Humans have for ages taken cues from nature to build their own devices, but duplicating the steps in the complicated electronic dance of photosynthesis remains one of the biggest challenges and opportunities for chemists. Currently, the most efficient methods we have for making fuel from sunlight and water involve rare and expensive metal catalysts. However, that is about to change.
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory report that, for the first time, a comprehensive set of tools is available for exploring correlations among the morphological, structural, electronic and chemical properties of catalytic materials under working conditions. Two recent studies have used microscopy and spectroscopy to catch custom-built catalysts in action.
By replacing platinum with molybdenum in photoelectrochemical cells, scientists from two Swiss labs have developed a cheaper and scalable technique that can greatly improve hydrogen production through water splitting as a means of storing solar energy.
Life science researchers regularly use transmission electron microscopy to study wet environments. Now, scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory who are studying batteries have used the method to have applied it successfully to microscopically view electrodes while they are bathed in wet electrolytes, mimicking realistic conditions inside actual batteries.
Scientists from the Univ. of Houston have found a catalyst that can quickly generate hydrogen from water using sunlight, potentially creating a clean and renewable source of energy. Photocatalytic water-splitting experiments have been tried since the 1970s, but this is the first to use cobalt oxide and the first to use neutral water under visible light at a high energy conversion efficiency without co-catalysts or sacrificial chemicals.
Today’s fuel cells require costly platinum as a catalyst for the reaction that forms water from hydrogen and oxygen. A research team inspired by nature to develop an alternative catalyst has designed a material consisting of organic molecules as well as iron or manganese on a metallic substrate. These materials are less costly and more easily available than platinum.
Hydrogen is a “green” fuel that burns cleanly and can generate electricity via fuel cells. One way to sustainably produce hydrogen is by splitting water molecules using the renewable power of sunlight, but scientists are still learning how to control and optimize this reaction with catalysts. At the National Synchrotron Light Source, a research group has determined key structural information about a potential catalyst.
A chemical system developed by researchers at the Univ. of Illinois at Chicago can efficiently perform the first step in the process of creating syngas, gasoline and other energy-rich products out of carbon dioxide. A novel “co-catalyst” system using inexpensive, easy-to-fabricate carbon-based nanofiber materials efficiently converts carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide, a useful starting material for synthesizing fuels.
Chemical engineers at Rice Univ. have found a new catalyst that can rapidly break down nitrites, a common and harmful contaminant in drinking water that often results from overuse of agricultural fertilizers. Nitrites and their more abundant cousins, nitrates, are inorganic compounds that are often found in both groundwater and surface water. The compounds are a health hazard.
Converting solar energy into storable fuel remains one of the greatest challenges of modern chemistry. Chemists have commonly tried to use indium tin oxide (ITO) because it has transparency, but it also expensive and rare. Researchers at Duke Univ. has created something they hope can replace ITO: copper nanowires fused in a see-through film.
Scientists worldwide are seeking ways to improve the power density, durability and overall performance of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. Researchers in Japan now report an advance in Li-ion battery technology that yields a significantly higher-performing battery. The difference is a cathode positive electrode of lithium cobalt oxide in which the compound's individual grains are aligned in a specific orientation.
Stanford Univ. researchers have developed an inexpensive device that uses light to split water into oxygen and clean-burning hydrogen. The goal is to supplement solar cells with hydrogen-powered fuel cells that can generate electricity when the sun isn't shining or demand is high.
Researchers at NJIT have developed a flexible battery made with carbon nanotubes that could potentially power electronic devices with flexible displays. According to its developers, this battery can be made as small as a pinhead or as large as a carpet in a living room.
Billions of euros are spent treating trillions of liters of wastewater every year, consuming substantial amounts of energy. However, this wastewater could act as a renewable resource, saving significant quantities of energy and money, as it contains organic pollutants which can be used to produce electricity, hydrogen and high-value chemicals, such as caustic soda.
By tuning gold nanoparticles to just the right size, researchers from Brown Univ. have developed a catalyst that selectively converts carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide, an active carbon molecule that can be used to make alternative fuels and commodity chemicals.
Amy Prieto, a chemist at Colorado State Univ. leads a start-up company with the goal of developing a lithium-ion battery that should be safer, cheaper, faster-charging, and more environmentally friendly than conventional batteries now on the market. The key to the technology is copper foam which is easy to manufacture and has high power density.
Univ. of California, Los Angeles chemists, for the first time, have employed magnetic resonance imaging to better measure the temperature of gases inside a catalytic reactor. The research, a major step toward bridging the gap between laboratory studies and industrial catalysis, could help improve the design and environmental impact of catalytic reactors.
A new process developed at the Univ. of Illinois at Chicago suggests that base metals may be used as catalysts in the manufacture of countless products made from petroleum-based raw materials. The metals, copper and iron, could potentially replace a rare and expensive metal catalyst currently required for the chemical process called borylation.
Materials in lithium ion battery electrodes expand and contract during charge and discharge. These volume changes drive particle fracture, which shortens battery lifetime. A group of scientists has quantified this effect for the first time using high-resolution 3D movies recorded using x-ray tomography at the Swiss Light Source.
Dow Chemical Co. is selling its global polypropylene licensing and catalysts business to W.R. Grace & Co. for $500 million. The sale includes Dow Chemical's polypropylene catalysts manufacturing plant in Norco, La., and customer contracts, licenses, intellectual property and inventory.
Researchers report that they have created a man-made catalyst that is an “enzyme mimic.” Unlike most enzymes, which act on a single target, the new catalyst can alter the chemical profiles of numerous types of small molecules. The catalyst—and others like it—will greatly speed the process of drug discovery, the researchers say.
By coating compact disks in photocatalytic compounds and spinning them to clean water, scientists in Taiwan have found a potential new use for old music CDs. The disks, equipped with tiny zinc oxide nanorods, are able to break down more than 95% of the contaminants in methyl orange dye, a benchmark organic compound for testing photocatalytic reactions.
Magnesium is a lightweight metal used in cars and planes to improve their fuel efficiency. But it currently requires a lot of energy and money to produce the metal. Engineers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is developing a new production method that would be 50% more energy efficient than the United States' current production process.
A lightweight metal that reduces fuel use in cars and planes could be extracted from the ocean through a unique process being developed at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The process could ultimately make fuel-efficient transportation more affordable and expand the American magnesium market.
Carbon monoxide is a poisoning impurity in hydrogen derived from natural gas. If a catalyst could be developed that can handle this impure fuel, it could be a substantially less expensive alternative to pure hydrogen produced from water. Scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory have used a simple, “green” process to create a new core-shell catalyst that tolerates carbon monoxide in fuel cells.