymers to acetic acid,” Li adds.

Meanwhile, the oxygen captured during the CO2-splitting process is combined with methane and converted into syngas using solar energy.


Cheap, Robust Catalyst Splits Water Into Hydrogen And Oxygen

Splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen to produce clean energy can be simplified with a single catalyst developed by scientists at Rice University and the University of Houston. The electrolytic film produced at Rice and tested at Houston is a three-layer structure of nickel, graphene and a compound of iron, manganese and phosphorus. The foamy nickel gives the film a large surface, the conductive graphene protects the nickel from degrading and the metal phosphide carries out the reactionRice chemist Kenton Whitmire and Houston electrical and computer engineer Jiming Bao and their labs developed the film to overcome barriers that usually make a catalyst good for producing either oxygen or hydrogen, but not both simultaneously.

A catalyst developed by Rice University and the University of Houston splits water into hydrogen and oxygen without the need for expensive metals like platinum. This electron microscope image shows nickel foam coated with graphene and then the catalytic surface of iron, manganese and phosphorus

Regular metals sometimes oxidize during catalysis,” Whitmire said. “Normally, a hydrogen evolution reaction is done in acid and an oxygen evolution reaction is done in base. We have one material that is stable whether it’s in an acidic or basic solution.

The discovery builds upon the researchers’ creation of a simple oxygen-evolution catalyst revealed earlier this year. In that work, the team grew a catalyst directly on a semiconducting nanorod array that turned sunlight into energy for solar water splittingElectrocatalysis requires two catalysts, a cathode and an anode. When placed in water and charged, hydrogen will form at one electrode and oxygen at the other, and these gases are captured. But the process generally requires costly metals to operate as efficiently as the Rice team’s catalyst.

The standard for hydrogen evolution is platinum,” Whitmire explained. “We’re using Earth-abundant materials — iron, manganese and phosphorus — as opposed to noble metals that are much more expensive.

The robust material is the subject of a paper in Nano Energy.


Nano-based Material Is 60 Times More Efficient To Produce Hydrogen

Global climate change and the energy crisis mean that alternatives to fossil fuels are urgently needed. Among the cleanest low-carbon fuels is hydrogen, which can react with oxygen to release energy, emitting nothing more harmful than water (H2O) as the product. However, most hydrogen on earth is already locked into H2O (or other molecules), and cannot be used for power.

Hydrogen can be generated by splitting H2O, but this uses more energy than the produced hydrogen can give back. Water splitting is often driven by solar power, so-called “solar-to-hydrogenconversion. Materials like titanium oxide, known as semiconductors with the wide band-gap, are traditionally used to convert sunlight to chemical energy for the photocatalytic reaction. However, these materials are inefficient because only the ultraviolet (UV) part of light is absorbed—the rest spectrum of sunlight is wasted.

Now, a team in Osaka University has developed a material to harvest a broader spectrum of sunlight. The three-part composites of this material maximize both absorbing light and its efficiency for water splitting. The core is a traditional semiconductor, lanthanum titanium oxide (LTO). The LTO surface is partly coated with tiny specks of gold, known as nanoparticles. Finally, the gold-covered LTO is mixed with ultrathin sheets of the element black phosphorus (BP), which acts as a light absorber.

BP is a wonderful material for solar applications, because we can tune the frequency of light just by varying its thickness, from ultrathin to bulk,” the team leader Tetsuro Majima says. “This allows our new material to absorb visible and even near infrared light, which we could never achieve with LTO alone.”

By absorbing this broad sweep of energy, BP is stimulated to release electrons, which are then conducted to the gold nanoparticles coating the LTO. Gold nanoparticles also absorb visible light, causing some of its own electrons to be jolted out. The free electrons in both BP and gold nanoparticles are then transferred into the LTO semiconductor, where they act as an electric current for water splitting.

Hydrogen production using this material is enhanced not only by the broader spectrum of light absorption, but by the more efficient electron conduction, caused by the unique interface between two dimensional materials of BP and LTO. As a result, the material is 60 times more active than pure LTO.


Scalable Catalyst Produces Cheap Pure Hydrogen

The “clean-energy economy” always seems a few steps away but never quite here. Fossil fuels still power transportation, heating and cooling, and manufacturing, but a team of scientists from Penn State and Florida State University have come one step closer to inexpensive, clean hydrogen fuel with a lower cost and industrially scalable catalyst that produces pure hydrogen through a low-energy water-splitting process.

