New research would turn water into tomorrow’s fuel
A pioneering research are performing in many places to discovery of commercially viable solar fuels that could replace coal, oil, and other fossil fuels. As the advances of technology the uses of fuel energy increases. That is how this research may ultimately help to develop a sustainable and commercially viable hydrogen from water. The researchers are now working to improve the efficiency of the process and find out more about that.
Researchers at Caltech and Berkeley Lab have nearly doubled in two years the number of materials known to have potential use in solar fuels.
Solar fuels, a clean energy research dream, are created using only sunlight, water and carbon dioxide (CO2). Researchers are exploring a range of target fuels, from hydrogen gas to liquid hydrocarbons, and the production of any of these fuels involves the division of water.
Each water molecule is composed of one atom of oxygen and two atoms of hydrogen. Hydrogen atoms are extracted and then assembled to create highly flammable hydrogen gas or combined with CO2 to create hydrocarbon fuels, creating an abundant and renewable energy source.
The problem, however, is that water molecules do not break simply when the sunlight shines on them – if they did, the oceans would not cover most of the planet. They need some help from a solar energy catalyst.
To create practical solar fuels, scientists have been trying to develop low-cost and efficient materials, known as photoanodes that are able to divide water using visible light as a source of energy. During the last four decades, researchers have identified only 16 of these photoanodes materials. Now, using a new high performance method to identify new materials, a team of researchers led by John Gregoire and Berkeley Lab of Jeffrey Neaton and Qimin Yan of Caltech have found 12 promising new photoanodes.
An article on method and new photoanodes appears this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The new method was developed through a partnership between Caltech’s Joint Artificial Photosynthesis Center (JCAP) and the Berkeley Laboratory Materials Project, using resources from the Molecular Foundry and the National Center for Scientific Research in Energy (NERSC).
“This integration of theory and experiment is a model for conducting research in an increasingly interdisciplinary world,” says Gregoire, coordinator of JCAP for Photoelectrocatalysis and leader of the high-performance experimentation group. “It is exciting to find 12 new potential photoanodes for the manufacture of solar fuels, but even more so as to have a new way of discovering materials in the future.”
“What is particularly significant in this study, combining experiment and theory, is that in addition to identifying several new compounds for solar fuel applications, we were also able to learn something new about the underlying electronic structure of the materials themselves,” says Neaton, Director of Molecular Foundry.
Earlier materials discovery processes were based on heavy testing of individual compounds to assess their potential for use in specific applications. In the new process, Gregoire and his colleagues combined computational and experimental approaches, first extracting a database of materials for potentially useful compounds, revising it based on the properties of the materials and then rapidly testing the most promising candidates using high-throughput experimentation performance.
In the work described in PNAS, they explored 174 metal vanadates: compounds containing vanadium and oxygen elements together with another element of the periodic table.
The research, says Gregoire, reveals how different options for this third element can produce materials with different properties, and reveals how to “fine-tune” those properties to make a better photoanodes.
“The key advancement of the team was to combine the best capabilities afforded by theory and supercomputers with new, high-throughput experiments to generate scientific knowledge at an unprecedented rate,” says Gregoire.
Conversion of water into fuel
Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have designed a way to collect small amounts of waste energy and bind them to convert water into a usable hydrogen fuel.
The process is simple, efficient and recycles an otherwise wasted energy.
“This study offers a simple and cost-effective technology for the direct separation of water that can generate hydrogen fuels by taking advantage of energy waste, such as noise or environmental vibrations,” the authors write in a new document, published on March 2 in The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters.
The researchers, led by UW-Madison geologist and crystal specialist Huifang Xu, developed nanocrystals from two common crystals, zinc oxide and barium titanate, and placed them in water. By applying ultrasonic vibrations, the nanofibers flexed and catalyzed a chemical reaction that divided the water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.
When the fibers bend, the asymmetries of their crystalline structures generate positive and negative charges and create an electrical potential. This phenomenon, called piezoelectric effect, has been well known in certain crystals for over a century and is the driving force of quartz watches and other applications.
