Science

New theories and materials support the transition to clean energy

A diagram highlighting the three forms of catalysis described in the new study.Credits: Jason Drees / Arizona State University Institute for Biodesign

As the days go by, the dark side of fossil fuel addiction becomes apparent. In addition to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, society must find sustainable alternatives to power the modern world.


In a new study, Gary Moore and his research group are exploring different approaches to catalysis. Chemical process It plays an important role not only in biological reactions, but also in many industrial applications.

A catalyst is a substance that accelerates the rate of a chemical reaction without being consumed during the reaction process. Life is impossible without enzyme catalysts, because enzyme catalysts are so important in nature that intracellular conditions do not facilitate many important chemical processes.Chemical reactions that would otherwise take hours or days to occur can develop within a second with the help of Enzyme catalyst..

Chemical catalysts have been used in a variety of human applications, from drug development to biodegradable plastics to environmentally safe fertilizers. They may also develop green energy solutions to address the climate crisis, a region that Moore’s group has been actively pursuing.

Moore is a researcher at the Biodesign Center for Applied Structure Discovery (CASD) and an associate professor at ASU’s School of Molecular Science (SMS). He is joined by Daiki Nishiori, a graduate student at SMS and the lead author of a new study, and former Brian Wadsworth. graduate student With SMS currently employed by Intel Corporation.

The findings are published in the latest issue of the journal Chemical catalysis.

The catalyst up close

The new study is based on a study of catalyst behavior by Moore and his ASU colleagues, as well as other researchers in the field. Current outlook articles describe the three forms of catalysis (enzymes, electrode catalysts, and photoelectrosynthesis), outline progress so far, and face scientists seeking a comprehensive understanding of these important phenomena. We are focusing on some of the remaining challenges to do.

Much has been learned through the study of enzyme catalysis in living organisms, but researchers want to develop synthetic alternatives that can improve the design of nature. “It’s challenging to mimic biological enzymes for catalysis,” says Nishiori. “Bioenzymes have complex three-dimensional protein structures,” and they function under completely different conditions than most human-designed catalysts.

Instead, researchers want to create a new range of synthetic catalysts to drive chemical reactions with high efficiency. Successful results have the potential to significantly improve the industrial production of many products that benefit society. These include new types of carbon-neutral or carbon-free fuels.

“This article covers a significant amount of material space, including traditional chemical catalysis by enzymes and electrode-catalytic processes mediated by biological and / or synthetic complexes,” Moore says. .. Next, this study describes a hybrid system that captures synchrotron radiation energy and uses it to drive charge transfer reactions. The obvious similarities in nature are those with the photosynthetic processes performed by plants.

However, artificial photosynthesis technology cannot simply duplicate a natural blueprint. Photosynthetic plants convert and store only 1% of the incident sunlight collected by the leaves in the form of chemical bonds, in addition to a limited understanding of the structural and functional relationships that govern their performance.These bonds ultimately make up the food we eat and, on a longer geological time scale, are carbon-based. Fossil fuel Our modern society depends. All this is necessary for healthy plants to grow and reproduce, but not enough for human use.

Lighting research

The design of the new photoelectrosynthetic device involves using the same condensing technology as today’s solar cells and binding it to a thin layer of catalytic material. In this scheme, charge carriers move from the semiconductor surface to the catalytic site. Once the catalyst has accumulated enough charge carriers, it can enter a so-called activated state and allow catalysis to proceed. This process can be used to produce hydrogen from water or to produce reduced CO.2Includes methane, carbon monoxide, liquid fuels, and other industrially useful products.

“For more traditional solar cells, the ultimate goal is to convert sunlight into electricity. The system we are developing uses solar energy to energetically uphill chemical conversion. “Powers the solar power,” says Moore. Instead of producing electricity, the colliding sunlight causes a catalytic chemical reaction that ultimately produces fuel.

“The fuels described here are not tied to fossil carbon sources. You can develop carbon-free chemistry, such as converting water to hydrogen gas and use it as fuel, or you can use CO. increase.2 To produce carbon-containing fuels from the atmosphere, “says Moore. “In this latter example, the resulting fuel is carbon-based, but there is no new source of CO.2 This process is a form of carbon recycling.

Moore refers to technologies such as photoelectrosynthesis. They have great expectations for the production of clean energy and the cleaner production of useful industrial products, but it is difficult to understand chemistry at both theoretical and practical levels. The photons of the light and charge carriers used to jump start catalysis are quantum entities, with particularly subtle properties that researchers are still struggling to model accurately.

Creating effective technologies to address future energy challenges requires photoharvest dynamics, as well as a more complete mathematical understanding of catalytic processes and charge transfer. Current research provides an interim step in this direction.

In addition to these advances, materials science researchers need to design materials made from durable and affordable materials that can better utilize these processes.

A new road through the Energy Labyrinth

In addition to the purely scientific hurdles to tackle, Moore states that changes in public policy will be an important impetus for the success of more environmentally friendly energy technologies. “It’s hard to compete with existing technology that just punches holes in the ground to extract the energy sources that are already there,” Moore says. Scientifically educated citizens who can make informed voting choices that affect how society invests in future infrastructure are also important. “Would you like to choose to invest in technology that minimizes the impact of climate change, or do you want to continue to use your energy infrastructure with components and processes that are more than 100 years old?”

Moore hopes that advances in enzymes, electrode catalysts, and photoelectrosynthesis technologies will play an important role in the future of more sustainable and less disruptive energies.


Research provides new insights for sunlight-gathering technology


For more information:
Daiki Nishiori et al., Enzyme catalysis, electrode catalysis, similarities in photoelectrosynthesis, Chemical catalysis (2021). DOI: 10.1016 / j.checat.2021.09.008

Quote: New theory and materials, Clean Energy acquired on October 14, 2021 from https: //phys.org/news/2021-10-theories-materials-aid-transition-energy.html (October 2021) We will support the transition to (14th)

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