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.


Nanoparticles From Car Pollution May Trigger Alzheimer’s

Tiny magnetic particles produced by car engines and brakes can travel into the human brain and may trigger Alzheimer’s disease, scientists have warned. Researchers at Lancaster, Oxford and Manchester Universities discovered microscopic  spheres of the mineral magnetite in the brains of 37 people in Manchester and Mexico who had suffered neurodegenerative disease. The mineral magnetite is known to be toxic and is linked to the production of free radicals which are associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.


Although magnetite has previously been found in the brains of people who had died of Alzheimer’s disease, it was thought it occurred naturally. However the tiny balls spotted by the scientists had a fused surface suggesting they had been formed during extreme heat, such as in a car engineMagnetite – a form of iron oxide – is known to be produced in car engines – particularly diesel engines which can emit up to 22 times more particulates than petrol engines – as well as when brakes are used, both by cars and trains. It can also be produced by open fires and poorly fitted stoves. Researchers said the findings opened up a ‘whole new avenue‘ into the causes of Alzheimer’s disease, while charities said it offered ‘convincing evidence‘ that the toxic particles could get into the brain. “The particles we found are strikingly similar to magnetite nanospheres that are abundant in the airborne pollution found in urban settings, especially next to busy roads and which are firmed by combustion or frictional heating from vehicle engines or brakes.”