Duke researchers increase efficiency, reduce pollution from hydrogen fuel

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Friday, Dec 19, 2014 - 4:00 pm

Hydrogen is sometimes described as the “perfect fuel,” because its only byproduct is water and it emits no greenhouse gases. But its origins are not so perfect: Most of the hydrogen produced today is derived from hydrocarbon sources such as natural gas, which increases its greenhouse gas footprint.

Researchers at Duke University are using innovative materials and systems in an effort to develop a cost-effective, clean and efficient method to produce hydrogen as a fuel for home and business electricity generation. Their work is one of six research projects at Duke to receive seed funding from the Energy Initiative this year.

This process enables them to create hydrogen fuel in a very efficient manner with virtually zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Another challenge the team tackles is the high cost of storing hydrogen. Instead of using large, expensive hydrogen storage tanks, they store liquid methanol, a much smaller and cheaper option. The team then uses this stored methanol to create hydrogen “on demand.” In addition, homes and businesses could use small hydrogen gas tanks (shown in the figure above) to store fuel for when the sun isn’t shining.

One issue with this approach is that carbon monoxide, a gas that is harmful to both humans and the hydrogen fuel cell, is generated alongside the hydrogen. So Hotz and his colleagues created a novel catalyst using nanoparticles derived from iron oxide and small amounts of gold to nearly eliminate the carbon monoxide produced by this hydrogen creation process.

Tuan Vo-Dinh, professor at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering and Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, is collaborating with Hotz on a portion of the project that uses advanced nanotechnologies to further increase the efficiency of generating heat using plasmonic nanostructures.

This work, still in its early stages, may allow for even lower-cost generation of the “perfect fuel.”

Posted By:

Daniel Raimi