Researchers have created a process that cleans polluted air and simultaneously generates power. The device only needs to be exposed to light to function. The research team hails from the University of Antwerp and KU Leuven (University of Leuven), Belgium.
Professor Sammy Verbruggen is a professor at both the University of Antwerp and KU Leuven. He explained that a small device was used together with two rooms separated by a membrane. While air is purified on one side, hydrogen gas is produced from part of the degradation products on the other side. The hydrogen gas can then be stored and used as fuel later. Storing hydrogen gas and using it as fuel later is for example already being done on hydrogen buses.
The researchers address two major social needs by using this method: alternative energy production and clean air. The key to the solution is at the membrane level where specific nanomaterials are used as catalysts. Verbruggen explained that the catalysts are able to break down air pollution and produce hydrogen gas. Up to now, these cells were mainly used to extract hydrogen from water. The team has now discovered that this can also be done with polluted air and that the process is even more efficient.
The process is simpler than what it appears at first glance and the device only needs to be exposed to light to work. The team’s objective is to use sunlight, as the process underlying the technology is similar to that used in solar panels. The difference is that electricity is not generated directly in this case, but that air is cleaned while the power generated is stored as hydrogen gas.
Although the team is currently working on a scale of only a few square centimeters, they plan on scaling up the technology at a later stage to make the process suitable for industrial applications. They are also working to improve the materials so that sunlight can be used to trigger the reactions more efficiently.