The Slovenia Times

Slovenian researchers make significant step in clean energy pursuits

Science & Technology
A team at the Department of Nanostructured Materials at the Ljubljana Jožef Stefan Institute discovered spontaneous water splitting between the fibres of the mineral rutile in an important step in hydrohgen production. Photo: Jožef Stefan Institute

A team of researchers at the Jožef Stefan Institute (IJS), Slovenia's leading science research organisation, has made significant progress in hydrogen production, a demanding and costly process, having discovered spontaneous water splitting between the fibres of the mineral rutile.

The IJS says the discovery has opened up new avenues to explore in research of catalyst water splitting, and poses a significant step in clean energy pursuits.

Hydrogen combustion is one of the cleanest energy production methods, the only byproduct being water. One of the ways to create hydrogen is to split water, but this is a demanding procedure. Thermal splitting of water occurs at 2,000 degrees Celsius, for example. Hydrogen production through water splitting accounts for only 4% of global hydrogen production, the IJS added.

Now, a team at the Department of Nanostructured Materials at the IJS has found that hydrogen production is possible also under atmospheric conditions. The research that led to this discovery started in 2014 and delved into hydrothermal growth of rutile and the stability of its fibrous structures.

The initial findings were made by Vanja Jordan of the IJS, who discovered rutile grew in fibrous formations under certain conditions. This characteristic remained unexplained until the study was joined by Vesna Ribić of the University of Belgrade. She launched systematic structural modelling and quantum chemical calculations, and discovered the reasons for gaps between fibres and that the water present between the fibres spontaneously dissociated into ions.

Jordan's mentor at the IJS, Aleksander Rečnik, has told the Slovenian Press Agency that rutile is known to split water on its surface under UV light, but the process is very ineffective, whereas the newly discovered process sees 25% of the water dissociate, a much higher share than shown in previous rutile studies.

A lot of work will have to be done in this field, but Rečnik believes that the study created the first spark of hope for an efficient catalyst water splitting procedure resulting in hydrogen.

The article, headlined Mnemonic Rutile-Rutile Interfaces Triggering Spontaneous Dissociation of Water has been published in the science journal Advanced Materials.


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