Researchers in Belgium claim to have created a device capable of converting dirty air into clean energy. The system is powered by sunlight and produces hydrogen gas that can be stored and used as fuel.
The palm-sized system, created by scientists at University of Antwerp and KU Leuven, consists of two chambers separated by a membrane. The membrane is composed of special nanomaterials that break down air pollution on one side and covert the contaminants into hydrogen on the other.
The same process has been used to extract hydrogen from water in the past, however it is believed this is the first time the same result has been achieved using polluted air.
The system is underpinned by the same technology used in solar panels, but instead of generating electricity directly the device stores the power it produces. Being the case, its creators claim the energy created could be used as a cleaner and more efficient alternative to fossils fuels.
"This hydrogen gas can be stored and used later as fuel, as is already being done in some hydrogen buses, for example," said Professor Sammy Verbruggen.
When hydrogen is burnt for energy the only byproduct it produces is water vapour, making it a desirable alternative energy source. Germany recently began trials of a zero-emissions passenger train that runs entirely on hydrogen, due to start carrying passengers early next year.
The researchers are now working on a way to improve the device's energy conversion capabilities and turn it into something that could be applied on an industry-wide scale.
"We are currently working on a scale of only a few square centimetres," said Verbruggen. "At a later stage, we would like to scale up our technology to make the process industrially applicable. We are also working on improving our materials so we can use sunlight more efficiently to trigger the reactions."