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Cheers! Sunshine and beer help create hydrogen for fuel and chemical industry

Professional Engineering

Stock image (Credit: Shutterstock)
Stock image (Credit: Shutterstock)

Sunshine and beer is a classic combination, and now researchers have combined the two for a novel new use.

The team from Princeton University in New Jersey processed brewery wastewater with simulated sunshine in a photocatalysis reaction, simultaneously treating the liquid and isolating hydrogen for use as fuel or in the chemical industry.

The process generated hydrogen at twice the accepted rate for scalable water-splitting technologies, the researchers said, and it was also reportedly the first time that wastewater was used in photocatalysis.

The technique uses a specially-designed chamber with a hole-filled black silicon interface to split water and isolate hydrogen. The process is aided by bacteria that generate electrical current while consuming organic matter in the wastewater, aiding the water splitting process.

The team, led by civil and environmental engineer Zhiyong Jason Ren, ran the wastewater through the chamber, used a lamp to simulate sunlight and watched the organic compounds break down and the hydrogen bubble up. The production continued for four days, until the wastewater ran out.

The researchers said the technology could provide fuel but also appeal to refineries and chemical plants, which typically produce hydrogen from fossil fuels and face high costs from wastewater cleaning.

“It's a win-win situation for chemical and other industries,” said first author Lu Lu. “They can save on wastewater treatment and save on their energy use through this hydrogen creation process.”

The chamber created for the process is modular and stackable, so Ren said the technique can scale up. The researchers will likely experiment with producing larger amounts of hydrogen and other gases, and said they look forward to moving the technology to industry.

The research was published in Energy & Environmental Science.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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