Generating power from polluted air

Wednesday, 10 May, 2017

Polluted air

Scientists from the University of Antwerp and KE Leuven have developed a device that both purifies polluted air and generates power at the same time. In this way, the researchers respond to two major social needs: clean air and alternative energy production.

“We use a small device with two rooms separated by a membrane,” explained Professor Sammy Verbruggen, corresponding author on the study. “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.”

Professor Verbruggen said the researchers used specific nanomaterials to construct the membrane, which are capable of producing hydrogen gas and breaking down air pollution. The results of their study have now been published in the journal ChemSusChem.

“In the past, these cells were mostly used to extract hydrogen from water,” said Professor Verbruggen. “We have now discovered that this is also possible, and even more efficient, with polluted air.”

The device’s only catch is that it must be exposed to light in order to function. The researchers’ goal is to be able to use sunlight, as the processes underlying the technology are similar to those found in solar panels. The difference here is that electricity is not generated directly, but rather the air is purified while the generated power is stored as hydrogen gas.

“We are currently working on a scale of only a few square centimetres,” said Professor Verbruggen. “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.”

Image ©University of Antwerp and KE Leuven

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