A team of scientists from Rice University has created a scalable catalyst that only needs light to convert ammonia into hydrogen fuel. Details are described in the journal Sciences.
The first catalyst in history
Liquid ammonia is easy to transport and has a high energy value, as each molecule contains one nitrogen atom and three hydrogen atoms. Catalyst is developed by researchers from Rice University It breaks it down into volatile hydrogen. Unlike conventional solutions, there is no need for an external heat supply, only power from light (sunlight or LED).
Transition metals, such as iron, are generally poor thermal catalysts. This work shows that they can be effective photocatalysts. It also shows that photocatalysis can be successfully performed using inexpensive LED photon sources.
Dr. Naomi Helles of Rice University
The rate of chemical reactions increases with increasing temperature, and chemists have been exploiting this fact for over a century using heat on an industrial scale. So-called thermal catalysts are often used – compounds that do not react, but accelerate the reaction itself under the influence of temperature.
This discovery paves the way for low-cost, sustainable hydrogen that can be produced locally rather than in huge centralized plants.
Dr. Peter Nordlander of Rice University
Our best known thermocatalysts are made of platinum and other precious metals, such as palladium, rhodium, or ruthenium. When plasmonic particles that produce short-lived, high-energy electrons called “hot carriers” were discovered in 2011, it was shown that they can combine with catalysts to create hybrid “air reactors” where one part collects energy from light and other uses it to catalyze chemical reactions.
In the absence of light, the copper-iron catalyst showed about 300 times less reactivity than the copper-ruthenium catalysts, which is not surprising given that ruthenium is a better thermal catalyst for this reaction. Under illumination, iron and copper showed similar and comparable reactivity and performance to copper and ruthenium.
Dr.. Hossein Robatjazi of Princeton University
Dr. Hossein Robatjazi currently works for Syzygy Plasmonics, which has licensed its antenna reactor technology to Rice University.
This is the first case in the scientific literature showing that photocatalysis with LEDs can produce hydrogen gas from ammonia on a gram scale. This opens the door to a complete substitution of precious metals in plasma photocatalysis.
Dr.. Naomi Hills
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