MAY 08, 2017 09:57 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
NOV 28, 2018
Plants & Animals
NOV 28, 2018
Some Animals Thrive in Wildfires
We often associate wildfires with destruction and devastation, but horrendous damages aside, what happens to all the animals that inhabit those forests? As...
DEC 04, 2018
Plants & Animals
DEC 04, 2018
Will Reduced Protected Lands in Utah Impact Local Bee Biodiversity?
Many American states have nicknames that subtly describe their unique qualities; Utah, for example, is known as the beehive state. But that origin of that...
DEC 10, 2018
Microbiology
DEC 10, 2018
The 'Deep Biosphere' of the Earth Teems with Life
Deep within the surface of the earth lies a gargantuan amount of carbon in the form of various types of microbial life....
DEC 13, 2018
Earth & The Environment
DEC 13, 2018
Midwest agriculture more vulnerable to climate change than ever
The approaching climate doomsday has been the talk of the town lately – but particularly so for the Midwest agriculture industry. A new study from Co...
DEC 19, 2018
Technology
DEC 19, 2018
Deep Learning Improves Cloud Detection Methods
To understand the workings of earth systems, atmospheric scientists often search data images for the clouds as part of their research. However, the manual...
DEC 20, 2018
Plants & Animals
DEC 20, 2018
The science Behind the Best Christmas Trees
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Houses and storefronts are all decorated with Christmas trees, sparkling lights and shiny ornaments. The Christmas tree is an iconic part of the h...
Loading Comments...