Water + air + electricity = hydrogen peroxide

Water + air + electricity = hydrogen peroxide
A reactor developed by chemists at Rice University produces hydrogen peroxide from air, water and electricity. The environmentally friendly method promises to deliver custom solutions of the chemical at the point of demand. Credit: Brandon Martin/Rice University

The production of hydrogen peroxide can be much safer and simpler through a process developed at Rice University.

A reactor developed by Haotian Wang and his colleagues at Rice's Brown School of Engineering requires only air, water and electricity to make the valuable chemical in the desired concentration and high purity.

Their electrosynthesis process, detailed in Science, uses an oxidized carbon nanoparticle-based catalyst and could enable point-of-use production of pure solutions, eliminating the need to transport the concentrated chemical, which is hazardous.

By using a instead of traditional liquid electrolyte, it also eliminates the need for product separation or purification used in current processes, so no contaminating ions will be involved.

"If we have electricity from a solar panel, we can literally get hydrogen from just sunlight, air and water," said Wang. "We don't need to involve organics or fossil fuel consumption. Hydrogen peroxide synthesis by traditional, huge chemical engineering plants generates organic wastes, consumes fossil fuels and emits carbon dioxide. What we're doing is green synthesis."

Water + air + electricity = hydrogen peroxide
Rice University graduate student Yang Xia shows the output of a new reactor that uses just air, water and electricity to produce hydrogen peroxide on demand. Credit: Brandon Martin/Rice University

Hydrogen peroxide is widely used as an antiseptic, a detergent, in cosmetics, as a bleaching agent and in water purification, among many other applications. The compound is produced in industrial concentrations of up to 60% solution with water, but in many common uses, the solution is far more diluted.

"Industrial hydrogen peroxide has to be transported in high concentrations to maximize the economics," Wang said.

"Transportation is hazardous and costly because the concentrated compound is unstable. Hydrogen peroxide also degrades over time, and has to be stored once it gets to its destination.

"Our technology delocalizes the production of hydrogen peroxide," he said. "As renewable electricity input gets cheaper, air is free and water is also cheap, our product should be competitive in terms of price.

"Instead of storing containers of hydrogen peroxide, hospitals that use it as a disinfectant could in the future turn on a spigot and get, for instance, a 3% solution on demand," Wang said. "Instead of storing chemicals to disinfect pool water, homeowners can flick a switch and turn on the reactor to clean their pools."

Water + air + electricity = hydrogen peroxide
From left, Rice University researchers Yang Xia, Chuan Xia and Haotian Wang demonstrate how hydrogen peroxide freshly produced by their reactor purifies a contaminant in water. The reactor uses just air, water and electricity to produce the valuable chemical. Credit: Brandon Martin/Rice University

The Rice reactor is somewhat similar to a , with electrodes on either side to process hydrogen (or water) and oxygen (from air), feeding them to catalysts on two electrodes sandwiching an ionically conductive porous solid electrolyte.

"A fuel cell minimizes the production of hydrogen peroxide to produce just water with maximized energy efficiency," said Rice postdoctoral researcher and lead author Chuan Xia. "In our case, we want to maximize hydrogen peroxide instead, and have tuned our catalyst to do so."

The low-cost carbon black catalyst, set in a solid electrolyte and oxidized to enhance its reactivity, shifts the oxygen reduction pathway towards the desired chemical at rates and concentrations determined by the applied voltage, air and water feedstock and a steady supply of deionized . The reaction takes place under ambient temperatures and pressures.

Co-lead author Yang Xia, a second-year graduate student in the Wang lab, said the catalyst proved robust enough to synthesize pure solution of 1%-by-weight hydrogen peroxide over 100 continuous hours in the lab with negligible degradation.

Wang said the lab plans to engineer both larger reactors and plug-and-play components with an eye toward testing with industrial partners. He sees great promise for industrial-scale applications like municipal systems. The Rice lab has tested low concentrations of its product on campus rainwater and proved its ability to remove organic carbon contaminants.

"There are so many potential applications," he said. "Before this, electrochemical synthesis of peroxide was limited by its product separation or purification process, but we've solved the big barrier to practical applications."

Rice graduate student Peng Zhu and academic visitor Lei Fan are co-authors of the paper. Wang is the William Marsh Rice Trustee Chair, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and a 2019 CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar.

Rice University and the J. Evans Attwell-Welch Postdoctoral Fellowship provided by the Smalley-Curl Institute supported the research.

Explore further

Rice reactor turns greenhouse gas into pure liquid fuel

More information: C. Xia el al., "Direct electrosynthesis of pure aqueous H2O2 solutions up to 20% by weight using a solid electrolyte," Science (2019). science.sciencemag.org/cgi/doi … 1126/science.aay1844
Journal information: Science

Provided by Rice University
Citation: Water + air + electricity = hydrogen peroxide (2019, October 10) retrieved 20 October 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-10-air-electricity-hydrogen-peroxide.html
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Oct 10, 2019
Not to mention that hydrgen peroxide can be used as a rocket fuel. This system could be used off-wprld to have shuttles produce their own fuel at the destination for the return trip.

Sounds really promising.

Oct 10, 2019
I wonder if this could be used for soaking up excess intermittent energy from solar or wind? Make a useful chemical. If there's a reasonably efficient reverse process, then that tank of H2O2 could serve as a simple battery.

Oct 10, 2019
Good question carbon unit. Looking for answers I see this:
A low cost zinc based fuel cell for h2o2. I know the energy density is great, but I don't see it as a fit for cars, too dangerous without pro inspections? Seems like energy storage for solar or wind should be easily doable with something like this though. It's just so much lithium when they use batteries, so expensive.

Oct 11, 2019
This is a beautiful project, where a single set of researchers can go from pure R&D to a product ready to be handed over to a manufacturer to productionize it. Very satisfying professionally.

Oct 11, 2019
I wonder if this could be used for soaking up excess intermittent energy from solar or wind?

I'm finding papers back to 2012 that suggest just this.
I guess it's a question whether this is any more/less efficient than just storing at H2 and how the difficulties in storing the one stack up against storing the other.
While hydrogen tanks/ducts/valves are hard to keep sealed hydrogen peroxide is pretty dangerous to be around.

Oct 11, 2019
... hydrogen peroxide is pretty dangerous to be around.
H2O2 fueled Mk-16 torpedo was in service from 1945 until 1976 while about 2,000 were built, fueled by Navol H2O2.

Oct 11, 2019
"...the catalyst proved robust enough to synthesize pure solution of   1 %   by-weight hydrogen peroxide..."
Kind of late for April 1st, right?

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