Clean-tech discovery: Irish researchers split water into hydrogen and oxygen via new method
CRANN photo depicting the splitting of water via a new method developed by a research team at the institute
Hydrogen gas is being heralded as the next big thing in the race to come up with new greener energy sources. Now, researchers at the Irish nanoscience institute CRANN say they have developed a new method of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen more sustainably via water electrolysis.
The researchers, who are based at the Science Foundation Ireland-funded nanoscience institute CRANN, which is situated on the Trinity College Dublin (TCD) campus, are claiming their discovery will have a “significant” impact in the worldwide race to cheaply and efficiently produce hydrogen gas.
In scientific and clean-tech circles, hydrogen gas has been hailed as one of the main clean-energy sources of the future.
Prof Mike Lyons, a principal investigator at CRANN and TCD’s School of Chemistry, has worked with his research team to develop what they are calling new inexpensive materials based on iron and nickel oxide to split water into its components hydrogen and oxygen – a method known as water electrolysis.
Apparently, these materials from iron and nickel oxide are much cheaper, more readily available and more efficient than those used in current electrolysis methods.
Hydrogen gas has been pinpointed as one of the most innovative and greener alternative energy sources of the future. Its production using steam reforming of natural gas is still relatively difficult and unsustainable, however.
In contrast, hydrogen generation by water electrolysis could pave the way for a reliable, environmentally friendly method of large-scale production.
Prof Mike Lyons, principal investigator, CRANN, where he is leading a research team to come up with a more sustainable method for water electrolysis
The researchers at CRANN involved in the water-splitting project believe their methods are the first inexpensive and efficient methods of water electrolysis to be identified worldwide.
Their research has already triggered international interest and recently received ‘Hot Article Status’ in the chemistry journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics (PCCP). Hot Article Status, it seems, is given to articles of high impact and high quality.
Prof John Boland, director of CRANN, said the results of nanoscience research is paving the way for revamping a range of industries – from medicine, to technology to energy production.
“Whether it is in lightweight coatings for wind turbines, or new sensors for solar panels, our methods continue to assist in the move to sustainable, alternative and clean energy supply,” he said.
A world first?
Boland believes Lyons and his research team’s method of splitting water is a “world first”.
“It truly has the potential to revolutionise the production of hydrogen gas and bring it one step closer as a realistic energy alternative,” he said.
Lyons has received funding to the value of almost €800,000 from SFI for this research.
“With my team of researchers, we are consistently striving to use well-known research methods to deliver unprecedented results,” he said today.
This method of water electrolysis, explained Lyons, takes the simplest of materials – nickel and iron – and uses them to “ground-breaking” effect.
“Hydrogen is the next clean-energy source and CRANN is leading the international race to find its best method of production,” added Lyons.
As well as his work at CRANN, Lyons also leads the Trinity Electrochemical Energy Conversion and Electrocatalysis Group. He has published two books and more than 110 papers, and has a h-index of 25, which demonstrates the worldwide impact of his research.
NANOSCIENCE IS THE the study of materials on the nanoscale, or one million times smaller than a grain of salt. By studying materials at their most basic and modifying the ‘building blocks’ from which they are made, nanoscience researchers can vastly improve the properties of those materials. Plastics can become extremely thin, but incredibly strong. Metals can become thoroughly flexible and malleable, but hugely conductive and light. That process of change opens up a world of possibilities for manufacturing in technology, medicine, energy, pharmaceuticals, transport, bioengineering and more.
CRANN (the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructure and Nanodevices) is Ireland’s leading nanoscience institute, funded by Science Foundation Ireland and based at Trinity College Dublin. In the past ten years, our researchers have leveraged State funding to bring in over €50 million of non-Exchequer investment from international and European sources and have filed over 50 patent applications.
Today, CRANN celebrates its 10th anniversary.
This research is crucial to the economy
It was in 2003 that the then Government decided to prioritise nanoscience research, and established CRANN, as part of Science Foundation Ireland’s CSET (Centre for Science Engineering and Technology) programme. Since then, the Centre has grown from having just six researchers to employing over 300 and from working with 4 companies to over 100 companies, in Ireland and internationally. If Government is looking for an example of an ambitious policy decision that is now paying dividends for the Irish economy, they do not need to look any further than CRANN.
Ranked sixth in the world for nanoscience research and eighth for materials science research, Ireland is now recognised as a leading nanoscience nation. With over 90 per cent of the world’s medical multinationals and 70 per cent of the world’s technology multinationals having a base in Ireland, our national research credentials are extremely attractive, and crucial to the economy.
It is estimated that nanoscience is linked to €15 billion, or 10 per cent, of Ireland’s annual exports and supports 250,000 jobs nationwide. The Government has targeted 20,000 more manufacturing jobs in Ireland by 2016 and undoubtedly, Ireland’s leading nanoscience research can help to create those jobs.
As part of CRANN’s 10-year celebrations, the team created the world’s smallest birthday cake – measure 2,000 times smaller than the full stop at the end of this sentence.
Ireland is now experiencing a ‘brain – gain’
Irish researchers are awarded the highest number of European Research Council Starting grants for nanoscience research in the European Union. Following the Euroscience Open Forum in 2012, Dublin has again been chosen to host the EuroNanoForum, Europe’s largest nanoscience event in June this year, an event which will attract 12,000 delegates. In addition, Ireland is now experiencing a ‘brain – gain’, attracting researchers from abroad, to complement our indigenous research base.
Ireland’s nanoscience credentials are strong and they are growing.
At CRANN, we are working with over 100 companies in Ireland and internationally, using our research expertise to help those companies develop novel products and solutions. For example, over the past decade, we have partnered with Intel, working on innovative methods to constantly improve their technologies. We work with Sab Miller, a brewing and beverage company, helping them to improve their packaging to extend the life-span of their products. These partnerships deliver significant mutual benefit for both CRANN and for our partners and will continue to do so for the next decade and beyond.
Smaller, better, faster, stronger
Nanoscience is changing the face of manufacturing, leading to smaller, smarter, more durable and more efficient products and it is a strong linkage between academia and business that is driving that progress. It is nanoscience that is allowing smart devices to become smaller and smaller, yet to store more information. It is nanoscience that is leading to smaller, more sophisticated medical devices like heart stents, with greater lifespans.
Nanoscience is leading to lighter, yet stronger aeroplanes that consume less fuel. It is leading to technological developments like computers with advanced memory and facial recognition, laptops and smart-phones that can be rolled up like newspapers, bathroom mirrors and windows that can become television screens. It could lead to sensors that detect diseases from a person’s breath, or to coatings for ships and tankers that cannot rust.
These are advances that are happening now and they are happening worldwide. By investing in nanoscience; our health, our environment and our communications will be vastly improved.
Nanoscience is the future
Europe has recognised this. This year, the European Commission has invested €1 billion in the Graphene Flagship Project, identifying graphene, one layer of graphite found in pencil lead, as a ‘product of the future’. Ireland has a leading role in that project. The Irish Government has recognised this too, protecting science investment, even in difficult economic times. Science Foundation Ireland must be commended for its commitment and vision, in recognising that protecting scientific funding can also protect and grow the Irish economy.
Ten years ago, the global market for nano-enabled materials was €420 million. In 2015, it will be $2.5 trillion. Nanoscience is the future. Ireland is very much part of it.
I look forward to another ten years of success.
Professor John Boland is Director of CRANN, Ireland’s leading nanoscience institute based at Trinity College Dublin.
‘I spend quite a lot of time speaking to Muslim communities – they do feel that when they go through an airport it may be them that will be singled out for examination – that can’t be very nice’.
‘But, it would be great to say the problem is solved and we can scale terror laws down.’
‘Unfortunately, that’s not right’.
‘We are still seeing a steady stream of convictions of mainly men who have been planning or seeking to execute atrocities that would result in significant loss of life’.
‘There are quite hard cases of people who have been planning 7/7- style attacks’.
‘These are often people who have trained in Pakistan, downloaded images from the internet and communicating by email with radicals in other countries, and people who have been radicalised in prison.’
Meanwhile it has been confirmed that one of Britain’s most notorious radicals, Abu Qatada will now face terrorism charges in Jordan if the government there signs a treaty guaranteeing a fair trial for him.
Both the British courts as well as the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the government from sending Qatada to face trial in Jordan where evidence obtained by torture was likely to be used against him in court.
His rights under article 6 of the European Convention, ‘The Right to a Fair Trial’, would, according to the courts, been violated, had the extradition gone ahead.
The Strasbourg judges said it would make the “whole trial not only immoral and illegal, but also entirely unreliable in its outcome”.
Qatada was sentenced in absentia to life in prison on terror charges in 1999 and the Jordanian authorities wish to send him for retrial.
He has not been charged with any crime in the UK, yet the government has been trying to deport him for the last 8 years, resulting in his incarceration and bail on a number of occasions.
Mr. Anderson Q.C. says the use of evidence obtained by torture in his trial was a ‘flagrant denial of justice’.
‘I went to see him a few weeks ago; he is a complicated character’
‘There is no doubt that he is assessed as a very dangerous man.’
‘But he has been helpful in the release of at least one hostage’
Ireland should capitalise on white spaces opportunity following analogue TV switch-off – Ireland’s communications news service – Siliconrepublic.com
Following the switch-off of Ireland’s analogue TV signal in recent weeks, tech industry giants like Microsoft and academics are urging the country to take advantage of a huge economic opportunity in the form of white spaces which could be used to double the range of broadband in rural and urban areas.
White spaces technologies use wireless signals that can travel large distances and easily through walls, making it suitable for a wide variety of consumer applications, including doubling the range of Wi-Fi, as well as M2M (machine-to-machine).
The technology works by searching for unused areas of the airwaves or gaps called white spaces that exist in bands that were traditionally reserved for TV broadcasts.
Ireland, because of its low population density and neutral military stance, has an abundance of radio spectrum. And last month’s switch-off of the analogue TV spectrum is a stepping stone that should not be ignored.
In September, the CTVR telecoms research centre at Trinity College Dublin brought together ComReg, the Department of Communications and various businesses to hear from companies that had taken part in TV white space trials in other countries. SFI-backed research by the CTVR is underpinning a concerted effort by Prof Linda Doyle from the CTVR at Trinity College and her colleague at CTVR Tim Forde to ensure Ireland is a leader rather than the usual laggard in an important new area.
An organisation called White Spaces Ireland has been established by Doyle and Forde and involves companies interested in encouraging Ireland to move faster on this front which includes Microsoft, Imagine, e-Net, HEAnet, Spectrum Bridge, Neul and Taoglas.
Doyle said other countries are powering ahead on this front, including the UK, which last year became the first European country to introduce white space technology. Finland, which plans to ensure every citizen can access 100Mbps broadband by 2015, has already conducted test trials on white spaces.
In recent years, the Irish telecoms regulator ComReg had been quite vocal on the opportunity for Ireland to be a test bed for future wireless technologies and created test licences for organisations that wanted to R&D new technologies.
Last year, ComReg warned that radio spectrum – which is worth €3.6bn to the Irish economy and employs 26,000 people – faces the risk of congestion as consumer demand for rich media and broadband increases. It said that re-farming of additional spectrum, as well as further investment in wireless backhaul and microwave radio links, is required.
However, Doyle warned that everyone involved, from the companies to the regulators and Government, need to avoid falling into a trap of complacency.
She said it also needs to be borne in mind that if smart metering for water and electricity is to become a reality in Ireland – considering Ireland’s deficiencies in terms of broadband – white spaces could be the answer.
White spaces, she argued, could also be used to create urban Wi-Fi super hotspots.
Time to join the dots on white spaces
The main problem is getting all the constituents to move faster, from the regulator to the mobile operators and other organisations that could potentially benefit.
“There are many challenges. Technology is out there but some development is needed to get the volumes – but this is also an opportunity. Business model opportunities are not clear but we need to explore to find the answers.
“And we so need to take this kind of risk in Ireland. There will also be the need for policies and legislation if real commercial opportunities emerge from this,” she said.
Doyle said faster facilitation of trial licences could help and by targeting Irish issues, as well as general issues, global opportunities could emerge.
A challenge is getting the telecoms industry to focus on the longer term.
“TV white space is a stepping stone to what is becoming a trend – spectrum sharing.
“It is inevitable that spectrum sharing will be a part of the future if we are to ensure that there is enough spectrum to support the date demands of the future,” Doyle urged.
LEADING ECONOMISTS were told at the weekend about a study that details a separate tax for saturated fat, added sugar and salt, and concludes that a levy on all three could generate €188 million a year for the exchequer.
Authors Maria Murray of Trinity College Dublin and Micheál Collins of the Nevin Economic Research Institute told the gathering including economists attached to government departments that the direct effect on consumers would be quite small. But it could lead suppliers to reduce fat and added sugar and salt in products.
The cash generated could be used for health promotion campaigns. The economists’ warning to Government was: “There will be no effect other than revenue unless you spend the revenue on generating change.”
The tax on saturated fat would cost consumers an average of 93 cent a week, while added sugar would add €1.10 a week to weekly shopping costs. And the levy for added salt would be a humble 15 cent a week.
A tax on saturated fat alone could generate €79.91 million, while taxing added sugar could be worth up to €95.1 million with a salt tax yielding €13.08 million. For individual consumers it would mean a 5 cent increase on a pack of butter, 3 cent on a half kilo of cheddar cheese, 3 cent on a chocolate bar and 5 cent on a two-litre bottle of cola.
Such a tax would follow the example already set by New York state, which introduced a levy on saturated fat, Ms Murray told the Dublin Economics Workshop conference in Galway. Denmark last year imposed a tax on products with more than 2.3 per cent saturated fat. Hungary has introduced a salt levy, she said.
Ibec’s Food and Drink Industry Ireland group last week spoke out against a fat tax when it met the Oireachtas health committee. The group said it was a simplistic solution that would have little impact on diet.
However, Ms Murray said Minister for Health Dr James Reilly had signalled his interest in introducing such a tax in December’s budget, since 61 per cent of Irish adults are overweight or obese and 20 per cent of children likewise. Some 2,000 premature deaths occur annually, costing the State €4 billion a year. Figures from 2003 show in-patient hospital costs for obesity-related illnesses were €30 million.
It would not be a complicated tax, Mr Collins assured a Department of the Taoiseach representative who expressed concern about the burden applying the levy would impose on business: “Either you have saturated fat or you don’t. If you do it is taxed at one level or another level.”
This follows recent reports of large sums being paid out in what the Department of Education regards as unapproved payments by colleges.
Mr Quinn said he had secured Government agreement for changes to the Universities Act, which would strike a balance between university autonomy and protecting the economy at a time of crisis.
Between 2005 and 2009, around €7.5 million was paid in additional allowances by various universities to senior members of staff.
Trinity College Dublin has recently refused to implement a binding Labour Court finding under the provisions of that agreement.