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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 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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