April 9, 2013
ERA

Our mission is to fund, support, and acknowledge environmental research projects on a global level.

We would like to extend our great appreciation to the law firm and partners of Glaser Weil Fink Jacobs Howard Avchen and Shapiro LLP for their continuing support.

Our website provides the latest international news on the alternative energy sector, features exciting new technologies, and provides insights and blogs of leading scientists from our august Science Advisory Board. Check back often for announcements, updates and application information regarding the 2014 ERA Science Prize.

Each year ERA Science will identify the "Global Top 50" projects in renewable energy technology, as chosen by our Science Advisory Board. To learn more about the application process, click here.

A special thanks to the talented team of Ann Zumwinkle and Mike Bilz of Zumwinkle.com for the design and develpment of the Environmental Research Advocates website.

March 16, 2016
ERA

Environmental Research Advocates (ERAscience.org), Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and CNSI (California Nano Systems Institute), launched a revolutionary inner-city teaching program to support science education for underserved children.  Perimeter Institute is considered to be one of the world’s leading research organizations in the field of theoretical physics. The first educational training event of the initiative took place February 28th and 29th at CNSI UCLA. Outstanding teachers representing 13 school districts across greater Los Angeles, with Green Dot Charter Schools, Da Vinci Schools, and non profit Girls Inc also participating in the sessions. The goal is to enable teachers to take new concepts back to their classrooms and teach theoretical physics to Junior High School and High School students in underserved and often dangerous areas.

The sessions provided a unique, hands-on experience that demystifies and simplifies advanced concepts in math and science. The aim is to level the playing field for all underserved students who currently do not have access to these learning tools. 

California NanoSystems Institute, CNSI, established by former California Governor Gray Davis, is our full and dedicated partner and offers similar outreach workshops in the ever changing exciting field of nano science.

“Educating students today for the jobs of tomorrow requires a greater emphasis on STEM subjects.  This program provides educators with the necessary training in the field of science and experience they can bring back to the classroom,” says former First Lady of California Sharon Davis. “None of this would be possible without the vision and support from the Avchens and ERAscience." 

Science most definitely is fun and the potential of sharing it with young students is priceless! 

September 30, 2015
ERA

ERAscience's commitment to cutting edge research in the area of energy has led to a natural collaboration with one of the world's preeminent physics institutes, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. Internationally regarded scientist Prof. Stephen Hawking holds the position of PI Distinguished Research Chair and is passionate about PI's work. The goal of our collaboration is to inspire and nurture future scientist. It is our combined belief that exposing undeserved and inner-city youth to complicated science material, in a fun engaging way, opens the doors to greater economic and intellectual opportunities in their future. ERAscience and Perimeter outreach will begin teacher training of the curriculum in Los Angeles the first week of December 2015. If you are a physics teacher in South Los Angeles and are interested in attending this training please contact us.

July 16, 2014
Denise Avchen and Amy Castle

In an interesting article for US News and World Report, Michael MacCracken, ERAscience board member and Chief Scientist for Climate Change at the Climate Institute in Washington, explores the possible reversal of climate change impact on Antarctica.

Technology to the Planet's Rescue?

It's time to explore whether geoengineering can reverse Antarctic ice loss.

Research from NASA released on May 12 suggests that a large section of the West Antarctic ice sheet is now on a path, perhaps irrevocably, to collapse. The result could be billions of tons of ice poured into the Southern Ocean each year. This could lead, over the span of coming decades and centuries, to as much as 10 feet of global sea level rise, attributable to this event alone.

Sea level rise of this magnitude, even spread over a long timescale, will be extremely disruptive and likely dangerous for human societies, with the worst and highest costs falling on those who are least able to bear them.

