Patent: Affordable solar fuel thanks to bipolar membrane

2016 03 Patent Vermaas HR.jpg

Inventors: Dr David Vermaas and Dr Wilson Smith

Although sun and wind are inex-haustible sources of energy, they don’t always supply electricity to the right place at the right time. So industry and science are looking for affordable methods of storage and transport, such as conversion into chemical energy, for example. Dr David Vermaas from the Department of materials for energy conversion and storage thinks he has found a way ‘that may be standard practice ten years from now’. It’s hardly surprising that several parties have already expressed an interest in his patent. Vermaas uses a bipolar membrane with an electrode attached to convert electricity into oxygen on the one hand, and hydrogen or hydrocarbon on the other. “The bipolar aspect is great, as it allows you to combine a high pH value for oxygen reactions with a low pH value for producing hydrogen (and hydrocarbons).” Vermaas thinks that hydrocarbon rather than hydrogen will hold the key to the future. “You can’t turn hydrogen into a liquid, which you can with hydrocarbon. This is what we’re used to when we fill our car’s petrol tank.” The researcher has subjected his invention to a short, successful test, and will now start more extensive testing. He and his group intend to appoint a doctoral candidate for this task. “After that, the technology will be ready for commercial use within three to five years.”

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