Nav: Home

Tiny crystals and nanowires could join forces to split water

October 17, 2016

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Scientists are pursuing a tiny solution for harnessing one of the world's most abundant sources of clean energy: Water.

By marrying teeny crystals called quantum dots to miniature wires, the researchers are developing new materials that show promise for splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen fuel, which could be used to power cars, buses, boats and other modes of transportation.

"Hydrogen is seen as an important source of green energy because it generates water as the only byproduct when it's burned," says University at Buffalo chemist David Watson, PhD, one of the project's lead researchers. "The hybrid materials we're developing have the potential to support the cheap and efficient production of hydrogen gas."

Watson, professor and chair of chemistry in the UB College of Arts and Sciences, has received a $550,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to pursue the work. UB physics professor Peihong Zhang, PhD, is also a partner on the research, which is part of a larger $1.4 million NSF-funded project that teams UB with Texas A&M University, Binghamton University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to develop the new catalysts for splitting water.

The project is funded through the NSF's Designing Materials to Engineer and Revolutionize our Future program, which supports the White House's Materials Genome Initiative for Global Competitiveness by accelerating the discovery of new materials.

A reaction powered by the sun

The materials under development are catalysts designed to harvest sunlight to drive the chemical reaction that divides water into oxygen and hydrogen.

They are formed from miniscule wires of vanadium oxide that are combined with various metal ions, then glazed with a coating of semiconductor quantum dots.

When they're exposed to the sun, these hybrid materials generate two critical ingredients for splitting water: a free-floating electron and what chemists call an electronic hole (the absence of an electron where there would normally be one). Both the electron and the hole are used in the multi-step chemical reaction that converts water into oxygen and hydrogen gas.

So far, the research team successfully created materials that efficiently produce and separate both a free electron and a hole, though the scientists have yet to demonstrate that their hole can be used successfully in the water-splitting reaction.

From an industry perspective, the nanowire-quantum dot approach has benefits. Both the nanowires and quantum dots can be easily produced in large quantities from materials that are abundant in the crust of the earth, and both are "tunable," Watson says. As he explains, changing the size of the quantum dots alters their electronic properties, as does combining the vanadium oxide nanowires with new materials. This makes it possible to tweak both components to maximize their efficiency at leveraging sunlight to split water.

"It's a very flexible approach -- a versatile platform for converting sunlight and water into fuel," Watson says.

The scientists will use the new NSF funding to support an exploration of the best combinations of quantum dots and nanowires. In concert with synthesizing new materials, they will computationally predict which structures will have the best electronic properties.

"We are trying to put together some fairly complex machinery to mimic photosynthesis performed by plants, which use sunlight to split water and make energy. The machinery will be built from these nanowire and quantum dot blocks, using them almost as Legos," says Sarbajit Banerjee, PhD, professor of chemistry at Texas A&M University. "Calculations performed on supercomputers will guide us on how to rapidly put these blocks together."

The research was seeded by a Scialog grant from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, an Arizona-based foundation devoted to the advancement of science.
-end-


University at Buffalo

Related Hydrogen Articles:

Paving the way for hydrogen fuel cells
The hype around hydrogen fuel cells has died down, but scientists have continued to pursue new technologies that could enable such devices to gain a firmer foothold.
Keeping the hydrogen coming
A coating of molybdenum improves the efficiency of catalysts for producing hydrogen.
Hydrogen bonds directly detected for the first time
For the first time, scientists have succeeded in studying the strength of hydrogen bonds in a single molecule using an atomic force microscope.
Argon is not the 'dope' for metallic hydrogen
Hydrogen is both the simplest and the most-abundant element in the universe, so studying it can teach scientists about the essence of matter.
Metallic hydrogen, once theory, becomes reality
Nearly a century after it was theorized, Harvard scientists have succeeded in creating metallic hydrogen.
From theory to reality: The creation of metallic hydrogen
For more than 80 years, it has been predicted that hydrogen will adopt metallic properties under certain conditions, and now researchers have successfully demonstrated this phenomenon.
Artificial leaf goes more efficient for hydrogen generation
A new study, affiliated with Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology has introduced a new artificial leaf that generates hydrogen, using the power of the Sun to mimic underwater photosynthesis.
Hydrogen from sunlight -- but as a dark reaction
The storage of photogenerated electric energy and its release on demand are still among the main obstacles in artificial photosynthesis.
New process produces hydrogen at much lower temperature
Waseda University researchers have developed a new method for producing hydrogen, which is fast, irreversible, and takes place at much lower temperature using less energy.
Hydrogen in your pocket? New plastic for carrying and storing hydrogen
A Waseda University research group has developed a polymer which can store hydrogen in a light, compact and flexible sheet, and is safe to touch even when filled with hydrogen gas.

Related Hydrogen Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Jumpstarting Creativity
Our greatest breakthroughs and triumphs have one thing in common: creativity. But how do you ignite it? And how do you rekindle it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on jumpstarting creativity. Guests include economist Tim Harford, producer Helen Marriage, artificial intelligence researcher Steve Engels, and behavioral scientist Marily Oppezzo.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#524 The Human Network
What does a network of humans look like and how does it work? How does information spread? How do decisions and opinions spread? What gets distorted as it moves through the network and why? This week we dig into the ins and outs of human networks with Matthew Jackson, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and author of the book "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviours".