Clean Energy from Laser-Studies

Clean Energy form Laser-Studies

EPFL researchers have used a novel laser approach to control specific vibrations of a water molecule, which can affect the efficiency of converting methane into hydrogen. This is crucial step for clean energy source and synthetic fertilziers in agriculture. The reaction requires water and a nickel catalyst. Methane and water molecules attach on the catalyst’s surface, where they dissociate into their atomic components. These then recombine to form different compounds like H2 and CO.


Rainer Beck and P. Morten Hundt
© Alain Herzog/EPFL

Previous research has focused mainly on understanding how methane dissociates, but experimental constraints have limited research into water dissociation. The team of Rainer Beck at EPFL has used lasers to determine for the first time how internal vibrations in a water molecule affect its ability to dissociate. The experimental results were used to optimize theoretical models for water dissociation in collaboration with the University of New Mexico, and recently published in the journal Science.

The optimization of theoretical models can also lead to the faster and more efficient development of catalysts for a range of industrial and commercial chemical reactions. As Beck explained in a press release in EPFL News: “You can use a computer model to e.g. vary the spacing of the atoms of the catalyst or change the structure of its surface. This is a cheaper or more efficient way to find a good catalyst, rather than having to do trial-and-error experiments. But in order to trust the theoretical model, we need this data to test them against.”

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