Hydrogen Production Is Cleaner Than Ever, But Is It Ready To Replace Fossil Fuels?

Clean hydrogen may soon be a reality thanks to a new method of producing the gas developed by researchers from Duke University. The new technology may soon replace methanol in the production of hydrogen for fuel cells.

It has long been known that hydrogen is able to generate power through a number of processes. Better yet, the by-products of this energy production are often benign, or nearly so. The problem, as far as the environment is concerned, is the production of the gas. Many of the methods usually employed to produce hydrogen also create carbon monoxide as an unintended by-product. When this simple molecular bonding of a single carbon atom with an atom of oxygen enters the air, it can affect the concentrations of methane and ozone in the atmosphere. Methane is a known to contributor to global warming.

Traditional methods of producing cleaner hydrogen involve the use of catalysts to help drive the chemical reactions which produce the gas. The most common of these methods uses gold and iron oxide (rust) to assist the reactions. This new experiment involves a similar process, but with a new form of the iron oxide used in other methods.

"It had been assumed that the iron oxide nanoparticles were only 'scaffolds' holding the gold nanoparticles together, and that the gold was responsible for the chemical reactions," Titilayo "Titi" Shodiya, a graduate student at Duke University said. "However, we found that increasing the surface area of the iron oxide dramatically increased the catalytic activity of the gold."

Clean hydrogen, if manufactured in quantities large enough and used in fuel cells, could help replace fossil fuels for a variety of applications. This new technique lowered the production of CO to just 20 parts per million (ppm).

"Our ultimate goal is to be able to produce hydrogen for use in fuel cells," Shodiya said, "Everyone is interested in sustainable and non-polluting ways of producing useful energy without fossil fuels."

Shodiya is the primary author of the paper that announced the result of the experiment. She works in the office of Nico Hotz, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science.

The researchers ran the experiment for over 200 hours, finding no reduction in how well the catalysts were able to reduce the production of carbon monoxide.

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