Turning pollution into energy

The Spark

26th May 2017

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Earlier this week the World Health Organisation released its World Health Statistics 2017 report, which revealed that people in the UK are 64 times as likely to die of air pollution than those in Sweden, and twice as likely as those in the US. This is a massive issue that is getting worse, so the hunt for innovative solutions to the pollution problem is most certainly on.

Belgian researchers at the University of Antwerp have recently published a report in which they discuss a break-through device that can generate energy from pollution. The tiny device (just a few square centimetres) contains two chambers separated by a membrane which, under sunlight, breaks down polluted air into hydrogen gas. This gas can be stored and later used as fuel.

With hydrogen fuel cells becoming increasingly popular among car and bus manufacturers, a development such as this is significant. In London, double-decker hydrogen buses are due to be trialled this year. Hyundai and Toyota already have fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) available to purchase in the UK, while BMW, Audi and Mercedes Benz are also working on their own versions.

While the technology is still in its early stages, Professor Sammy Verbruggen, one of the leading researchers, has great expectations: “At this moment we are working on a scale of only a few square centimetres. In the long term, we’d like to scale up our technology to make the process industrially applicable. We’re also working on improving our materials so we can use sunlight more efficiently to trigger the responses.”

This remarkable device addresses two of the main issues facing society today: alternative energy production and clean air. With air pollution costing the global economy trillions annually the sooner this device becomes widely available the better.


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