What can be done? The first choice would be an immediate halt to all global greenhouse gas emissions, which would help to slow sea level rise generally. Given the difficulty and seeming impracticality of that, it bears asking, could some sort of large-scale technological intervention in the region help to slow the calving away of the ice? While the shape of the underlying ocean bottom that no longer will hold back the ice stream is a critical contributor to the vulnerability of the ice sheet, there are, conceptually, a number of ways by which human intervention could reduce regional Antarctic warming, perhaps with the potential to slow the movement and loss of ice.

One possible option would be to increase the reflectivity of clouds over the Southern Ocean during the sunlit season, thus reducing ocean heat uptake. Models suggest that, in areas that are fairly clean, injection of finely misted salt water, targeted regionally, could increase the amount of solar radiation reflected back into space.

Another way to possibly bring about a localized cooling effect might be to inject reflective microbubbles into the frigid Antarctic waters, brightening the surface in the way that ship wakes brighten the waters, but doing so more efficiently.

Two other interventions could, potentially, encourage more rapid radiation of absorbed heat to space. One way to release heat trapped in the oceans could be to use icebreaking ships to open up selected areas of the ocean during the winter, allowing heat otherwise contained beneath the sea ice to escape to the atmosphere. Another option that has been proposed would be to use cloud-seeding techniques to thin out the high-altitude, winter layer of cirrus clouds, allowing heat radiated from the ocean’s surface to more readily pass into space.

Now, such ideas are highly speculative, at best. In fact, it’s easy to write them off as the stuff of science fiction. They are, though, among the kinds of climate geoengineering proposals that have been suggested as bottom-of-the-barrel approaches to limiting the increasingly severe impacts of climate change, perhaps, in the best case scenario, buying time for the growth in global emissions of carbon dioxide to be stopped and then reversed. Such geoengineering approaches are not a long-term solution and have limited potential, but they may be able to temporarily limit some of the worst impacts of climate change while actions are taken that cut through political and societal dithering around seriously addressing the increasing risks of climate change.

On the same day that that the world learned of the potential for runaway Antarctic ice melt, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., spoke for many conservative politicians when he declared, “I don't agree with the notion that some are putting out there, including scientists, that somehow, there are actions we can take today that would actually have an impact on what’s happening in our climate.” The day then closed with the announcement that the U.S. Senate, because of political wrangling over the Keystone XL pipeline, appears unable to pass a straightforward energy efficiency bill that has bipartisan sponsorship.

While these kinds of political and social intransigence seem to be making climate geoengineering technologies increasingly attractive, such approaches are not a long-term panacea, and they are, for good reason, controversial.

For one thing, it is unclear whether the kinds of ideas proposed above are technically feasible at the kind of scale that would make a difference in and around Antarctica. Nor is it clear that creating a solar shield could bring about a rapid and sufficient enough cooling of the ocean waters to slow the warming of the Antarctic ice streams that are so concerning to NASA scientists.

At the same time, there are thorny governance and justice issues presented by any geoengineering scheme. Who gets to control the technology and decide how and to what ends it is used? What if the talk of a technological response to Antarctic ice melt distracts attention from the greenhouse gas reduction efforts that the world so desperately needs? Such questions broach no easy answers.

Given the complexities and controversy surrounding climate geoengineering, it is tempting to write off the entire enterprise as hubristic and ill advised. However, indicators like the melting of Antarctic ice tell us that we may no longer have that luxury. If a radical, even risky, technological intervention could forestall polar ice melt, and in turn forestall suffering tied to sea level rise in places like Bangladesh, then who can deny the need to investigate the option?

Climate geoengineering is not going away. The technologies of climate geoengineering are far too enticing a genie to be stuffed back into their bottle. It is time, then, for climate geoengineering to be given proper social and scientific consideration. It is time for a broader, more robust, and more inclusive conversation on climate geoengineering to begin. 

May 14, 2014
Denise Avchen

Conservation International Chief Scientist and ERA Science Board Member Sandy Andelman joins an esteemed panel to discuss Biodiversity and the Earth's Sustainability at the 2014 Global Philanthropy Forum.

