Researchers from the University of Antwerp and KU Leuven have succeeded in developing a process that purifies air and, at the same time, generates power. The device must only be exposed to light in order to function.
“We use a small device with two rooms separated by a membrane,” explains Professor Sammy Verbruggen (UAntwerp/KU Leuven). “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.”
In this way, the researchers respond to two major social needs: clean air and alternative energy production. The heart of the solution lies at the membrane level, where the researchers use specific nanomaterials. “These catalysts are capable of producing hydrogen gas and breaking down air pollution,” 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.”
It seems to be a complex process, but it is not: the device must only be exposed to light. 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 that 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. 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. ”
An all-gas-phase unbiased photoelectrochemical cell that converts volatile organic pollutants to CO2 at a TiO2 photoanode. Simultaneously, energy is recovered as hydrogen gas at a dark Pt cathode. Air remediation is coupled to energy recuperation in a stand-alone device. The presence of oxygen in the carrier gas promotes the mineralization efficiency with only limited loss in photocurrent.
The concept of an all-gas-phase photoelectrochemical (PEC) cell producing hydrogen gas from volatile organic contaminated gas and light is presented. Without applying any external bias, organic contaminants are degraded and hydrogen gas is produced in separate electrode compartments. The system works most efficiently with organic pollutants in inert carrier gas. In the presence of oxygen, the cell performs less efficiently but still significant photocurrents are generated, showing the cell can be run on organic contaminated air. The purpose of this study is to demonstrate new application opportunities of PEC technology and to encourage further advancement toward PEC remediation of air pollution with the attractive feature of simultaneous energy recovery and pollution abatement.
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