Friday, April 10, 2009

New approach to liberating hydrogen from water

BLUEFUELENERGY.COM: Starting in the 15th century and continuing into the 17th, Europeans spread their wings and sailed the seven seas in search of knowledge and trading partners, a period that came to be known as the Age of Discovery. Using new sailing technologies and new maps, they made the world a smaller place. Today, as a result of further advances in mobility technology, the world has become smaller still. Much smaller. And we now know the shockingly limited dimensions of the troposphere, the layer of atmosphere enveloping our planet that contains 75% of the atmosphere's mass and 99% of its water vapor is: a mere 8km at the poles and up to 16km over the equator.

This thin, vulnerable lens sustains life on Earth, but by pumping ever-growing amounts of greenhouse gases into it, we compromise its capacity to do so. Governments the world over understand the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions and have expressed their determination to solve the problem. Let's hope this leads us to a new Age of Discovery, one in which we look not outward, but inward as we search for answers that will help us save civilization and ecosystems as we know them.

Time is of the essence, which means that, while perfecting end-game solutions such as hydrogen and nuclear fusion, we must concurrently implement strategies based on existing technologies that mitigate climate change. The production of carbon-neutral DME—Blue Fuel—is Blue Fuel Energy's strategy for mitigating climate change. And its one that we fervently hope other companies will adopt because all the technology to implement it are off-the-shelf. At the heart of our production process is the electrolysis of water to separate the H2 from the O in H2O. Electrolysis is a proven process, but it does require large amounts of electricity. Here in British Columbia, we will tap into our vast renewable energy resource base by generating electricity for electrolysis with hydro and wind.

Blue Fuel Energy is preparing to conduct electrolysis with electricity generated by hydro and wind because we know that this approach works and we can order all the electrolyzers we need to set up large-scale electrolysis plants. And as we unroll our project, research on other approaches to electrolysis will continue apace. One such approach is that being developed by a team of scientists led by Professor David Milstein at the Weizmann Institute in Israel. As the institute states in a recent press release:

"The new approach that the Weizmann team has recently devised is divided into a sequence of reactions, which leads to the liberation of hydrogen and oxygen in consecutive thermal- and light-driven steps, mediated by a unique ingredient – a special metal complex that Milstein’s team designed in previous studies. Moreover, the one that they designed – a metal complex of the element ruthenium – is a ‘smart’ complex in which the metal center and the organic part attached to it cooperate in the cleavage of the water molecule."

The team is only at a very preliminary stage of investigation that could lead to commercialization of their process, but what they have achieved so far is very promising. The press release goes on to say:

"Discovery of an efficient artificial catalyst for the sunlight-driven splitting of water into oxygen and hydrogen is a major goal of renewable clean energy research. So far, Milstein’s team has demonstrated a mechanism for the formation of hydrogen and oxygen from water, without the need for sacrificial chemical agents, through individual steps, using light. For their next study, they plan to combine these stages to create an efficient catalytic system, bringing those in the field of alternative energy an important step closer to realizing this goal."

The full report of their findings can be found in the April 3, 2009 issue of Science. We look forward to hearing more about this new approach to producing hydrogen as their research progresses. It just may be an important piece in the climate change puzzle that's at the heart of the new Age of Discovery.

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