Researchers from Northwestern University have developed a new class of ‘honeycomb’ gas separation materials to purify hydrogen rich mixtures like methane (natural gas) for generating electricity via fuel cells.
Traditional methods of gas separation use selective membranes that grab molecules by size. But Northwestern's Professor Mercouri G. Kanatzidis and Gerasimos S. Armatas are using a method of polarization. As the gas mixture of (carbon dioxide and hydrogen) travels through the inner walls of the ‘mesopourous’ membrane, the carbon dioxide (CO2) molecules are slowed down and pulled towards the wall as the hydrogen molecules pass through the holes.
One type of membrane consisting of heavy elements germanium, lead and tellurium showed to be approximately four times more selective at separating hydrogen than traditional methods using lighter elements such as silicon, oxygen and carbon. The process is reported to work at “convenient temperature range” -- between zero degrees Celsius and room temperature.
“We are taking advantage of what we call ‘soft’ atoms, which form the membrane’s walls,” said Kanatzidis. “These soft-wall atoms like to interact with other soft molecules passing by, slowing them down as they pass through the membrane. Hydrogen, the smallest element, is a ‘hard’ molecule. It zips right through while softer molecules, like carbon dioxide and methane take more time.”
There was once a color deemed so dull, and expensive that no artist would touch it. It produced weak colors. It looked bad. And, soon it was forgotten.
That is, until, one day, over two hundred years later, when a group of researchers at the University of Washington found something that would change Cobalt Green’s legacy forever. The discovery? Cobalt Green has the potential to revolutionize the way we use computers. Imagine turning on your computer and within seconds getting immediate access to your hard drive instead of having to wait on end for everything to boot up. Imagine a hard drive with almost infinite storage. Imagine that all this would only leave a footprint the size of a pea.
It’s simply a matter of color.
So, how does work?
Swedish chemist Sven Rinmann invented Cobalt Green in 1780. Also known as Rinmann’s Green, it was originally produced by using a mixture of zinc oxide and cobalt. What makes it so valuable to scientists today is its unique magnetic properties and what they mean for the emerging field of spintronics.
Current technology relies on the movement and accumulation of electrons. Spintronics, on the other hand, exploits the spin of electrons to increase computational power in a device. More power means a faster and efficient machine.
Thus far, researchers have run into problems with temperature. Most materials work well only in extremely cold temperatures. Cobalt Green, however, can be used at room temperature.
"Whether you think you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right." - Henry Ford
The worst thing we can do when thinking about the future of energy is to look at possible solutions and simply extrapolate today's technologies and scientific assumptions forward about what 'is' or 'isn't possible'.
There is still a lot we do not know about the basics of energy systems dealing with photons, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, enzymes and metals. Our current first phase efforts to design nanoscale materials used in energy production, conversion and storage are certain to yield systems that will change how we live in the world in the decades ahead.
Remember, only a century ago, coal and wood were king, magical 'electric' light intimidated the general public, only a few could see the potential of oil, rockets and nuclear science were beyond our imagination, and the vision of a tens of millions of 'horseless carriages' reshaping the urban landscape was a ridiculous proposition.
So what seemingly novel ideas could shape the next century?
Physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have figured out a previously unknown phenomena of electron pairings used in high-temperature superconductor materials that could carry electrical current across great distances with minimal loss.
Why is this important to the future of energy?
Advanced energy systems depend on our ability to understand how electrons rearrange themselves during chemical reactions. To trigger specific chemical reactions involved in producing energy, cleaning up hydrocarbons, and making materials with less energy we need to know how bonds are formed and broken between atoms.
“The Holy Grail in molecular sciences would be to be able to look at all aspects of a chemical reaction and to see how atoms are moving and how electrons are rearranging themselves as this happens,” researcher Margaret Murnane. “We’re not there yet, but this is a big step toward that goal.”
Why is it difficult? Changes in electron clouds happen on timescales of less than a femtosecond, or one quadrillionth of a second, representing some of the fastest processes in the natural world.