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22 Jun 2024, Edition - 3266, Saturday

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Can you use water in place of diesel and petrol?


Image credit : Illustrative image


Scientists are on their way to develop a unique and effective fuel production technology. A highly stable material will help split water molecules from hydrogen fuel production.

Breaking the bonds between oxygen and hydrogen in water could be a key to the creation of hydrogen in a sustainable manner, but finding an economically viable technique for this has proved difficult, said researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the US.

What is the hydrogen-generating catalyst?

According to a PTI report, this new technology is made from mixing metal compounds with a substance called perchloric acid.

How is fuel produced from water?

Researchers from the University of Illinois have shared the steps of

Electrolysers use electricity to break water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen.

The most efficient of these devices use corrosive acids and electrode materials made of the metal compounds iridium oxide or ruthenium oxide.

Iridium oxide is the more stable of the two, but iridium is one of the least abundant elements on the Earth, so researchers are in search of an alternative material.

Previously, electrolysers were composed of two elements: metal and oxygen.

However, in the new method, the compound has two metal elements — yttrium and ruthenium — and oxygen, which increases the water-splitting reaction.

Yao Qin, a former member of Yang’s group, first experimented with the procedure for making this new material by using different acids and heating temperatures to increase the rate of the water-splitting reaction.

The researchers found that when they used perchloric acid as a catalyst and let the mixture react under heat, the physical nature of the yttrium ruthenate product changed.

“The material became more porous and also had a new crystalline structure, different from all the solid catalysts we made before,” said Jaemin Kim, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois.

Further, the new porous material– a pyrochlore oxide of yttrium ruthenate — can split water molecules at a higher rate than the current industry standard.

The increased activity of porous structure is desirable when it comes to electrocatalysts

“These pores can be produced synthetically with nanometre-sized templates and substances for making ceramics; however, those can’t hold up under the high-temperature conditions needed for making high-quality solid catalysts,” Hong Yang, a professor at the University of Illinois.

How is the new compound different from the previous one?

The team of researchers, who were working on it, looked at the structure of the new material with an electron microscope and found that it is four times more porous than the original yttrium ruthenate they developed in a previous study, and three times that of the iridium and ruthenium oxides used commercially.

The material used for the electrodes improved the overall structure.

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