Hydrogen fuel cells can boost a clean-energy economy not only in the transportation sector, where fast fueling and vehicle range outpace battery-powered vehicles, but also to store electrical energy produced by solar and wind. This research is another step forward to reaching that goal.
Energy is the most important issue of our time, and for energy, fuel cells are crucially important, and then for fuel cells, hydrogen is most important,” said Yu Lei, Penn State doctoral student and first author of an ACS Nano paper describing the water-splitting catalyst she and her colleagues theoretically predicted and then synthesized in the lab. “People have been searching for a good catalyst that can efficiently split water into hydrogen and oxygen. During this process, there will be no side products that are not environmentally friendly.”

The current industrial method of producing hydrogen — steam reforming of methane — results in the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Other methods use waste heat, from sources such as advanced nuclear power plants or concentrated solar power, both of which face technical challenges for commercial feasibility. Another industrial process uses platinum as the catalyst to drive the water-splitting process. Although platinum is a near-perfect catalyst, it is also expensive. A cheaper catalyst could make hydrogen a reasonable alternative to fossil fuels in transportation, and power fuel cells for energy storage applications.

Molybdenum disulfide has been predicted as a possible replacement for platinum, because the Gibbs free energy for hydrogen absorption is close to zero,” said Mauricio Terrones, professor of physics, materials science and engineering, and chemistry, Penn State. The lower the Gibbs free energy, the less external energy has to be applied to produce a chemical reaction.


Super-Efficient Production Of Hydrogen From Solar Energy

Hydrogen is an alternative source of energy that can be produced from renewable sources of sunlight and water. A group of Japanese researchers has developed a photocatalyst that increases hydrogen production tenfold.

When light is applied to photocatalysts, electrons and holes are produced on the surface of the catalyst, and hydrogen is obtained when these electrons reduce the hydrogen ions in water. However, in traditional photocatalysts the holes that are produced at the same time as the electrons mostly recombine on the surface of the catalyst and disappear, making it difficult to increase conversion efficiency.

Professor Tachikawa’s research group from the Kobe University developed a photocatalyst made of mesocrystal, deliberately creating a lack of uniformity in size and arrangement of the crystals. This new photocatalyst is able to spatially separate the electrons and electron holes to prevent them recombining. As a result, it has a far more efficient conversion rate for producing hydrogen than conventional nanoparticulate photocatalysts (approximately 7%).

The team developed a new method called “Topotactic Epitaxial Growth” that uses the nanometer-sized spaces in mesocrystals.
Using these findings, the research group plans to apply mesocrystal technology to realizing the super-efficient production of hydrogen from solar energy. The perovskite metal oxides, including strontium titanate, the target of this study, are the fundamental materials of electronic elements, so their results could be applied to a wide range of fields.

The discovery was made by a joint research team led by Associate Professor Tachikawa Takashi (Molecular Photoscience Research Center, Kobe University) and Professor Majima Tetsuro (Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research, Osaka University). Their findings were published  in the online version of Angewandte Chemie International Edition.


Harvest: How To Increase The Production By Up To 40%

Nanolabs, a company specialised in nanotechnology, has been able to increase the production of melons by up to 40% on a farm in Almeria (Spain), thanks to the installation of ASAR systems in the irrigation system of the farm.
In 2015, 30,000 kilos were harvested, while in the same period of 2016, this figure increased to 50,000 kilos; a 40% growth.
To achieve this, Nanolabs applies nanotechnology through its ASAR solution, which acts physically on water, emitting a quantum of energy that stimulates hydrogen bonds. As a result, these become more active, which translates into a better transport of nutrients to the crops and a significant improvement in the use of the nutrients present in the substrate. The increase in production has not been the only benefit of the project; it has also made it possible to improve the quality of the fruit and has reduced both the consumption of water for irrigation and the use of fertilisers and phytosanitary products by 20%.
For Javier Llanes, CEO of Nanolabs, “the dramatic increase in the melon production is just one example of the great benefits that nanotechnology can bring to the agricultural sector. At Nanolabs, we apply technology to promote sustainability and we work on innovative projects with impressive results in both production improvement and savings in water consumption.”


