Compound Turns Water to Hydrogen Gas

Research into hydrogen production for fuel cells was the hot topic for Virginia Tech researchers attending the American Chemical Society National Meeting. They are studying Supramolecular complexes created by Associate Professor of Chemistry Karen Brewer and her research group.

Blacksburg, Virginia – August 26, 2004 [] The complexes can convert solar energy into a fuel, such as hydrogen gas in a process has been called artificial photosynthesis, Brewer said. “Solar light is of sufficient energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gas, but this does not happen on its own; we need a catalysts to make this reaction occur,” she said. How to use light to bring together the multiple electrons needed for fuel production reactions is the main challenge. Electrons are the negatively charged particles that surround an atom’s nucleus, allowing atoms to react and form bonds. Previous research has focused on collecting electrons using light energy. The Brewer group has created molecular machines that use light to bring electrons together, photoinitiated electron collection, then deliver the electrons to the fuel precursor, in this case, water, to produce hydrogen. The researchers create a large molecular assembly called a supramolecular complex. Light signals this molecular assembly or machine to collect electrons and make them available for delivery to substrates. Creating the catalyst bought a new problem to light. Water is cheap, but unfortunately the compound is expensive, Brewer said, and the compound is destroyed during the conversion process. Improving efficiency is the next step for the research group.

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