This Tiny Device Can Convert Polluted Air Into Hydrogen Fuel

Kathleen Villaluz

Hydrogen is one of the cleanest energy sources we are foreseeing to turn to in the near future. However, it doesn't naturally occur on Earth, which makes it difficult to come up with ways of obtaining the gas fuel. But recently, a group of researchers from the University of Antwerp and KU Leuven has developed a small device that is able to produce hydrogen fuel from the process of air purification.

This air purifier device can produce hydrogen gas

[Image Source: KU Leuven]

How the device works

With this air filter device, researchers are able to respond to two key environmental issues: alternative, clean energy production and purifying the polluted air. Sammy Verbruggen, a professor in the department of Bioengineering at the University of Antwerp, explained how the small device takes advantage of an air purification method that is able to produce hydrogen fuel.

"We use a small device with two rooms separated by a membrane. Air is purified on one side, while on the other side hydrogen gas is produced from a part of the degradation products. This hydrogen gas can be stored and used later as fuel, as is already being done in some hydrogen buses, for example".

Particular types of nanomaterials were used on the membrane level where most of the processing action takes place and therefore, where the solution is concentrated. "These catalysts are capable of producing hydrogen gas and breaking down air pollution. In the past, these cells were mostly used to extract hydrogen from water. We have now discovered that this is also possible, and even more efficient, with polluted air", states Verbruggen.

This air filter device can be thought of as a solar panel as light is the only source of energy required to make it work. Therefore, Verbruggen and his team are aiming to use sunlight to power the air purifying process. Instead of generating electricity, like that of a solar panel, the device filters air and the harnessed energy from the process is stored as hydrogen gas.

Potential applications

Industries that produce high levels of pollutants like in the production of paint and other chemical products is the initial application the scientists have thought of.

"This technology is probably most evident in industries that cope with heavily loaded waste gas streams. The paint and textile industry, or other activities that involve large quantities of organic solvents, are some of the examples that immediately come to mind", said Verbruggen. Since polluted air is used in the process of generating hydrogen gas, the more pollution the industry produce, the more hydrogen fuel can be stored.

Like with many other types of research, the team's air filter device is only a small scale prototype but is being developed to an upscale version. Verbruggen expresses his team's research goals and future plan for the device.

"We are currently working on a scale of only a few square centimeters. At a later stage, we would like to scale up our technology to make the process industrially applicable. We are also working on improving our materials so we can use sunlight more efficiently to trigger the reactions".