Better chemistry through living models

Jun 06, 2007

Scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will receive $1.98 million from the U.S. Department of Energy over the next three years to emulate nature’s use of enzymes to convert chemicals to energy, PNNL announced Wednesday (June 6).

The information that scientists at the DOE national lab turn up may point to new materials that render it economically feasible to produce energy from hydrogen fuel cells.

“This is a basic research project, but one that we hope will provide new knowledge that will be pertinent to the production of hydrogen or oxidation of hydrogen in fuel cells,” said Morris Bullock, co-leading the project with Dan DuBois. Both Bullock and DuBois are members of the Molecular Interactions and Transformations group and the Institute for Interfacial Catalysis at PNNL.

Bullock noted that an electrocatalytic reaction, or energy made by catalytic oxidation of hydrogen in fuel cells, “is very attractive for many applications.” But so far, such chemical conversions are expensive; fuel cells require the precious metal platinum. “We seek to prepare new metal complexes based on abundant, inexpensive metals such as iron, manganese and molybdenum.”

To search for electrocatalyst alternatives to platinum, the team will be guided by natural systems like those in species of bacteria and algae that enlist hydrogenase enzymes in energy production. Bullock and colleagues hope "to replicate the function but not the exact structure” of the natural enzymes.

Recent structural studies of hydrogenase enzymes from these microorganisms have revealed that sites where electrocatalysis takes place contain nuclei made up of iron-iron or nickel-iron complexes.

These enzymes’ high catalytic activity suggests that properly designed synthetic catalysts based on inexpensive metals can be used in fuel cells for this important energy-conversion reaction in place of platinum.

The PNNL award is among 13 basic-research projects funded by $11.2 over the next three years by the Basic Energy Sciences program of the DOE Office of Science. The research aims to overcome challenges associated with the production, storage and use of hydrogen.

Source: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Explore further: Active, biodegradable packaging for oily products

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Toward a networked energy future

Oct 29, 2014

February 1, 2050, is a good day for German electricity consumers. The breeze off the north coast is blowing so strongly that offshore wind farms and the wind turbines on land are running non-stop. Since it's ...

Keeping hydrogen from cracking metals

Oct 28, 2014

Metal alloys such as steel and zirconium that are used in pipes for nuclear reactors and oil fields naturally acquire a protective oxide or sulfide layer. But hydrogen penetration can lead to their breakdown ...

Waste, an alternative source of energy to petroleum

Oct 23, 2014

The group led by Martín Olazar, researcher in the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country's Department of Chemical Engineering, is studying the development of sustainable refineries where it is possible ...

NASA is catalyst for hydrogen technology

Oct 22, 2014

NASA answered a call to help the world's largest aerospace company develop a better way to generate electricity for its aircraft. Instead, it wound up helping a very small technology company to thrive.

And now, the volcano forecast

Oct 22, 2014

Scientists are using volcanic gases to understand how volcanoes work, and as the basis of a hazard-warning forecast system.

Recommended for you

Water purification at the molecular level

4 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Fracking for oil and gas is a dirty business. The process uses millions of gallons of water laced with chemicals and sand. Most of the contaminated water is trucked to treatment plants to be ...

Why plants don't get sunburn

Oct 29, 2014

Plants rely on sunlight to make their food, but they also need protection from its harmful rays, just like humans do. Recently, scientists discovered a group of molecules in plants that shields them from ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.