Energy

Chemical research can reshape clean energy technology to its finest quality

The sun’s energy in one year surpasses the non-renewable energy that could be developed in the same period. Although the technology of tapping this solar energy has grown tremendously, the challenge is the storage of this energy and its distribution. These two variables have hindered the massive exploration of solar power. Nevertheless, researchers at the UVA College and Graduate School of Arts & Science, Brookhaven National Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, the California Institute of Technology and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have come up with a strategy to dissolve the hindrances and propel the clean energy industry to greater heights. The splitting of water molecules can obtain solar energy into oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen obtained is an excellent fuel that can be maintained in different forms for portability. Although scientists are still exploring an appropriate one that can make the process feasible on a commercial scale, this process requires catalysts. 

The team of researchers working at UVA and led by professors Sen Zhang and T. Brent Gunnoe discovered that a chemical method of developing a suitable catalyst is by integrating cobalt and titanium. These two are suitable because they are available in excess quantities in nature and are usually used in catalytic processes where precious elements like ruthenium and iridium would be expensive. Professor Zhang explained that the active sites of the catalytic material are adjustable on the titanium oxide crystals and the process activates the production of oxygen. He reiterated that they are exploring the possibility of working with the catalyst on a commercial scale without invoking the problem of oxygen gas. Generally, the researchers are optimizing the catalyst to save on costs and time of the procedure. Researchers like Gunnoe believe that this innovation integrates advanced synthetic procedures, atomization and quantum mechanics theory with the originality of being a first time thought. 

Gunnoe emphasized that MAXNET Energy brought this team together through the consortium they organized and have facilitated the partnership to realize the innovation by the Zhang lab. The researchers from the other institutes in this partnership have equally contributed to the development of this project in different dimensions. For instance, the Advanced Photon Source and the Advanced Light Source used in this project are the DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory products. Moreover, scientists from Caltech came up with the quantum mechanics methods of determining the oxygen generated by the catalyst and enabled the scientists to understand how to adjust the chemicals to generate the right quantity. 

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