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posted by martyb on Thursday February 08 2018, @07:22PM   Printer-friendly
from the innovative-belgians dept.

AlterNet reports

[...] researchers linked air pollution to 6.5 million premature deaths in 2015, [...] so scientists around the world are seeking ways to thwart this ongoing problem.

One such solution, publicized last year by a pair of Belgian universities, has the potential to destroy pollutants before they enter the environment, with an added bonus: clean energy production.

The prototype device, designed by the University of Antwerp and KU Leuven[1], is only a few centimeters in size, but with further development, it could one day fight some of the most dangerous man-made pollutants on an industrial scale while producing [a clean fuel].

[...] The Belgian research teams created a small device with two [chambers] separated by a membrane. Air is purified on one side, and the degradation of pollutants produces hydrogen gas, which is stored on the other side.

The technology is based on the use of specific nanomaterials in a process called photocatalysis, [Professor Sammy] Verbruggen told AlterNet by phone. "[The process] uses a semiconductor that is irradiated by light energy to generate free charge carriers. These charge carriers, in turn, produce reactive oxygen species that can attack fouling components."

Specifically, the device can eliminate any organic compound--which includes pesticides like DDT, as well as industrial pollutants such as dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Many of these organic pollutants are particularly concerning because they "bio-magnify throughout the food chain and bio-accumulate in organisms", according to the World Health Organization.

As pollutants are broken down, "protons are extracted from the molecules and migrate to another compartment of the device, where they are reduced to hydrogen gas", Verbruggen explained. Cell devices like this are most commonly used to extract hydrogen from water, but it turns out the process is even more efficient with polluted air--which is a huge revelation. "It's actually easier to perform these reactions with fouled components rather than pure water."

[...] Rather than vacuum pollution from dirty city air, the device is better suited to capture waste gases before they ever enter the environment. When mounted at a manufacturing facility, for example, the device could passively capture and eliminate volatile organic compounds that would otherwise be emitted or flared off--while producing hydrogen gas that can be converted into electricity onsite via a fuel cell.

[...] Verbruggen told us, "We are now working on several prototypes that are more easily manufactured with cheaper materials, and we're also investigating some alternative materials that can interact better with sunlight. As soon as we have a suitable combination of both, then we can start thinking about the next step, which is upscaling to larger dimensions."

The device only needs light to function, but it will need to absorb light energy far more efficiently to be viable on a larger scale.

[1] Katholieke Universiteit Lueven


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  • (Score: 2) by Snotnose on Thursday February 08 2018, @07:37PM (7 children)

    by Snotnose (1623) on Thursday February 08 2018, @07:37PM (#635149)

    I've heard this bull before. It sucks protons out of molecules to make hydrogen. Takes a lot of energy to suck a proton out of an atom, and doing so changes the element the proton came from. You know, like changing lead to gold.

    yah, rite.

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  • (Score: 2) by frojack on Thursday February 08 2018, @07:53PM (3 children)

    by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Thursday February 08 2018, @07:53PM (#635159) Journal

    Just about all these grandiose plans have been failures...

    https://qz.com/846093/chinas-giant-smog-sucking-tower-was-simply-no-match-for-its-air-pollution/ [qz.com]

    According to All China Tech, following a 50-day trial period, the China Forum of Environmental Journalists (CFEJ) released its report, finding that while the tower does manage to filter air particles, it doesn't do it particularly well, or for a very large area. Despite claims that it could purify 30,000 cubic meters of air an hour, the machine has failed to create a non-toxic air bubble around even itself. Experts estimated that every hour the amount of harmful particulates that the machine captures doesn't even add up to a single spoonful of salt, and have renamed it the "Smog Warning Tower."

    At the same time, Studio Roosegaarde (the tower's designer) has tried to put a more rosy spin on the data, with an article titled "China’s crazy smog-sucking vacuum tower is actually working," saying that over 41 days the Smog Free Tower had scrubbed 10 Beijing National Stadiums worth of air and made the surrounding air 55% cleaner.

    That article was flogged world wide, with absolute no data to back it up.

    http://theconversation.com/beware-chinas-anti-smog-tower-and-other-plans-to-pull-pollution-from-the-air-90596 [theconversation.com]

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    • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Thursday February 08 2018, @08:12PM

      by bob_super (1357) on Thursday February 08 2018, @08:12PM (#635168)

      > every hour the amount of harmful particulates that the machine captures doesn't even add up to a single spoonful of salt

      To be fair, that's really a lot of PM2.5 particles.

      It might avoid half a dozen lung cancers, leaving only 199994 to fix via other solutions. (yep, I'm just making up numbers)

    • (Score: 2) by Thexalon on Thursday February 08 2018, @08:15PM (1 child)

      by Thexalon (636) on Thursday February 08 2018, @08:15PM (#635170)

      From your linked article:

      Update: A company representative told Quartz at the time of publication that it had not independently verified the test results. In May 2017, according to the company, data compiled by a scientist from Netherland’s Eindhoven University of Technology showed that the tower substantially brought down particulate matter up to a distance of 20 meters (65 feet).

      No idea if it's right, but your claim that it was a total sham seems at least questionable.

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      • (Score: 2) by frojack on Thursday February 08 2018, @08:58PM

        by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Thursday February 08 2018, @08:58PM (#635192) Journal

        the machine has failed to create a non-toxic air bubble around even itself.

        None of these quotes are mine. But I see your quote is from the company that made the device. not independently verified

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  • (Score: 4, Informative) by c0lo on Thursday February 08 2018, @11:55PM

    by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Thursday February 08 2018, @11:55PM (#635289) Journal

    Wipe your nose, snot. I have a hunch you are trying play the court's fool, but there's a risk in that - after a while you may degenerate in being an actual fool.**
    Or... did it actually happen?

    Abstract [wiley.com] - go to your favorite science hub and recover the article.

    The device selectively oxidizes the carbon in volatile organic pollutants while pumping the hydrogen contained by the same through a membrane before it is oxidized.
    Nothing related to nuclear reactions.

    ---

    ** to translate this into something that doesn't sound personal - if your attitude towards technological research is mocking it, you'll slip behind others that don't.
    You can actually see this in the diminishing frequency of science/tech FA originated in USA.
    When you get them, you suddenly realize that so many of them have authors of Chinese origin, you start to wonder what will happen when China will as attractive a research destination as USA is (or used to be)?

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  • (Score: 2) by Osamabobama on Thursday February 08 2018, @11:58PM

    by Osamabobama (5842) on Thursday February 08 2018, @11:58PM (#635292)

    It sucks protons out of molecules ...

    ...a lot of energy to suck a proton out of an atom...

    You've just referenced two entirely different processes. The first is chemical, the second is nuclear. Pulling a hydrogen ion out of a molecule requires about the same amount of energy as it gave up when it was put there in the first place. This is how hydrogen is used to store energy, in this case solar energy. Let's think of it as electrolysis for molecules less desirable than water. Electrolysis, of course, has a long history. Expanding its use to other arbitrary molecules doesn't seem like that much of a stretch.

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 09 2018, @08:51AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 09 2018, @08:51AM (#635448)

    The proton comes from hydrogen. To what element is the hydrogen changed?

    Wait, I know, nihilium, the element consisting of absolutely nothing! ;-)