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Alternative energy

Hybrid generates energy

Liquid catalysts and wood: ingredients that can be used to produce electricity

JOHN TOON / GEORGIA TECHLiquid catalysts and wood: ingredients that can be used to produce electricity JOHN TOON / GEORGIA TECH

A hybrid device somewhere between a solar cell and a fuel cell could be an option for generating electricity from a broad variety of biomass inputs, such as wood powder, starch, cellulose and lignin found in vegetables, seaweed and waste from poultry processing.  A prototype of this device was created by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States, coordinated by Professor Yulin Deng. The biomass is ground and mixed with polyoxometalate (POM), a chemical that acts as a catalyst. Then the mixture is exposed to sunlight or heat. The POM releases the electrons in the biomass in the presence of thermal radiation and leads them to one of the sides of the fuel cell consisting of a set of metal and polymer plates. When they arrive at the back, the electrons encounter oxygen and pass through a circuit outside the fuel cell, generating electricity. The device can be used in small electronic equipment in developing countries, in addition to providing energy on a larger scale when a significant amount of biomass is available. Simply mixing leftover vegetables or any raw material used in the experiment with the catalyst does not result in a chemical reaction to generate electricity. The reaction takes place only when the material is exposed to sunlight or heat. An article describing the project was published in the journal Nature Communications on February 7, 2014.

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