Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Insights from nature for more efficient water splitting

Date:
June 30, 2014
Source:
RIKEN
Summary:
Water splitting is one of the critical reactions that sustain life on Earth, and could be a key to the creation of future fuels. It is a key in the process of photosynthesis, through which plants produce glucose and oxygen from water and carbon dioxide, using sunlight as energy. However, there are still significant mysteries about the process.

The stone in the picture is a MnO2 mineral called hollandite.
Credit: Image courtesy of RIKEN

Water splitting is one of the critical reactions that sustain life on earth, and could be a key to the creation of future fuels. It is a key in the process of photosynthesis, through which plants produce glucose and oxygen from water and carbon dioxide, using sunlight as energy. However, there are still significant mysteries about the process. Nature's own water-splitting catalysts -- which are based on manganese rather than more common elements such as iron, copper, or nickel -- are incredibly efficient, and scientists have long been studying why this is so and how we can mimic the natural system.

One basic riddle is why nature always uses manganese, a fact that is particularly surprising considering that manganese is rather inactive at neutral pH, which is how water is found in nature. Scientists have been able to devise many artificial manganese-based catalysts of their own, but have not been able to make them active at neutral pH. Now, in a study published in Nature Communications, a team from the RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Center led by Ryuhei Nakamura has reported the discovery of a mineral-based catalyst that can efficiently split water into oxygen and hydrogen ions (protons) at neutral pH. The key to this work, according to Nakamura, was the insight, based on spectrographic findings, that the catalysis of water splitting can only be efficient if the transfer of electrons and protons is properly synchronized. Normally, artificial catalysts do not do this. With this in mind, the team devised a new strategy for remedying this mismatch of electron- and proton-transfer timing, and through it were able to achieve a significant improvement in the catalytic activity of manganese oxides at neutral pH.

Learning from nature is an important theme of this research. According to Nakamura, "The alpha-manganese oxide we used in this work is a main component of naturally occurring manganese minerals. We were surprised to discover that even mineral-like manganese oxides can split water efficiently at neutral pH once the timing of the electron and proton transfer is synchronized. This finding inspired us to think about how nature engineered the normally inactive manganese mineral to become an active catalyst for water splitting."

Renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydroelectric and geothermal fluctuate over time, and storing this energy is a crucial task for creating a sustainable society. Water splitting can be used to transform energy into hydrogen that can then be combined with oxygen from the atmosphere in clean fuel cells or with carbon dioxide in the oceans or atmosphere to create raw materials for hydrocarbon fuels and materials. Nakamura hopes to use this new knowledge to construct an electrochemical water splitting device that can operate at neutral pH, thus exploiting water as a resource to create new fuels.

For Nakamura, this work has exciting future potential. "As seen from a flower in a vase," he explains, "plants can use even tap water as a resource to make fuels. They do not need acid and base solutions. In other words, nature utilizes a safe, clean, and abundant form of water, thereby creating truly sustainable ecosystems. I hope that our findings will be able to contribute to the use of water at a neutral pH as a resource for generating renewable energy, which is one of the foundations for sustainable human societies."


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Akira Yamaguchi, Riko Inuzuka, Toshihiro Takashima, Toru Hayashi, Kazuhito Hashimoto, Ryuhei Nakamura. Regulating proton-coupled electron transfer for efficient water splitting by manganese oxides at neutral pH. Nature Communications, 2014; 5 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms5256

Cite This Page:

RIKEN. "Insights from nature for more efficient water splitting." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 June 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140630093627.htm>.
RIKEN. (2014, June 30). Insights from nature for more efficient water splitting. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140630093627.htm
RIKEN. "Insights from nature for more efficient water splitting." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140630093627.htm (accessed September 22, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Monday, September 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Thousands March in NYC Over Climate Change

Thousands March in NYC Over Climate Change

AP (Sep. 21, 2014) — Accompanied by drumbeats, wearing costumes and carrying signs, thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Manhattan and other cities around the world on Sunday to urge policy makers to take action on climate change. (Sept. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
What This MIT Sensor Could Mean For The Future Of Robotics

What This MIT Sensor Could Mean For The Future Of Robotics

Newsy (Sep. 20, 2014) — MIT researchers developed a light-based sensor that gives robots 100 times the sensitivity of a human finger, allowing for "unprecedented dexterity." Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
MIT BioSuit A New Take On Traditional Spacesuits

MIT BioSuit A New Take On Traditional Spacesuits

Newsy (Sep. 19, 2014) — The MIT BioSuit could be an alternative to big, bulky traditional spacesuits, but the concept needs some work. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) — Jars, bottles, caps and even a pizza box, recovered from the trash, were the elements used by four musical groups at the "RSFEST2014 Sonorities Recycling Festival", in Colombian city of Cali. Duration: 00:49 Video provided by AFP
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