Tsing Hua team produces hydrogen using polymers

polymer-dotResearchers at National Tsing Hua University (NTHU) have developed a hydrogen generation technique using visible light and semiconducting polymer dots that could help turn hydrogen into an alternative energy source.

NTHU Department of Chemical Engineering assistant professor Chou Ho-hsiu (周鶴修) and his team on July 13 published their findings in the journal ACS Catalysis in a paper titled “Design and Synthesis of Cycloplatinated Polymer Dots as Photocatalysts for Visible-Light-Driven Hydrogen Evolution.”

Hydrogen is regarded as a green fuel, as its combustion only produces water and heat, and finding methods to generate it using sunlight and water is a crucial goal of the US Department of Energy, Chou said.

Most techniques use methane — the main component of natural gas — to produce hydrogen, emitting carbon dioxide in the process and contributing to global warming, he said.

Such techniques also use transition metals as cocatalysts to increase efficiency, but the metals often produce toxic elements in the process, team member Chang Chih-li (張之勵) said.

After experimenting with different techniques over the past year, the team found that semiconducting polymer dots increase efficiency without releasing toxic elements, Chang said.

They designed a series of cycloplatinated polymer dots and introduced metal cocatalysts into polymer dots that are of low toxicity, overcoming the problem that toxic cocatalysts cannot be recycled, Chou said.

Polymer dots could be recycled and become part of a circular economy, and they could also be applied to in the production of hydrogen through electrolysis of water or by using inorganic compounds, he said.

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