Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, and gold nanoparticles have been combined to create an electrode that requires 100 times less energy than hydrogen to efficiently convert ethanol into electricity.
According to researchers from the Clemson Institute of Nanomaterials and the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Education, of all the alkaline alcohol oxidation catalysts that exist, the one they have prepared is the best to date. Therefore, their discovery paves the way for the replacement of hydrogen as a feedstock for fuel cells.
Fuel cells produce electricity by chemical reaction rather than by combustion.
Hydrogen fuel cells are very efficient and do not produce greenhouse gases. Although hydrogen is the most common chemical element in the universe, it normally must be derived from fossil fuels, as it naturally exists on Earth only in a compound form with other elements in liquids, gases or solids.
The extraction required increases the cost and environmental impact of hydrogen fuel cells.
In addition, the hydrogen used in fuel cells is a compressed gas, which poses storage and transport problems. Ethanol, an alcohol made from corn or other agricultural foods, is safer and easier to transport than hydrogen because it is a liquid.
“To make it a commercial product that we can fill our ethanol tanks with, the electrodes have to be very efficient,” Lakshman Ventrapragada, one of the researchers involved in the study, said in a press release. “At the same time, we don’t want very expensive electrodes or synthetic polymer substrates that aren’t environmentally friendly, because that defeats the purpose. We wanted to find something green for the fuel cell generation process and make the fuel cell itself.
Mix a spice with gold
In this research, Ventrapragada and his colleagues focused on the fuel cell anode, where ethanol is oxidized, or other fuel sources.
Fuel cells widely use platinum as a catalyst. But in addition to being expensive, platinum suffers from poisoning due to reaction intermediates like carbon monoxide.
The researchers therefore used gold as a catalyst, and instead of using conductive polymers, metal-organic frameworks or other complex materials to deposit the gold on the surface of the electrode, they used curcumin.
Curcumin was used to decorate the gold nanoparticles to stabilize them, forming a porous network around the nanoparticles. The scientists then deposited the curcumin gold nanoparticle onto the surface of the electrode at an electric current 100 times lower than in previous studies.
Without the curcumin coating, the gold nanoparticles clump together, reducing the surface area exposed to the chemical reaction.
“We need this coating to stabilize and create a porous environment around the nanoparticles, and then they do a great job of oxidizing the alcohol,” researcher Apparao Rao said in a press release.
“There is a big push in the industry for alcohol oxidation. This discovery is a great catalyst for that. The next step is to scale the process and work with an industry partner who can manufacture the batteries. fuel cells and build fuel cell stacks for the actual application.