Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Copper promises cheaper, sturdier fuel cells

Date:
November 22, 2013
Source:
Duke University
Summary:
Chemists are exploring the use of copper nanowires in fuel cells to convert solar energy into storable fuel. Copper nanowire catalysts cost less to produce than their indium tin oxide counterparts because they can be "printed" on pieces of glass or plastic in a liquid ink form, using a machine that functions much like a printing press. The nanowires can also be incorporated into transparent, flexible films.

The copper nanowires, seen here with a nickel coating, can split water molecules under the power of sunlight.
Credit: Zuofeng Chen

Copper adorns the Statue of Liberty, makes sturdy, affordable wiring, and helps our bodies absorb iron. Now, researchers at Duke University would like to use copper to transform sunlight and water into a chemical fuel.

Converting solar energy into storable fuel remains one of the greatest challenges of modern chemistry. One of the ways chemists have tried to capture the power of the sun is through water splitting, in which the atoms of H2O are broken apart so the hydrogen may be collected and used as fuel. Plants do this naturally through photosynthesis, and for half a century, scientists have tried to recreate that process by tinkering with chemical catalysts jumpstarted by sunlight.

Indium tin oxide (ITO) is one material they've commonly tried to use. Researchers prefer it for its transparency -- which allows sunlight to pass through and trigger the water-splitting reactions -- and its ability to conduct electricity. But ITO is far from an ideal material.

"Indium is not very abundant," said Ben Wiley, assistant professor of chemistry at Duke University. "It is similar in abundance to silver in the earth's crust." As a result, solar fuel cells using ITO will likely remain expensive and uncompetitive with conventional energy sources like coal and natural gas, he said.

Wiley's lab has created something they hope can replace ITO: copper nanowires fused in a see-through film. The team -- including two postdoctoral researchers, a graduate student, and a former graduate student from Duke -- published their new approach last month in the chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie.

Copper is 1000 times more plentiful and 100 times less expensive than indium. Copper nanowire catalysts also cost less to produce than their ITO counterparts because they can be "printed" on pieces of glass or plastic in a liquid ink form, using a machine that functions much like a printing press. ITO production, by contrast, requires large, sequential chambers of pumps and vacuums that deposit a thin layer of indium atoms at a far slower rate.

The copper nanowire films consist of networks of microscopic metal rods, the properties and applications of which Wiley's lab has studied for years. The nanowires provide a high surface area for catalyzing chemistry, and Wiley's team experimented with coating them in either cobalt or nickel -- metals that serve as the actual chemical catalyst. Even with a coat of cobalt or nickel, the nanowire films allow nearly seven times more sunlight to pass through than ITO. The films are also flexible, leading Wiley to imagine the completed fuel cells one day being attached to backpacks or cars.

In the meantime, engineering and chemistry challenges remain. The nanowire films carry out only one half of the water-splitting equation, a process called water oxidation. The other half of the reaction involves using the electrons obtained from water oxidation to reduce water to hydrogen. Wiley's team expects to publish their work on this process in the coming year.

"A lot of groups are working on putting together complete devices to generate fuels from sunlight," he said, but "the efficiencies and costs of these systems have to be improved for them to get to commercial [production]."

Wiley noted that solar energy production is just one application of the copper nanowire films they study. The nanowires also show promise for use in flexible touch screens, organic LED (or OLED) lights and smart glass.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Duke University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Zuofeng Chen, Aaron R. Rathmell, Shengrong Ye, Adria R. Wilson, Benjamin J. Wiley. Optically Transparent Water Oxidation Catalysts Based on Copper Nanowires. Angewandte Chemie, 2013; DOI: 10.1002/ange.201306585

Cite This Page:

Duke University. "Copper promises cheaper, sturdier fuel cells." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 November 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131122103932.htm>.
Duke University. (2013, November 22). Copper promises cheaper, sturdier fuel cells. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131122103932.htm
Duke University. "Copper promises cheaper, sturdier fuel cells." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131122103932.htm (accessed August 29, 2014).

Share This




More Matter & Energy News

Friday, August 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Australian Airlines Relax Phone Ban Too

Australian Airlines Relax Phone Ban Too

Reuters - Business Video Online (Aug. 26, 2014) Qantas and Virgin say passengers can use their smartphones and tablets throughout flights after a regulator relaxed a ban on electronic devices during take-off and landing. As Hayley Platt reports the move comes as the two domestic rivals are expected to post annual net losses later this week. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Hurricane Marie Brings Big Waves to California Coast

Hurricane Marie Brings Big Waves to California Coast

Reuters - US Online Video (Aug. 26, 2014) Huge waves generated by Hurricane Marie hit the Southern California coast. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Chinese Researchers Might Be Creating Supersonic Submarine

Chinese Researchers Might Be Creating Supersonic Submarine

Newsy (Aug. 26, 2014) Chinese researchers have expanded on Cold War-era tech and are closer to building a submarine that could reach the speed of sound. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Breakingviews: India Coal Strained by Supreme Court Ruling

Breakingviews: India Coal Strained by Supreme Court Ruling

Reuters - Business Video Online (Aug. 26, 2014) An acute coal shortage is likely to be aggravated as India's supreme court declared government coal allocations illegal, says Breakingviews' Peter Thal Larsen. Video provided by Reuters
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