In the accompanying video below, Dr. Andelman discusses the need for global accountability and addresses the negative impact that some commercial endeavors have on the environment. 

 

April 14, 2014

Arthur Gossard, an ERA Science Board member, as well as a professor in the Materials Department and Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was recently involved in a breakthrough discovery at the University of California Santa Barbara. The team created a semiconductor that can manipulate light energy in the infrared range; this discovery bodes well for solar energy development, as it would allow a broader spectrum of light to be absorbed and converted into energy, creating more efficient and effective solar technologies.

The following is the full article from Phys.org:

"In a feat that may provide a promising array of applications, from energy efficiency to telecommunications to enhanced imaging, researchers at UC Santa Barbara have created a compound semiconductor of nearly perfect quality with embedded nanostructures containing ordered lines of atoms that can manipulate light energy in the mid-infrared range. More efficient solar cells, less risky and higher resolution biological imaging, and the ability to transmit massive amounts of data at higher speeds are only a few applications that this unique semiconductor will be able to support.
 

'This is a new and exciting field,' said Hong Lu, researcher in UCSB's Materials department and lead author of a study published recently in the journal Nano Letters, a publication of the American Chemical Society.

Key to this technology is the use of erbium, a  that has the ability to absorb light in the visible as well as infrared wavelength—which is longer and lower frequency wavelength to which the human eye is accustomed—and has been used for years to enhance the performance of silicon in the production of fiber optics. Pairing erbium with the element antimony (Sb), the researchers embedded the resulting compound—erbium antimonide (ErSb)—as semimetallic nanostructures within the semiconducting matrix of gallium antimonide (GaSb).

ErSb, according to Lu, is an ideal material to match with GaSb because of its structural compatibility with its surrounding material, allowing the researchers to embed the nanostructures without interrupting the atomic lattice structure of the semiconducting matrix. The less flawed the crystal  of a semiconductor is, the more reliable and better performing the device in which it is used will be.

'The nanostructures are coherently embedded, without introducing noticeable defects, through the growth process by molecular beam epitaxy,' said Lu. 'Secondly, we can control the size, the shape and the orientation of the nanostructures.' The term 'epitaxy' refers to a process by which layers of material are deposited atom by atom, or molecule by molecule, one on top of the other with a specific orientation.

'It's really a new kind of heterostructure,' said Arthur Gossard, professor in the Materials Department and also in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. While semiconductors incorporating different materials have been studied for years—a technology UCSB professor and Nobel laureate Herbert Kroemer pioneered—a single crystal heterostructured semiconductor/metal is in a class of its own.

The nanostructures allow the compound semiconductor to absorb a wider spectrum of light due to a phenomenon called surface plasmon resonance, said Lu, and that the effect has potential applications in broad research fields, such as solar cells, medical applications to fight cancer, and in the new field of plasmonics.

Optics and electronics operate on vastly different scales, with electron confinement being possible in spaces far smaller than light waves. Therefore, it has been an ongoing challenge for engineers to create a circuit that can take advantage of the speed and data capacity of photons and the compactness of electronics for information processing.

The highly sought bridge between optics and electronics may be found with this compound semiconductor using surface plasmons, electron oscillations at the surface of a metal excited by light. When light (in this case, infrared) hits the surface of this semiconductor, electrons in the  begin to resonate—that is, move away from their equilibrium positions and oscillate at the same frequency as the infrared light—preserving the optical information, but shrinking it to a scale that would be compatible with electronic devices.

In the realm of imaging, embedded nanowires of ErSb offer a strong broadband polarization effect, according to Lu, filtering and defining images with infrared and even longer-wavelength terahertz light signatures. This effect can be used to image a variety of materials, including the human body, without the risk posed by the higher energies that emanate from X-rays, for instance. Chemicals such as those found in explosives and some illegal narcotics have unique absorption features in this spectrum region. The researchers have already applied for a patent for these embedded nanowires as a broadband light polarizer.

'For infrared imaging, if you can do it with controllable polarizations, there's information there,' said Gossard.

While infrared and terahertz wavelengths offer much in the way of the kind of information they can provide, the development of instruments that can take full advantage of their range of frequencies is still an emerging field. Lu credits this breakthrough to the collaborative nature of the research on the UCSB campus, which allowed her to merge her materials expertise with the skills of researchers who specialize in infrared and terahertz technology.

'It's amazing here,' she said. 'We basically collaborated and discovered all these interesting features and properties of the material together.'

'One of the most exciting things about this for me is that this was a 'grassroots' collaboration,' said Mark Sherwin, professor of physics, director of the Institute for Terahertz Science and Technology at UCSB, and one of the paper's co-authors. The idea for the direction of the research came from the junior researchers in the group, he said, grad students and undergrads from different laboratories and research groups working on different aspects of the project, all of whom decided to combine their efforts and their expertise into one study. 'I think what's really special about UCSB is that we can have an environment like that.'

Since the paper was written, most of the researchers have gone into industry: Daniel G. Ouelette and Benjamin Zaks, formerly of the Department of Physics and the Institute for Terahertz Science and Technology at UCSB, now work at Intel and Agilent, respectively. Their colleague Justin Watts, who was an undergraduate participant is now pursuing graduate studies at the University of Minnesota. Peter Burke, formerly of the UCSB Materials Department, now works at Lockheed Martin. Sascha Preu, a former postdoc in the Sherwin Group, is now assistant professor at the Technical University of Darmstadt.

Researchers on campus are also exploring the possibilities of this technology in the field of thermoelectrics, which studies how temperature differences of a material can create electric voltage or how differences in electric voltages in a material can create temperature differences. Renowned UCSB researchers John Bowers (solid state photonics) and Christopher Palmstrom (heteroepitaxial growth of novel materials) are investigating the potential of this new semiconductor."

 

March 25, 2014

We at Environmental Research Advocates are excited to announce that the focus of the 2014 Energy Prize will be in the field of energy stoarge research.

We, along woth the world's science and energy communities, believe that finding a more efficient method of energy stoarge is critical to the future of alternative energy. Many strides are being made in the alternative energy sector, and capturing this clean energy for later usage is of upmost importance.

In offering this prize, we hope to encourage further research that will ensure the greatest possible use of alterive energy sources. ERA Science is thrilled to encourage scientists and innovators to pursue a new, clean energy future.

Information on application criteria and deadlines will be announced on our website and through our social media. 

March 19, 2014
Matthew Miller

Conservation International’s Chairman, CEO and ERA Science Board member Peter Seligmann hosted the 18th annual Los Angeles dinner in Beverly Hills last Thursday to honor renowned Los Angeles attorney Skip Brittenham’s commitment to the environmental movement. 

Mr. Seligmann emphasized the importance of identifying and protecting vital natural resources around the world, and encouraging businesses and global leaders to join this critical race to save our planet. 

Dr. Sandy Andelman, Conservation International Chief Scientist and ERA Science Board Member, has focused her efforts on the continent of Africa, to create a dialogue and encourage action to protect their food sources and devise sustainable methods of food production. According to Dr. Andelmen:

 

“Pressure to increase agricultural production has never been greater, with 1 billion people currently undernourished and demand for food production expected to increase 70 per cent by 2050… to prevent unintended environmental consequences of increased agricultural production – particularly in the context of climate – change is needed in the way agricultural development decisions are made and agricultural systems managed.” 

 

The ERA Science team was in attendance along with CI’s Vice Chair Harrison Ford, Walmart Board Chair Rob Walton, Dreamworks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, and many other leaders seeking solutions to the environmental crisis. 

The dinner was held at the Montage Beverly Hills, and featured inspiring talks by Mr. Seligmann, Mr. Brittenham, and Mr. Ford.

