Summer 2010: Of Note

Image of experiment in lab

HOT TOPIC: This improved water oxidation catalyst is a major leap forward in the quest for green energy.

Courtesy Benjamin Yin, Hill Research Group

Let the Light Shine

Emory chemists aim to turn hydrogen into clean fuel using only solar power

By Mary J. Loftus

Hydrogen (a.k.a. atomic No. 1) makes up about three-fourths of all matter and is the lightest and most plentiful element in the universe. No wonder scientists have long searched for ways to transform hydrogen into a clean, sustainable solar fuel source.

The goal: to split water into oxygen and hydrogen with solar energy—through artificial photosynthesis—and use the resulting hydrogen as a fuel whose only byproduct is water.

This has proven more difficult, and expensive, than imagined. The challenges include developing a light collector, a catalyst to oxidize the water, and a catalyst to reduce the water to hydrogen using only sunlight.

Recently, Goodrich C. White Professor Craig Hill’s lab developed the most effective catalyst so far for water oxidation—a crucial component of generating hydrogen fuel from water.

They hope to mimic photosynthesis with a carbon-free, molecular water oxidation catalyst (WOC).

“This has really upped the standard. It’s like a home run compared to a base hit,” says Hill, an inorganic chemist.

Hill’s WOC improvement, made in collaboration with the Paris Institute of Molecular Chemistry and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, is among research being conducted at the Emory Bio-inspired Renewable Energy Center, which works to mimic natural processes to generate clean fuel.

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