Education | Demonstrator project

Catalysis: Storing Green Energy for the Future

Project description

Electrons generated from various clean energy sources such as solar and wind can be converted into other forms of energy. We can store this energy in the chemical bonds in molecules such as hydrogen. We demonstrate the fundamentals behind this transformation in a fun, visually engaging way by bringing the whole process to your table top. With our demonstrator you can see your own work generating clean hydrogen right before your eyes.

Advanced summary

Green electrons are harvested from renewable sources through movement or photovoltaics as depicted in a. These electrons are subsequently used in an electrochemical cell to evolve H2 and O2, effectively storing renewable energy in chemical bonds. The catalyst can be interchanged in order to demonstrate its influence on the activity of the reaction, e.g. a solid platinum electrode vs. a platinum mesh, or varying the facets of the catalysts. These different facets can be visualized with 3D-printed models (b). A visual detection method is incorporated to monitor the reaction, such as dyes/pH indicators. Furthermore, since the produced hydrogen can be used as a renewable fuel, it can be detected with a flame (c). Optionally, the hydrogen can be reacted with CO2 in order to produce methanol, a building block for the chemical industry (d). The objective of this demonstrator is to show the relationship between different parameters in catalysis (catalyst, energy source) and the formation of products (activity). This will be done by using an electrochemical water-splitting cell, with various energy sources and exchangeable catalysts. The detection method of the products will be of an optical nature (fluorescent dyes, pH indicators, flames). 

We propose to construct a simple glass H-cell with openings for inserting electrodes. The set up will be run using different power sources such as solar panels, a water turbine and a crank shaft that participants can drive manually. This will allow us to demonstrate the conversion of different forms of energy into the same fuel – hydrogen.  

The electrodes will be exchangeable, thus enabling us to demonstrate the effect of different kinds of catalysts. 3D printed models of these catalysts can be used in parallel to help visualize heterogenous catalysis and demonstrate why some materials are better catalysts than others.   

The audience will be able to see hydrogen and oxygen forming at their respective electrodes and also observe changes in the cell current and potential.  Further detection methods, such as pH indicators, can be added to help visualize pH gradients in the cell. In addition to these, 3D molecular level videos of catalysis will be utilized to supplement verbal teaching.