South Dakota School of Mines & Technology researchers have successfully split water molecules during multiple thermochemical cycles at low temperatures, sparking hope that sustainable hydrogen energy will one day be feasible.
Rajesh Shende, Ph.D., and Jan Puszynski, Ph.D., of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, have been awarded a $299,975 National Science Foundation (NSF) three-year grant to investigate a high-temperature thermochemical water splitting process. The ultimate goal is to exponentially double hydrogen atoms, creating a sustainable amount of hydrogen regeneration so that a new form of energy can be harvested.
Using thermally-stabilized redox materials, particularly ferrites, the SDSM&T team has documented reliable multiple-cycle results, says Shende.
Just two other U.S. locations, and possibly a third, are conducting similar research, according to Shende. One of the aspects that makes the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology experiments unique is that the group has successfully split water molecules during multiple cycles at significantly lower temperatures than other documented research efforts. While others have demonstrated thermochemical splitting of the water molecule at 800-1,500 degrees Celsius, the SD School of Mines & Technology has documented higher hydrogen volume from water-splitting in multiple cycles at 700-1,100 degrees Celsius, which could potentially lead to a more affordable large-scale effort.
In addition, the School of Mines process is capable of performing water-splitting and material regeneration steps at the same temperature making the process thermally efficient. “In industry this will be more appealing,” says Shende, who is filing an invention disclosure and who has published his findings in scientific magazines.
Higher temperatures normally cause particles to grow so large that hydrogen levels drop, causing very little hydrogen regeneration. The SDSM&T experimental studies look to stabilize the hydrogen levels, enhancing knowledge of the physical and chemical processes involved in thermal stabilization of redox materials’ morphologies without deterioration of complex ferrites. “Others might be splitting water by other methods, but there has to be a lot of novelty to get funded,” says Shende, who built a fully instrumented reactor in his campus laboratory.