MAY 08, 2017 9:57 AM PDT

How to Make Hydrogen Gas from Air Pollution

The goal in eco-minded technology this day in age is to make something we want by utilizing something we don’t want. That’s exactly what researchers from the University of Antwerp and KU Leuven in Belgium have done. The team has developed a process that purifies air from organic pollutants while generating power in the form of hydrogen gas.

The PEC cell is capable of purifying contaminated air while generating hydrogen gas. Photo Credit: UAntwerpen and KU Leuven

Professor Sammy Verbruggen explains how it works: "We use a small device with two rooms separated by a membrane. Air is purified on one side, while on the other side hydrogen gas is produced from a part of the degradation products. This hydrogen gas can be stored and used later as fuel, as is already being done in some hydrogen buses, for example. "

The concept is called an all-gas-phase photoelectrochemical (PEC) cell. When exposed to light, the cell is capable of converting volatile organic pollutants to CO2 at a TiO2 photoanode. Using PEC technology to remediate air pollution would be great on its own, but the added fuel-generation feature really motivates the scientists’ cause. Hydrogen gas is created at a dark Pt cathode where it can then be saved for later use. The study explains that while the system is most efficient working with organic pollutants in inert carrier gas, it still does create photocurrents in the presence of oxygen, which is imperative if the cell is to be used with organic contaminated air.

Because the cell needs to be exposed to light in order to work, the team hopes to use natural sunlight; the technology is similar solar cell technology, working at the membrane level. They have tweaked several different processes, explains professor Verbruggen. "In the past, these cells were mostly used to extract hydrogen from water. We have now discovered that this is also possible, and even more efficient, with polluted air." They aren't the first to try to convert air pollution into a usable product. 

There is a lot of work to be done before the PEC cell could actually be used for commercial or industrial processes. "We are currently working on a scale of only a few square centimeters. At a later stage, we would like to scale up our technology to make the process industrially applicable. We are also working on improving our materials so we can use sunlight more efficiently to trigger the reactions. "

Sources: Science Daily, ChemSusChem

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
DEC 02, 2019
Infographics
DEC 02, 2019
13 Facts To Know About The Climate Crisis
Climate crisis is widely recognized as the most urgent problem facing humanity. Climate crisis is real and is happing right now, and it is up to us to stop it. Greta Thunberg's impact on cli...
DEC 15, 2019
Plants & Animals
DEC 15, 2019
For Squirrels, Benefits to Moving Away From Home Are Sex-Dependent
When squirrels grow up, they often face the tough choice of staying at or near the same location where they were born or moving on to bigger and better pla...
DEC 22, 2019
Plants & Animals
DEC 22, 2019
Grizzly Bears Exploit 'Easy' Salmon Sources
Brown bears, also known in some parts of the world as grizzly bears, are renowned eaters of scrumptious wild freshwater salmon. But while most have witness...
JAN 15, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 15, 2020
2019 Was The Second Warmest Year on Record
Independent analyses from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have confirmed that 2019 was the second warmest year on recor...
JAN 15, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 15, 2020
Glacial Floods: The Lesser-Known Climate Change-Related Disaster
Natural phenomena such as wildfires and hurricanes are intensifying due to climate change, but have you heard of glacial floods? This lesser-known threat,...
JAN 29, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 29, 2020
New Study Suggests Phytoplankton Will Thrive, not Decline
Based on current Earth models, which project warming seas and nutrient depletion, scientists widely believe that phytoplankton biomass will decline in...
Loading Comments...