Air pollution killed more than 5.5 million in 2013 alone. According to Michael Brauer, a researcher at The University of British Columbia, “[It] is the fourth-highest risk factor for death globally and by far the leading environmental risk factor for disease.”
In an effort to combat the adverse effects of air pollution, Belgian researchers have developed a process through a device of their invention that purifies air when exposed to light, generating power while doing it. The device fits into the palm of a hand and relies on solar power to convert polluted air compounds into stored hydrogen, a source of clean energy. It has two chambers, separated by a membrane: one chamber cleans the air and the other generates the hydrogen gas. Air with a higher concentration of pollutants ultimately creates stronger electrical currents. “”In the past, these cells were mostly used to extract hydrogen from water. We have now discovered that this is also possible, and even more efficient, with polluted air. This hydrogen gas can be stored and used later as fuel, as is already being done in some hydrogen buses, for example,” explains Sammy Verbruggen, Professor at The University of Antwerp and The University of Leuven.
“The idea is that we’re trying to develop technology that copes with polluted air — so you can clean your air and provide a clean living environment — while at the same time producing an alternative source of energy,” says Verbruggen. “But this is just the first proof of concept.”
This comes inline with the framework of the Paris Agreement and the global movement against greenhouse gas emissions and promoting increased reliance on renewable energy. However, this is not the first invention to add to this movement. Assistant Professor of Chemistry at The University of Central Florida united a group of scientists to invent a plant that would trigger the process of photosynthesis in a synthetic material, transforming greenhouse gas into clean air and producing energy at the same time. Florida’s invention triggers a chemical reaction in a synthetic material called metal-organic frameworks (MOF) that breaks down carbon dioxide into harmless organic materials. It works the same way that plants convert carbon dioxide and sunlight into food, but instead of producing food, it produces solar fuel.