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article imageSuper catalyst could make a hydrogen fuel cell

By Tim Sandle     Sep 1, 2013 in Science
Bionic leaves might one day be developed to produce energy-dense fuels from sunlight, water and atmosphere-warming carbon dioxide, with no byproducts other than oxygen. The development of a new catalyst could represent a step towards this goal.
Scientists have developed a method by which molecular hydrogen-producing catalysts can be interfaced with a semiconductor that absorbs visible light. This has been carried out by scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) working at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP).
The scientists are inspired by what is taking place in nature. Through the process of photosynthesis, green plants harness solar energy to split molecules of water into oxygen, hydrogen ions (protons) and free electrons. The oxygen is released as waste and the protons and electrons are used to convert carbon dioxide into the carbohydrate sugars that plants use for energy. It is this mechanism that scientists want to capture.
The aim is to create artificial photosynthesis that can be used to generate electricity, captured in fuel cells as an effective means of storing and transporting energy. The 'golden ticket' for this is finding the right type of catalyst. Scientists think that a molecular cobalt-containing hydrogen production catalyst is the answer.
Outlining this, Gary Moore, a chemist with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division, said that "We’ve developed a method by which molecular hydrogen-producing catalysts can be interfaced with a semiconductor that absorbs visible light. Our experimental results indicate that the catalyst and the light-absorber are interfaced structurally as well as functionally."
The development has been described in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The paper is titled "Photofunctional Construct That Interfaces Molecular Cobalt-Based Catalysts for H2Production to a Visible-Light-Absorbing Semiconductor."
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