According to some estimates, the amount of solar energy that reaches the earth’s surface in a year is greater than the sum of all the energy we could ever produce using non-renewable resources. The technology needed to turn sunlight into electricity developed rapidly, but inefficiencies in the storage and distribution of that energy remained a significant problem, making solar energy largely impracticable. However, a discovery by researchers at UVA’s College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, California Institute of Technology and Argonne National Laboratory of the US Department of Energy, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Brookhaven National Laboratory could remove a critical obstacle. from the process. discovery that is a huge step towards a clean energy future.
One way to harness solar energy is to use solar electricity to divide water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen produced by the process is stored as fuel, in a form that can be transferred from one place to another and used to generate energy on demand. To divide water molecules into their component parts, a catalyst is needed, but the catalytic materials currently used in the process, also known as the oxygen evolution reaction, are not efficient enough to make the process practical.
However, using an innovative chemical strategy developed at UVA, a team of researchers led by chemistry professors Sen Zhang and T. Brent Gunnoe produced a new form of catalyst using cobalt and titanium elements. The advantage of these elements is that they are much more abundant in nature than other commonly used catalytic materials that contain precious metals such as iridium or ruthenium.
The new process involves the creation of atomically active catalytic sites on the surface of titanium oxide nanocrystals, a technique that produces a durable catalytic material and one that is better at triggering the oxygen evolution reaction. Zhang said. “New approaches to efficiently evolved oxygen catalysts and an improved fundamental understanding of them are essential to enable a possible transition to the scalable use of renewable solar energy. This paper is a perfect example of how to optimize the efficiency of the catalyst for clean energy technology by regulation. nanomaterials on an atomic scale. “
According to Gunnoe, “This innovation, centered on the achievements of Zhang’s laboratory, is a new method of improving and understanding catalytic materials with a resulting effort involving the integration of advanced materials synthesis, atomic level characterization and quantum mechanics theory.”
“A few years ago, UVA joined the MAXNET Energy consortium, consisting of eight Max Planck institutes (Germany), UVA and Cardiff University (UK), which brought together international collaborative efforts focused on the oxidation of electrocatalytic water. MAXNET Energy was the seed of the current joint efforts between my group and Zhang’s laboratory, which has been and continues to be a fruitful and productive collaboration, “Gunnoe said.
With the help of the Argonne National Laboratory and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and state-of-the-art X-ray synchrotron absorption spectroscopy facilities that use radiation to examine the structure of matter at the atomic level, the team found that the catalyst has a structure. well-defined surface area, which allows them to clearly see how the catalyst evolves during the oxygen evolution reaction and allows them to accurately assess its performance.
“The paper used X-ray lines from the advanced photon source and the advanced light source, including a portion of a ‘quick access’ program set aside for a quick feedback loop to explore emerging or pressing scientific ideas,” he said. Argonne ray physicist Hua Zhou, co-author of the newspaper. “We are very pleased that both users’ national scientific facilities can make a substantial contribution to such smart and careful work on water division, which will provide a leap forward for clean energy technologies.”
Both the advanced photon source and the advanced light source are the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Office of Science User Facilities, located at the DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, respectively.
In addition, Caltech researchers, using newly developed quantum mechanics methods, were able to accurately predict the rate of oxygen production caused by the catalyst, which provided the team with a detailed understanding of the chemical mechanism of the reaction.
“We have been developing new quantum mechanics techniques to understand the mechanism of reaction to the evolution of oxygen for more than five years, but in all previous studies we could not be sure of the exact structure of the catalyst. Zhang’s catalyst has a well-defined atomic structure and we find that our theoretical results are essentially in line with experimental observables, “said William A. Goddard III, professor of chemistry, materials science and applied physics at Caltech and one of the the project’s lead researchers. ”This provides the first powerful experimental validation of our new theoretical methods, which we can now use to predict even better catalysts that can be synthesized and tested. This is a major step towards global clean energy. “
“This work is an excellent example of the team’s effort by UVA and other researchers to work toward clean energy and interesting discoveries from these interdisciplinary collaborations,” said Jill Venton, president of UVA’s Department of Chemistry.
The fundamental chemistry behind the electrocatalytic division of water
Chang Liu et al., The reaction of oxygen evolution on the single-site Co catalyst in a well-defined TiO brookit2 the surface of the nanorod, Catalysis of nature (2020). DOI: 10.1038 / s41929-020-00550-5
Provided by Argonne National Laboratory
Citation: Research discovery could transform clean energy technology (2020, December 17) retrieved on December 18, 2020 from https://phys.org/news/2020-12-breakthrough-energy-technology.html
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