Pitt professor designs less-risky reactor for clean, safe energy

Sep 12, 2006

Reactors that burn hydrogen or natural gas to generate energy can be dirty and dangerous. The mix of air with hydrogen or natural gas can explode easily if composition and temperature are not carefully controlled. And reactors often produce polluting byproducts.

Now, University of Pittsburgh chemical engineering professor Goetz Veser has created a safer alternative--microreactors that won't explode, no matter what the gas composition or how hot they get, and that can keep undesirable pollutants, like nitrogen oxides (NOx), from forming. His results could be used to design processes for safe, clean energy production and hydrogen storage. Veser will discuss his findings today during a presentation at the 232nd American Chemical Society National Meeting in San Francisco, Calif.

Reactor explosions can happen either when the reaction gets too hot or when atoms called "free radicals" break away and start to split the bonds of other molecules. In both cases, the reaction speeds up and the temperature increases until--kaboom!

But Veser's microreactors are actually "inherently safe," he says. "Even if the temperature goes completely through the roof, based on the kinetics of the system, explosions cannot happen."

Veser, who also is a researcher in Pitt's Gertrude E. and John M. Petersen Institute of NanoScience and Engineering, created the reactors by etching tiny channels into silicon chips, using a platinum wire catalyst and running a mix of hydrogen and air through the channel. "It's one of the toughest systems you can imagine," he says. "If anything would blow up, this would." (Think Hindenburg.)

But nothing happened--other than the controlled burning of hydrogen. The walls did indeed adsorb any pesky radicals floating around, keeping the reaction running smoothly.

Veser has since extended the technology to burning methane; he has found that not only can the walls stave off explosions, they also can steer the course of the reaction. For example, some NOx is formed by the heat and some by radicals. Veser found that at a particular size, the microreactor walls adsorb the radicals that cause NOx, while letting the reaction go ahead. "This is a completely different way of approaching a clean combustion technology," he says.

Source: University of Pittsburgh

Explore further: Researchers bring clean energy a step closer

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Researchers bring clean energy a step closer

Feb 27, 2015

For nearly half a century, scientists have been trying to replace precious metal catalysts in fuel cells. Now, for the first time, researchers at Case Western Reserve University have shown that an inexpensive metal-free catalyst ...

The construction of ordered nanostructures from benzene

Feb 27, 2015

A way to link benzene rings together in a highly ordered three-dimensional helical structure using a straightforward polymerization procedure has been discovered by researchers from RIKEN Center for Sustainable ...

Superatomic nickel core and unusual molecular reactivity

Feb 27, 2015

A superatom is a combination of two or more atoms that form a stable structural fragment and possess unique physical and chemical properties. Systems, that contain superatoms, open a number of amazing possibilities ...

Oat breakfast cereals may contain a common mold-related toxin

Feb 25, 2015

Oats are often touted for boosting heart health, but scientists warn that the grain and its products might need closer monitoring for potential mold contamination. They report in ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that s ...

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.