February 24, 2014
Matthew Miller

In a guest blog post for the Huffington Post, ERA Science Board Member and Executive Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute Steven Cohen advocates for more of the federal budget to be spent on improving renewable energy technology.

Read his blog post to learn more:

In the past week, we've seen President Obama begin to deliver on his State of the Union promise to use his executive power to address the challenges presented by climate change. As Peter Baker and Coral Davenport reported in the New York Times last week, the president:

“...ordered the development of tough new fuel standards for the nation's fleet of heavy-duty trucks as part of what aides say will be an increasingly muscular and unilateral campaign to tackle climate change through the use of the president's executive power.”

Later in the week, the president, seeking to educate the country on the growing threat of climate-induced disasters, included increased federal funding for fighting the wildfires in the West in his proposed budget. President Obama tied this proposal to the need to provide additional funding to FEMA for fighting damage from floods and hurricanes in other parts of the country. The costs of firefighting have been growing. According to Davenport:

“In real dollar terms, adjusted for inflation, the Forest Service and Interior Department spent an average of $1.4 billion in annual wildfire protection from 1991 to 1999, according to a report by Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit research group. But that spending has more than doubled -- from 2002 to 2012, the agencies spent an average of $3.5 billion to fight wildfires.”

 

This, along with EPA's effort to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new coal-fired power plants under the Clean Air Act, are the "muscular" executive measures that the White House is spinning as the president's "aggressive" climate policy. I forgot to mention that the president also announced that his new budget would include a $1 billion climate resiliency fund. A billion dollars is such an inadequate level of funding for climate resiliency that I find it astonishing that something so small is even mentioned. Still, with right wing politicos working to delegitimize every policy move made by the president, it is easy to see why these tepid, inadequate policy moves are presented as major initiatives.

It is obvious that President Obama understands the climate and sustainability crisis facing America and the world. It is equally obvious that he and his team lack the leadership, management and political skills to do much about it. There is no question that Obama faces a set of fact-starved, racist and venomous political opponents who make their living by questioning his policies, his legitimacy and even his birthplace. I think that the racism and ideological fervor of some--but by no means all--of his opponents adds a level of intensity to the opposition. President Obama is far from the first president to face vitriol and hatred, however. If you read the press accounts of FDR during the New Deal, of the battles between Bill Clinton and the right-wing or George W. Bush and the left-wing, political attacks on the White House are simply the cost of doing business. FDR was called a "traitor to his class". The epithets directed at Clinton and Bush were far worse. Presidents are always loved by some and fiercely hated by others. FDR, LBJ and Clinton seemed to be presidents who thrived on political combat.

Obama is clearly a president who once thought he could rise above the political fray. Today, his vision (or perhaps his illusion) of a United States undivided by "red" and "blue" states is long gone. Congress and the political right have defined the political reality in Washington and with it have managed to wish away climate science. They have also tried to wish away evolution, economic facts and the complexity of the global economy. The president, outside of the war on terrorism, has never learned to marshal the political, economic and managerial power of the modern presidency to achieve his policy goals. The White House focus on political maneuvers and "realism" has resulted in an often ineffectual presidency that has never quite lived up to its hope or potential. In the sixth year of his presidency, the single most powerful government official in the world is reduced to announcing a billion dollar allocation for climate resiliency.

The pressure to build his presidency with Washington insiders was exacerbated by the economic meltdown Obama inherited when he came into office. The economy was headed toward a cliff, and there was no time for new folks to learn the job. Obama needed the old hands representing consensus and conventional wisdom. The successful response to that crisis defined the "organizational culture" of his presidency. Perhaps it was inevitable. The economic power exercised in Washington is massive. Once the Supreme Court defined donating political money as a form of free speech, any chance of reducing the political power of economic wealth was eliminated. Any effort to redefine national policy requires the support of those who wield economic power. Today more than ever, money is at the center of American politics.

