New device can clean polluted air and generate power

The air gets more and more polluted, and the amount of fossil fuels we burn to generate power only makes it worse. So what if we could clean the air, all the while generating power? Researchers from the University of Antwerp and KU Leuven (BE) have created a device that can do just that, cleaning polluted air and generating hydrogen, working when exposed to light.

The device has two rooms, separated by a membrane. On the one side, air is purified, while on the other hydrogen gas is produced from a part of the degradation products. The hydrogen gas can be stored and used as fuel.

The secret of the device lies in the membrane. This is made from specific nanomaterials, which are capable of producing hydrogen gas and breaking down air pollution. These cells have been used before to extract hydrogen from water, but they are even more efficient with polluted air, the researchers discovered.

The underlying processes are similar to those in solar panels, and they are activated by light. The difference with solar panels is that the electricity is not generated directly, but rather that air is purified while the generated power is stored as hydrogen gas. However, currently it is not possible yet to use sunlight, though what kind of light they do use is unclear.

While currently they are working on the scale of only a few square centimetres, the aim is to scale up the technology to make the process industrially applicable.

Photos: UAntwerpen and KU Leuven / Alfred T. Palmer / Bobak