Clean Hydrogen Produced From Biomass

A team of scientists at the University of Cambridge has developed a way of using solar power to generate a fuel that is both sustainable and relatively cheap to produce. It’s using natural light to generate hydrogen from biomass. One of the challenges facing modern society is what it does with its waste products. As natural resources decline in abundance, using waste for energy is becoming more pressing for both governments and business. Biomass has been a source of heat and energy since the beginning of recorded history.  The planet’s oil reserves are derived from ancient biomass which has been subjected to high pressures and temperatures over millions of years. Lignocellulose is the main component of plant biomass and up to now its conversion into hydrogen has only been achieved through a gasification process which uses high temperatures to decompose it fully.

biomass can produce hydrogen

Lignocellulose is nature’s equivalent to armoured concrete. It consists of strong, highly crystalline cellulose fibres, that are interwoven with lignin and hemicellulose which act as a glue. This rigid structure has evolved to give plants and trees mechanical stability and protect them from degradation, and makes chemical utilisation of lignocellulose so challenging,” says  Dr Moritz Kuehnel, from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge and co-author of the research.

The new technology relies on a simple photocatalytic conversion process. Catalytic nanoparticles are added to alkaline water in which the biomass is suspended. This is then placed in front of a light in the lab which mimics solar light. The solution is ideal for absorbing this light and converting the biomass into gaseous hydrogen which can then be collected from the headspace. The hydrogen is free of fuel-cell inhibitors, such as carbon monoxide, which allows it to be used for power.

The findings have been  published in Nature Energy.


Clean Renewable Source Of Hydrogen Fuel For Electric Car

Rice University scientists have created an efficient, simple-to-manufacture oxygen-evolution catalyst that pairs well with semiconductors for solar water splitting, the conversion of solar energy to chemical energy in the form of hydrogen and oxygen.

anode RiceA photo shows an array of titanium dioxide nanorods with an even coating of an iron, manganese and phosphorus catalyst. The combination developed by scientists at Rice University and the University of Houston is a highly efficient photoanode for artificial photosynthesis. Click on the image for a larger version

The lab of Kenton Whitmire, a Rice professor of chemistry, teamed up with researchers at the University of Houston and discovered that growing a layer of an active catalyst directly on the surface of a light-absorbing nanorod array produced an artificial photosynthesis material that could split water at the full theoretical potential of the light-absorbing semiconductor with sunlight. An oxygen-evolution  catalyst splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. Finding a clean renewable source of hydrogen fuel is the focus of extensive research, but the technology has not yet been commercialized.

The Rice team came up with a way to combine three of the most abundant metalsiron, manganese and phosphorus — into a precursor that can be deposited directly onto any substrate without damaging it. To demonstrate the material, the lab placed the precursor into its custom chemical vapor deposition (CVD) furnace and used it to coat an array of light-absorbing, semiconducting titanium dioxide nanorods. The combined material, called a photoanode, showed excellent stability while reaching a current density of 10 milliamps per square centimeter, the researchers reported.

The results appear in two new studies. The first, on the creation of the films, appears in Chemistry: A European Journal. The second, which details the creation of photoanodes, appears in ACS Nano.


Breakthrough In The BioMedical Industry

Polyhedral boranes, or clusters of boron atoms bound to hydrogen atoms, are transforming the biomedical industry. These manmade materials have become the basis for the creation of cancer therapies, enhanced drug delivery and new contrast agents needed for radioimaging and diagnosis. Now, a researcher at the University of Missouri has discovered an entirely new class of materials based on boranes that might have widespread potential applications, including improved diagnostic tools for cancer and other diseases as well as low-cost solar energy cells.

Mark Lee Jr., an assistant professor of chemistry in the MU College of Arts and Science, discovered the new class of hybrid nanomolecules by combining boranes with carbon and hydrogen. Boranes are chemically stable and have been tested at extreme heat of up to 900 degrees Celsius or 1,652 degrees Fahrenheit. It is the thermodynamic stability these molecules exhibit that make them non-toxic and attractive to the biomedical, personal computer and alternative energy industries.
Polyhedral boranes

Despite their stability, we discovered that boranes react with aromatic hydrocarbons at mildly elevated temperatures, replacing many of the hydrogen atoms with rings of carbon,” Lee said. “Polyhedral boranes are incredibly inert, and it is their reaction with aromatic hydrocarbons like benzene that will make them more useful.”

Lee also showed that the attached hydrocarbons communicate with the borane core. “The result is that these new materials are highly fluorescent in solution,” Lee said. “Fluorescence can be used in applications such as bio-imaging agents and organic light-emitting diodes like those in phones or television screens. Solar cells and other alternative energy sources also use fluorescence, so there are many practical uses for these new materials.
The findings have been recently published in the international journal Angewandte Chemie.