One could argue that most of the political capital the president possessed when he came into office was spent on the economic recovery and enacting the economic stimulus. The rest was spent on the legislative sausage we came to call Obamacare. By the time he got to climate and sustainability, the political savings bank was broke. While his re-election could have reshuffled the deck and revitalized his presidency, it is clear that it has not.

The "executive-based" climate policy that is now taking shape reminds me of the administration's "all of the above" energy strategy. It is an unfocused, non-strategic grab bag of disconnected initiatives gathered together in place of an integrated, targeted effort. It's as if someone held a meeting and said, "Look, we're doing a lot of stuff that can help mitigate and adapt to climate change. Let's take inventory, add a little to what we're doing, and call it a muscular climate policy."

The Obama Administration is correct in assuming that Congress is incapable of enacting climate legislation, but I think that executive power can be deployed with far more impact than the proposals we are seeing. Here's what I suggest, Mr. President: Let's focus the climate effort on the research and development of less expensive and more efficient solar cells and energy storage systems (batteries). First, reallocate a significant chunk of the billions of dollars in the federal research budget in the Departments of Defense, Energy and Interior, along with some of the research funds spent by the National Science Foundation and NASA, and focus those dollars on basic and applied solar energy research. You should appoint a competent, visible, media-savvy and results-oriented manager to run a massive, 1000-day effort to make tangible progress on these technologies. A concentrated effort to focus our scientific and engineering brainpower on this critical issue would provide a visible, tangible and coherent climate mitigation strategy.

Just as the technology of computers, smart phones and the internet came from U.S. government research and development, the technology of renewable energy can come from the same place. I am not arguing that the other initiatives you announced should be stopped, but this one has the potential to be a game changer. It would be easy to understand and worth betting the ranch on. The president's current "muscular" executive-based climate policy looks a little flabby to me. Let's replace it with a well-managed, clear, focused and skillfully communicated renewable energy research project.

February 24, 2014
Matthew Miller

ERA Science Board member Flemming Besenbacher, a professor at Denmark’s Aarhus University, played a pivotal role in the breakthrough development of an environmentally friendly method of producing a molecular hydrogen compound used to refine crude oil into gasoline.

Check out the following article released by Stanford to learn more:

University researchers from two continents have engineered an efficient and environmentally friendly catalyst for the production of molecular hydrogen (H2), a compound used extensively in modern industry to manufacture fertilizer and refine crude oil into gasoline.

Although hydrogen is abundant element, it is generally not found as the pure gas H2but is generally bound to oxygen in water (H2O) or to carbon in methane (CH4), the primary component in natural gas. At present, industrial hydrogen is produced from natural gas using a process that consumes a great deal of energy while also releasing carbon into the atmosphere, thus contributing to global carbon emissions.

On the left, a scanning tunneling microscope image captures the bright shape of the moly sulfide nanocluster on a graphite surface. The grey spots are carbon atoms. Together the moly sulfide and graphite make the electrode. The diagram on the right shows how two positive hydrogen ions gain electrons through a chemical reaction at the moly sulfide nanocluster to form pure molecular hydrogen (Image: Jakob Kibsgaard).

In an article published in Nature and Chemistry, nanotechnology experts from Stanford Engineering and from Denmark's Aarhus University explain how to liberate hydrogen from water on an industrial scale by using electrolysis.

In electrolysis, electrical current flows through a metallic electrode immersed in water. This electron flow induces a chemical reaction that breaks the bonds between hydrogen and oxygen atoms. The electrode serves as a catalyst, a material that can spur one reaction after another without ever being used up. Platinum is the best catalyst for electrolysis. If cost were no object, platinum might be used to produce hydrogen from water today.

But money matters. The world consumes about 55 billion kilograms of hydrogen per year. It now costs about $1 to $2 per kilogram to produce hydrogen from methane. So any competing process, even if it's greener, must hit that production cost, which rules out electrolysis based on platinum.

