Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

New twist on old chemical process could boost energy efficiency significantly

Date:
June 7, 2012
Source:
University of Washington
Summary:
An unappreciated aspect of chemical reactions on the surface of metal oxides could be key in developing more efficient energy systems, including more productive solar cells or hydrogen fuel cells efficient enough for automobiles.

This image from an electron microscope shows a coated titanium dioxide nanocrystal.
Credit: Joel Schrauben/James Mayer/UW

Chemical reactions on the surface of metal oxides, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, are important for applications such as solar cells that convert the sun's energy to electricity. Now University of Washington scientists have found that a previously unappreciated aspect of those reactions could be key in developing more efficient energy systems.

Such systems could include, for example, solar cells that would produce more electricity from the sun's rays, or hydrogen fuel cells efficient enough for use in automobiles, said James Mayer, a UW chemistry professor.

"As we think about building a better energy future, we have to develop more efficient ways to convert chemical energy into electrical energy and vice versa," said Mayer, the corresponding author of a paper about the discovery in the June 8 edition of Science.

Chemical reactions that change the oxidation state of molecules on the surface of metal oxides historically have been seen as a transfer solely of electrons. The new research shows that, at least in some reactions, the transfer process includes coupled electrons and protons.

"Research and manufacturing have grown up around models in which electrons moved but not atoms," Mayer said. The new paper proposes a different model for certain kinds of processes, a perspective that could lead to new avenues of investigation, he said.

"In principle this is a path toward more efficient energy utilization."

Coupling the transfer of electrons with the transfer of protons could help reduce the energy barriers to chemical reactions important in many technologies. For example, using solar energy to make fuels such as hydrogen requires that electrons and protons be coupled.

The new perspective also could be important for photocatalytic chemical processes, including those designed for wastewater remediation or to create self-cleaning surfaces, such as the outside of buildings in areas with heavy industrial air pollution.

The research focused specifically on nanoparticles, measured in billionths of a meter, of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Titanium dioxide is the most common white pigment, used in paints, coatings, plastics, sunscreen and other materials. Zinc oxide also is used in pigments, coatings and sunscreens, as well as white athletic tape, and also is used in the manufacture of rubber, concrete and other materials. Nanocrystals were used to closely examine chemical processes at the material's surface.

Mayer said the goal of the work is to get those working in various technological areas involving metal oxides to think in different ways about how those technologies work and how to make them more efficient.

The work also could prove important in finding more efficient ways to fuel vehicles of the future, he said. Fuel cells, for example, transform atmospheric oxygen into water by adding both electrons and protons. Coupling those added electrons and protons could make fuel cells more efficient and allow replacement of costly materials such as platinum.

"Chemical fuels are very useful, and they're not going away," Mayer said. "But how do we utilize them better in a non-fossil-fuel world?"


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Washington. The original article was written by Vince Stricherz. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. J. N. Schrauben, R. Hayoun, C. N. Valdez, M. Braten, L. Fridley, J. M. Mayer. Titanium and Zinc Oxide Nanoparticles Are Proton-Coupled Electron Transfer Agents. Science, 2012; 336 (6086): 1298 DOI: 10.1126/science.1220234

Cite This Page:

University of Washington. "New twist on old chemical process could boost energy efficiency significantly." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 June 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120607142242.htm>.
University of Washington. (2012, June 7). New twist on old chemical process could boost energy efficiency significantly. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120607142242.htm
University of Washington. "New twist on old chemical process could boost energy efficiency significantly." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120607142242.htm (accessed August 23, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Airlines on Iceland Volcano Alert

Airlines on Iceland Volcano Alert

Reuters - Business Video Online (Aug. 22, 2014) Iceland evacuates an area north of the country's Bardarbunga volcano, as the country's civil protection agency says it cannot rule out an eruption. Authorities have already warned airlines. As Joel Flynn reports, ash from the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010 shut down much of Europe's airspace for six days. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Endangered Red Wolves Face Uncertain Future

Endangered Red Wolves Face Uncertain Future

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) A federal judge temporarily banned coyote hunting to save endangered red wolves, but local hunters say that the wolf preservation program does more harm than good. Meanwhile federal officials are reviewing its wolf program in North Carolina. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Coal Gas Boom in China Holds Climate Risks

Coal Gas Boom in China Holds Climate Risks

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) China's energy revolution could do more harm than good for the environment, despite the country's commitment to reducing pollution and curbing its carbon emissions. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Microbrewery Chooses Special Can for Its Beer

Microbrewery Chooses Special Can for Its Beer

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) Aluminum giant, Novelis, has partnered with Red Hare Brewing Company to introduce the first certified high-content recycled beverage can. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins