Chemical reaction

Limitless Hydrogen Energy? Breakthrough Seen in Separating H from H2O

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Hydrogen is known to have the potential to become an important source of energy. And there’s an abundant supply of it, in our water, if we can just find a low-cost, efficient way of getting the oxygen in H2O to let go of it. The University of Houston (UH) has just announced that they may have just found it.

Splitting the hydrogen and oxygen in water is accomplished using a process called “water electrolysis” in which both the hydrogen and oxygen molecules separate into individual gasses via separate “evolution reactions.” Each evolution reaction is induced by an electrode in the presence of a catalyst.


Water can also be split using photocatalysis that uses solar power directly instead of electricity, but it’s less efficient since water only absorbs a small range of the light spectrum.

It’s been the lack of an efficient, low-cost catalyst for the oxygen molecules that’s been holding the full-scale extraction of hydrogen back. Up until now, oxygen catalysts have been based on scarce, expensive “noble” metals such as iridium, platinum, or ruthenium.

nobel metals

This is a problem that has been thwarting the full-scale commercial extraction of hydrogen for energy for some time, and UH isn’t the only entity searching for a replacement. Just last spring, the Canadian Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the University of Toronto announced the discovery of a new oxygen…

Scientists Decode the Secret of Glowing Mushrooms

We’re just going to come right out and say it: mushrooms are weird. They pop up without warning and they can change the weather. Many of them can also glow in the dark, and we don’t know why. Now, at least, we might know how, as researchers writing in the journal Science Advances reveal the bizarre, “promiscuous” process of fungal bioluminescence.

Lots of animals light themselves up, glowing or flashing to send messages, find prey, or flirt with potential mates. And scientists have a pretty good understanding of how that happens. When a pair of enzymes called luciferin and luciferase combine with energy and oxygen, the resulting chemical reaction makes a compound called excited oxyluciferin. But excitation is not…

Plot twist in methane mystery blames chemistry, not emissions, for recent rise

March hydroxyl distribution
RADICAL THEORY Changes in the concentration of a highly reactive compound in the atmosphere called hydroxyl may be to blame for a rise in global methane levels since 2007, new research suggests. Redder regions in this simulation of a typical March hydroxyl distribution contain higher concentrations of the molecule.

A recent upsurge in planet-warming methane may not be caused by increasing emissions, as previously thought, but by methane lingering longer in the atmosphere.

That’s the conclusion of two independent studies that indirectly tracked concentrations of hydroxyl, a highly reactive chemical that rips methane molecules apart. Hydroxyl levels in the atmosphere decreased roughly 7 or 8 percent starting in the early 2000s, the studies estimate.

The two teams propose that the hydroxyl decline slowed the breakdown of atmospheric methane, boosting levels of the greenhouse gas. Concentrations in the atmosphere have crept up since 2007, but during the same period, methane emissions from human activities and natural sources have remained stable or even fallen slightly, both studies suggest. The research groups report their findings online April 17 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“If hydroxyl were to decline long-term, then it would be bad news,” says Matt Rigby, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Bristol in England who coauthored one of the studies. Less methane would be removed from the atmosphere, he says, so the gas would hang around longer and cause more warming.

The stability of methane emissions might also vindicate previous studies that found no rise in emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, has reported that U.S. emissions remained largely unchanged from 2004 to 2014 (SN Online: 4/14/16).

Methane enters the atmosphere from a range of sources, from decomposing biological material in wetlands…