In their Nature Chemistry paper, the researchers describe how they re-engineered the atomic structure of a cheap and common industrial material to make it nearly as efficient at electrolysis as platinum – a finding that has the potential to revolutionize industrial hydrogen production.

The project was conceived by Jakob Kibsgaard, a postdoctoral researcher with Thomas Jaramillo, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Stanford. Kibsgaard started this project while working with Flemming Besenbacher, a professor at the Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Center (iNANO) at Aarhus.

Meet Moly Sulfide

Since World War II petroleum engineers have used molybdenum sulfide – moly sulfide for short – to help refine oil.

Until now, however, this chemical was not considered a good catalyst for making moly sulfide to produce hydrogen from water through electrolysis. Eventually scientists and engineers came to understand why: the most commonly used moly sulfide materials had an unsuitable arrangement of atoms at their surface.

Typically, each sulfur atom on the surface of a moly sulfide crystal is bound to three molybdenum atoms underneath. For complex reasons involving the atomic bonding properties of hydrogen, that configuration isn't conducive to electrolysis.

In 2004, Stanford Chemical Engineering Professor Jens Norskov, then at the Technical University of Denmark, made an important discovery. Around the edges of the crystal, some sulfur atoms are bound to just two molybdenum atoms. At these edge sites, which are characterized by double rather than triple bonds, moly sulfide was much more effective at forming H2.

Armed with that knowledge, Kibsgaard found a 30-year-old recipe for making a form of moly sulfide with lots of these double-bonded sulfurs at the edge.

Using simple chemistry, he synthesized nanoclusters of this special moly sulfide. He deposited these nanoclusters onto a sheet of graphite, a material that conducts electricity. Together the graphite and moly sulfide formed a cheap electrode. It was meant to be a substitute for platinum, the ideal but expensive catalyst for electrolysis.

The question then became: could this composite electrode efficiently spur the chemical reaction that rearranges hydrogen and oxygen atoms in water?

As Jaramillo put it: "Chemistry is all about where electrons want to go, and catalysis is about getting those electrons to move to make and break chemical bonds."

The acid test

So the experimenters put their system to the acid test –- literally.

They immersed their composite electrode into water that was slightly acidified, meaning it contained positively charged hydrogen ions. These positive ions were attracted to the moly sulfide clusters. Their double-bonded shape gave them just the right atomic characteristic to pass electrons from the graphite conductor up to the positive ions. This electron transfer turned the positive ions into neutral molecular hydrogen, which bubbled up and away as a gas.

Most importantly, the experimenters found that their cheap, moly sulfide catalyst had the potential to liberate hydrogen from water on something approaching the efficiency of a system based on prohibitively expensive platinum.

Yes, but does it scale?

But in chemical engineering, success in a beaker is only the beginning.

The larger questions were: could this technology scale to the 55 billion kilograms per year global demand for hydrogen, and at what finished cost per kilogram?

Last year, Jaramillo and a dozen co-authors studied four factory-scale production schemes in an article for The Royal Society of Chemistry's journal of Energy and Environmental Science.

They concluded that it could be feasible to produce hydrogen in factory-scale electrolysis facilities at costs ranging from $1.60 and $10.40 per kilogram – competitive at the low end with current practices based on methane—though some of their assumptions were based on new plant designs and materials.

"There are many pieces of the puzzle still needed to make this work, and much effort ahead to realize them," Jaramillo said. "However, we can get huge returns by moving from carbon-intensive resources to renewable, sustainable technologies to produce the chemicals we need for food and energy."

Support was provided by the Carlsberg Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Jan. 26, 2014

By Tom Abate, Stanford School of Engineering

- See more at: https://energy.stanford.edu/news/researchers-teach-old-chemical-new-tricks-make-cleaner-fuels-fertilizers#sthash.TwcGA2Cb.dpuf

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