Texas A&M chemist looks to power fuel cells with hydrogen

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With worldwide energy demand projected to rise anywhere from 35 to 40 percent between now and 2040, the hunt is on for viable sources and solutions. Texas A&M University chemist Marcetta Darensbourg is exploring lessons provided in nature and focusing on the simplest of all molecules, hydrogen, to open related doors to inexpensive, eco-friendly, hydrogen-based energy alternatives.

Specifically, Darensbourg, an internationally respected expert in synthetic and mechanistic inorganic chemistry, is developing methods to perfect the high-stakes technology of hydrogen-powered fuel cells. Her lab is taking the novel approach of introducing Earth-abundant elements — iron, nickel and sulfur — into hydrogen-producing molecular catalysts intended to replace platinum as the kick starter in these fuel cells.

“We hope our work will be able to answer two things: how to make hydrogen, ultimately harvesting energy from the Sun, and how to use hydrogen,” she said.

While plenty of work remains, Darensbourg and her group of graduate and undergraduate students and postdoctoral fellow coworkers are optimistic about the future of a hydrogen economy.

“If we could do this effectively — take the energy of the Sun, make hydrogen, store it and use it in a fuel cell to generate electricity — that’s huge,” Darensbourg said.

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