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New Technique Developed For Generating Pure Hydrogen Without CO2

Making hydrogen isn’t terribly difficult, but hydrogen isn’t a loner. It’s most abundant in water, but isolating hydrogen from H2O creates a toxic byproduct -- carbon dioxide.

Now scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago have developed what they call a “hydrogen generator,” a microscopic device that uses light and graphene to increase the production of pure hydrogen.

In the process, they also learned about a previously unknown property of graphene, a honeycomb sheet of carbon atoms one-atom thick. They found that graphene not only gives and receives electrons, but can also transfer them into another substance. Their research was published in the journal ACS Nano.

Related: A New Affordable Fuel Cell Design

Generating pure hydrogen is a major breakthrough because the current method is to separate it from water using natural gas, a fossil fuel, to react with high-temperature steam to strip away hydrogen atoms for use as hydrogen fuel. But this process releases the greenhouse gas CO2 into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Argonne’s generator, however, shows that hydrogen can be produced without burning any fossil fuels.

So far the generator is small, even smaller than the diameter of spider silk, but if it can be enlarged, enough hydrogen can be produced to power cars and even power generators – an infinitely cleaner alternative to oil or coal because hydrogen fuel emits only water vapor.

Elena Rozhkova, a chemist at Argonne, said in a statement that the Argonne team was inspired by the function of a protein known to turn light into energy. Certain single-celled organisms are known to use a protein called bacteriorhodopsin (bR) to absorb sunlight and pump protons through a membrane, creating a form of chemical energy.

At the same time, she explained, water can be split into oxygen and hydrogen not only with natural gas but also by combining bR with titanium dioxide and platinum, then exposing these substances to ultraviolet light.

The trouble is that ultraviolet light makes up only 4 percent of the solar spectrum, Rozhkova said, so the Argonne researchers needed to find a new material that would produce more hydrogen using other lights from the solar spectrum.

Related: Are Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles Dead On Arrival?

What they found was graphene, which has enough surface area to move electrons quickly and evenly, and serves as a platform where biological components such as bR can not only survive but also make contact with the titanium dioxide. In short, graphene is very strong, very light and one of the best conductors of electricity known to science.


In the mini-hydrogen generator, both the bR protein and the graphene absorb visible light, creating electrons that are transmitted to the titanium dioxide, which thereby becomes sensitive to visible light. Meanwhile, light from the green end of the solar spectrum makes the bR protein move protons to the platinum particles on the titanium dioxide.

And this convergence on the platinum produces hydrogen – and nothing but hydrogen.

By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com

More Top reads From Oilprice.com:

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  • Hermes on October 08 2014 said:
    Iallen2064 touched on the same items I noticed.

    The reference to CO2 as 'toxic' is sensationalist. Another AGW talking point in my opinion.

    In the author's article titled, "New Nuclear Fuel Rod Could Increase Output of Existing Plants", he says:

    "The development is important the United States is trying to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, and needs clean alternatives.."

    Is he referring to nuclear energy as a 'clean alternative'? LOL.

    I question your understanding of Hydrogen production, specifically Steam Reformation processes, which utilize high-temp steam to crack Methane (CH3) into Carbon Monoxide and Hydrogen. He seems to miss the fact that Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a desired product. Syngas is utilized for a number of processes, and is comprised of varying proportions of CO and H2.

    I love this sites informative nature, but the repeated references to AGW/CO2/'greenhouse gases' gets old. To refer to CO2 as toxic, but describe nuclear energy as a 'clean alternative' (indirectly, but clearly enough), you have lost your direction. The global nuclear problem hasn't even begun. I'm not anti-nuclear, nor anything else for that matter, but I recognize that byproducts like Cesium(Caesium), Strontium, Trans Uranic Actinides are extremely TOXIC. Ahh, I see that OILPRICE is a CNBC Partner site as I am typing this..... Lol, makes sense why the constant parroting.

    Nonetheless, I enjoy technology related info like this, so thanks.
  • Philip Branton on September 25 2014 said:
    Great comment lallen2064....BRAVO...!

    The boys at Sandia talked about this research a while back and the run on "titanium" type resources for "control" is being played out in "Syria" today...!

    When mass awareness finally hits the consumer sector........its gonna be a great show to watch.
  • lallen2064 on September 24 2014 said:
    The problem with hydrogen production is getting any method that is truly cost efficient. Cost along with safety concerns are a barrier to wide-spread adoption of hydrogen energy technologies like hydrogen fuel cells. Unfortunately the method in this article utilizes some other pretty expensive materials as well. Still it is an new alternative and hopefully it will lead to something more cost effective and practical.

    One other comment about the article. The author refers to CO2 as being "toxic". While the word "toxic" is certainly evocative, is not by any means accurate. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a normal byproduct of respiration for pretty much every living thing on the planet including human beings and plants. You may state concerns about its impact to global warming and climate change, but to actually call it a toxic substance is simply incorrect. Gases like carbon monoxide (CO) and chlorine (Cl2) are truly toxic, while Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a common gas to which we are all exposed on a daily basis with no toxic effect.

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