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This New Device Creates Energy Out of Air Pollution

May 11, 2017 09:28 AM EDT

Air pollution is a significant problem that's negatively affecting health and the environment worldwide. One of its main causes is fossil fuels, a major energy source and also a contributor in widespread global warming.

In response, scientists from the University of Antwerp and KU Leuven have figured out a way to address both of these problems with just a single device that can purify the air and generate power at the same time.

According to a report from KU Leuven, the device has two chambers that are separated by a single membrane. One side is used to purify air, while the other produces hydrogen gas with part of the contaminants. The hydrogen gas can then be stored and used as fuel as hydrogen buses currently do.

The key of the innovation is in the membrane between the chambers. The researchers used specific nanomaterials for this membrane, which can break down air pollution and produce hydrogen gas.

"In the past, these cells were mostly used to extract hydrogen from water," Professor Sammy Verbruggen explained in a statement. "We have now discovered that this is also possible, and even more efficient, with polluted air."

The device requires exposure to light to work, and the processes involved in it are similar the technology behind solar panels. In this case, electricity is not generated directly

"We are currently working on a scale of only a few square centimeters," Verbruggen said. "At a later stage, we would like to scale up our technology to make the process industrially applicable. We are also working on improving our materials so we can use sunlight more efficiently to trigger the reactions."

If produced on a larger scale, this technology could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and bring about cleaner air outdoors.

The findings were published in a paper in the journal ChemSusChem.

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