Now University of Washington scientists have found that a previously unappreciated aspect of those reactions could be key in developing more efficient energy systems.
Such systems could include, for example, solar cells that would produce more electricity from the sun's rays, or hydrogen fuel cells efficient enough for use in automobiles, said James Mayer, a UW chemistry professor.
"As we think about building a better energy future, we have to develop more efficient ways to convert chemical energy into electrical energy and vice versa," said Mayer, the corresponding author of a paper about the discovery in the June 8 edition of Science.
Chemical reactions that change the oxidation state of molecules on the surface of metal oxides historically have been seen as a transfer solely of electrons. The new research shows that, at least in some reactions, the transfer process includes coupled electrons and protons.
"Research and manufacturing have grown up around models in which electrons moved but not atoms," Mayer said. The new paper proposes a different model for certain kinds of processes, a perspective that could lead to new avenues of investigation, he said.
"In principle this is a path toward more efficient energy utilization."
Coupling the transfer of electrons with the transfer of protons could help reduce the energy barriers to chemical reactions important in many technologies. For example, using solar energy to make fuels such as hydrogen requires that electrons and protons be coupled.
The new perspective also could be important for photocatalytic chemical processes, including those designed for wastewater remediation or to create self-cleaning surfaces, such as the outside of buildings in areas with heavy industrial air pollution.
The research focused specifically on nanoparticles, measured in billionths of a meter, of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Titanium dioxide is the most common white pigment, used in paints, coatings, plastics, sunscreen and other materials. Zinc oxide also is used in pigments, coatings and sunscreens, as well as white athletic tape, and also is used in the manufacture of rubber, concrete and other materials. Nanocrystals were used to closely examine chemical processes at the material's surface.
Mayer said the goal of the work is to get those working in various technological areas involving metal oxides to think in different ways about how those technologies work and how to make them more efficient.
The work also could prove important in finding more efficient ways to fuel vehicles of the future, he said. Fuel cells, for example, transform atmospheric oxygen into water by adding both electrons and protons. Coupling those added electrons and protons could make fuel cells more efficient and allow replacement of costly materials such as platinum.
"Chemical fuels are very useful, and they're not going away," Mayer said. "But how do we utilize them better in a non-fossil-fuel world?"
Co-authors of the Science paper are Joel Schrauben, a UW postdoctoral researcher; Rebecca Hayoun, who since has received a doctorate from the UW and is working in the private sector; UW graduate students Carolyn Valdez and Miles Braten; and Lila Fridley, an undergraduate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who participated as a summer researcher at UW.
The work was funded by the UW, the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund, the National Science Foundation through the UW-based Center for Enabling New Technologies through Catalysis, and the U.S. Department of Energy.
For more information, contact Mayer at 206-543-2083 or email@example.com
Vince Stricherz | EurekAlert!
Atomic-level motion may drive bacteria's ability to evade immune system defenses
24.04.2017 | Indiana University
Two-dimensional melting of hard spheres experimentally unravelled after 60 years
24.04.2017 | University of Oxford
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
03.04.2017 | Event News
24.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.04.2017 | Materials Sciences
24.04.2017 | Life Sciences