Researchers used the prickly pear cactus as inspiration for creating an innovative process for converting water into hydrogen gas.
An inexpensive catalyst made of nickel has been presented by engineers at The University of Texas at El Paso. Their inspiration for the catalyst came from the prickly pear cactus, a desert succulent.
Hydrogen Gas: Fuel of the Future
Although scientists discovered how to convert water into hydrogen gas more than a century ago – a much sought-after green energy that has been dubbed “the fuel of the future,” hydrogen has not established itself as a major fuel source. Water can be converted into hydrogen by a process called electrolysis, although this method is still inefficient and expensive.
This laboratory design was influenced by nature, according to Ramana Chintalapalle, Ph.D., a professor of mechanical engineering at UTEP. They believed that the prickly pear cactus has a vast surface area that can absorb moisture and withstand harsh conditions. Later, the research team considered how to include it in the design.
Water is split using electricity and an electrocatalyst, a substance that quickens any chemical reaction, in the process known as electrolysis. The heavy reliance on platinum as a catalyst in current water-splitting methods has some disadvantages.
According to Chintalapalle, platinum is the primary material used to aid in water splitting, but due to its high cost, being more expensive than gold, it is simply not practical to employ it on a big scale. A more economically viable catalyst is required so that any nation can realistically adopt hydrogen, UTEP Newsfeed reports.
Prickly Pear Cactus
Daily walks to the UTEP Center for Advanced Materials Research lab were the opportunity for Navid Attarzadeh to observe the prickly pear cactus. The researchers had been investigating nickel, a metal that is common on Earth and 1,000 times less expensive than platinum, as a catalytic alternative for platinum.
However, nickel takes longer and is less successful in converting water into hydrogen.
Attarzadeh claimed that he regularly passed this particular plant and that he began to associate it with their catalyst issue. The prickly pear’s enormous surface area and the size of its leaves and fruits in comparison to other desert plants drew his attention.
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Success in 3D Nickel-Based Cactus
Attarzadeh was inspired by this to create a 3D nickel-based catalyst in the form of a prickly pear cactus. More electrochemical processes could take place on surfaces with bigger areas, producing more hydrogen than nickel generally can.
The scientists tested the nano-scale structure, which is undetectable to the human eye, after hastily designing it.
According to Chintalapalle, they repeatedly tested the catalyst’s capacity to split water and got positive results each time. He continued by saying that although the procedure still requires improvement, this is a vital discovery.
Additionally, according to Chintalapalle, hydrogen gas has the potential to revolutionize the nation’s energy infrastructure without emitting greenhouse gases. Chintalapalle claims that efforts should be made to continue reducing the nation’s carbon impact, Oil Price reports.
The study by Attarzadeh, Chintalapalle, and several other colleagues was recently published in the journal Energy, Environmental, and Catalysis Applications.
Related Article: What Will Happen to Your Body If You Drink Cactus Water?
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