Xu and his colleagues applied the same idea to the fibers of nanocrystals. “The larger materials are fragile, but at the nanoscale they are flexible,” says Xu; just like the difference between glass fiber and a glass panel.
Smaller fibers bend more easily than larger crystals and, therefore, also produce electrical charges with ease. At the moment, the researchers have achieved an impressive efficiency of 18% with nanocrystals, superior to that of most experimental energy sources.
With this type of technology, we can take advantage of energy waste and turn it into useful chemical energy. ”
Instead of picking up this electrical energy directly, the scientists followed an innovative approach and used the energy to break the chemical bonds of water and produce oxygen and hydrogen gas.
“This is a new phenomenon, which converts mechanical energy directly into chemical energy,” says Xu, calling it a piezo electrochemical effect (PZEC).
The chemical energy of the hydrogen fuel is more stable than the electric charge, he explains. It is relatively easy to store and will not lose power over time.
With the right technology, Xu predicts that this method will be useful for generating small amounts of energy from a multitude of small sources; For example, you could charge a mobile phone or music player walking and the breeze could power the streetlights.
The bet to turn water into clean fuel
Professor Huijun Zhao, director of Griffith’s Center for Clean Environment and Energy (CCEE), says that as sunlight can generate electricity, the water separation process could do the same, through the generation of a fuel clean chemical, such as hydrogen.
The researcher is firmly convinced that the future of hydrogen, used as clean fuel instead of gasoline, is very promising.
He explains that while it is already scientifically possible to separate water for clean fuel, the process is not cheap. That is why we must focus on highly efficient catalysts (which are the key to separation) to make obtaining fuel economically viable.
Professor Zhao, who also works at the Environmental Futures Research Institute, recently received resources to develop efficient electrocatalyst in 2017.
Their project aims to build new two-dimensional ultrafine porous electrocatalyst with superior gas evolution and low potential properties. The result will provide the scientific basis for designing and developing high performance electrocatalyst for hydrogen production.
Experiments on the conversion of water into energy are many. For example, in 2015 the Journal of Materials Chemistry A reported that researchers at the University of Reading, UK, discovered a new catalyst capable of separating water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen atoms by copying the way plants absorb water Energy from the sun. In addition to producing hydrogen to make it fuel, the new material could be useful for transforming CO2 into a fuel such as methanol.
In their tests, they used a new nanomaterial or organometallic framework that combines metallic atoms and organic molecules, which has the ideal electronic structure to better catalyze reactions and convert water into fuel.
The magic formula that transforms water into gasoline
As you already know, Audi has obtained a fuel very similar to the gasoline but without the problems derived from this, that is to say, nonpolluting and independent of the petroleum.
‘E-diesel’ is obtained from the mixture of water, hydrogen and carbon dioxide. They assure that it does not leave any type of environmental footprint because the carbon dioxide that is used is obtained from the one already in circulation by the atmosphere and, when consumed, emits the same amount of CO2 that was used for its creation.
Now, the German brand has been more generous than the owners of Coca Cola and has given data on the process of creating the ‘e-diesel’. It seems that the first thing is to separate the oxygen and hydrogen contained in the water, for which they use electrolysis processes at 800 degrees temperature. Hydrogen and carbon dioxide are then converted into synthesis reactors, resulting in a synthetic hydrocarbon called ‘blue crude’. Lastly and just as with diesel, the resulting hydrocarbon is refined to be used in cars. Voila! You already have gasoline made with water.
Audi introduced its water-based fuel in Germany. It needed a ‘volunteer’ to prove its effectiveness and the chosen one was the German Minister of Education, who filled the tank of his official car, an Audi A8 3.0 TDI, with ‘e-diesel’. So far, there have been no complaints.
The new green fuel is manufactured in the plant that the ring brand has in Dresden (Germany).
From what there is no data is when it could begin the commemorative of this revolutionary fuel. The brand of the rings has signed a collaboration agreement with the company Global Bioenergy’s to launch a large-scale production plan.