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Mar 23

Understanding How Water Molecules Split

Posted in Fuel Cells | Hydrogen Fuel

Water Molecules Plants produce energy with the help of photosynthesis. One of the important steps of photosynthesis is splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen and release of energy in this process. Scientists are trying to duplicate this process in the laboratory for the production of energy i.e. hydrogen fuel. Hydrogen fuel is a clean and green alternative fuel. Now researchers are observing single oxygen atoms hopping on a metal oxide slab, glowing brighter here and dimmer there. This very process is helping chemists to understand how water splits into oxygen and hydrogen in a better way. This process is increasing the understanding of the chemical reaction that had previously only been talked about. This reaction will assist us in future to generate hydrogen fuel from water or to clean contaminated water.

Physicist Igor Lyubinetsky, who works at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, says “Oxygen and water are involved in many, many reactions, this mobility might interfere with some reactions and help others.”

The scientists are making an effort to determine the basics of how titanium dioxide splits water. This break down of water molecules is a crucial mystery which the scientists have to unravel. We need to be acquainted with the knowhow of splitting of water for many purposeful activities such as hydrogen production, breaking down pollutants, and in solar energy.

Bustling Bright Spots

Researchers are utilizing a technique called scanning tunneling microscopy to observe the splitting of water into hydrogen and oxygen with the help of titanium dioxide. This scanning tunneling microscopy technique will assist the scientists in watching the chemical reaction. They are drawing a parallel from corn fields. Researchers are imagining the surface of a slab of titanium dioxide as corn field from which rows of oxygen atoms rise from a patch of titanium atoms. The alternating oxygen and titanium rows look like stripes.

Scientists can spot some atoms and molecules that rest on the surface as bright spots. The visible oxygen atom that settles on a titanium atom is known as an “adatom”. Scientists can only observe water molecules with one condition, if they drop the temperature dramatically. At ambient temperature, water moves too fast for the method to pick them up.

Scientists started watching water’s reactions with titanium dioxide at ambient temperature. They have taken a surface coated with a few oxygen adatoms, they added water — and the adatoms started to dance. Lyubinetsky observes, “Suddenly, almost every adatom started to move back and forth along the titanium row. From theory and previous work, we expected to see this along the row.” But something different happened. The adatoms didn’t just slide up and down the stripes. They also bounced out of them and landed in others. “We saw quite unexpected things. We thought it was very strange — we saw adatoms jump over the rows,” Lyubinetsky said. “We just couldn’t explain it.”

How to explain this phenomenon? Scientists developed an explanation. They are of the view that adatoms can’t move by themselves or hop over an oxygen row. They are helped by invisible water molecules, some unseen enabler. But scientists just don’t assume things. So the team calculated how much energy it would take to move adatoms with the help of water molecules. If a water molecule settles down next to an adatom, one of the water’s hydrogen atoms can jump to the adatom, making two oxygen-hydrogen pairs complete. They called this pair hydroxyls. They act as thieves, they steal atoms from other molecules and not sparing each other! If one hydroxyl steals other’s hydrogen atom, it will turn into water molecule. The water molecule floats off, leaving behind an adatom. Half the time, that adatom is one spot over — which makes the original appear to have moved. The calculated energy necessary for these different processes fit well with the team’s experimental data.

The major breakthrough according to Lyubinetsky is that water itself can work as a catalyst. We are familiar with the fact that a catalyst is a molecule that affects the rate of a chemical reaction and remains unchanged in the procedure. He observed, “Water is required to move the adatoms around, but like a catalyst it is not consumed in the reaction. You start with water and you end with water.”

Unlocking of this water splitting process will further the use of clean and green energy for the coming generations.

  • Ravi Soparkar

    Very interesting and educative. Such articles will take fuel cell concept to common people

  • Darian L. Smith

    This is the underlying concept used by the late great John Kanzius; see on you tube “burning saltwater”

    It is also under investigation by a Navy Scientist who announced Mar 23 09 that a form of cold fusion is taking place in these water splitting reactions.

  • bob brothers

    Research at Purdue University, supported by GM promises a significant step toward practical hydrogen powered cars. (ScienceDaily The Hydrogen Economy holds a lot of promise, but here’s one great question:

    “Just where will all that hydrogen come from?”

  • Layne Zeiler

    Good question Bob — In a technical paper recently published by the American Petroleum Council, scientists again confirmed that the only known source of a hydrogen containing substance lending itself to economically viable extraction is deeply buried in underground aquiferous cavitations, with less desirable sources also found in surface depositations of densely mineralized contamination. The APC is now in consultation with Federal officials to seek special licensing rights for its member organizations over future use of these resources, in addition to waiver of any anti-trust regulations that would otherwise hinder their developmental potential. Officials promised to cooperate closely with the APC as well as to expidite patent approval procedures for APC members engaged in areas of use research.

  • bob brothers

    Precisely, Layne — Those ‘aquiferous cavitations and surface depositations’ lead to a positive feedback loop regarding carbon footprint – darn those thermodynamics! And no big surprise (not to dip a toe too deep into the political water) that the Feds and the Members are holding hands around the wellhead.

  • Ajay

    Hydrogen fuel is no doubt a future of healthy word. It is wright that great inventions takes time but not true. Previous inventions taken lots of time because inventors are alone and also not available todays kind of informations.

    Now its an era of information technology we can exchange our views, ideas with many peoples across the world but due to philosophy of patent no one is ready to exchange their all ideas or views with others. its really bad for our future and dream of good environment.

    These all problems can solve within a day if we all open to share our all true ideas otherwise it is very critical and will take lot of time like early days.

  • Toofy

    If scientists do figure out a way of splitting water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen atoms, would it be a possible solution for global warming and rising sea levels?

    If water from the sea is continuously being slit up into hydrogen and oxygen, this means that a lot of water is being used up to release two useful gases that are environmentally friendly and useful for respiration (in the case of oxygen). So by using more and more water and splitting it, couldn’t we possibly reduce the rising sea levels?

  • Pothinker

    Do you think that this technology could revolutionize space travel using a molecule splitter as a fuel cell. Splitting water would produce hydrogen and oxygen and if we could find a way to harness the energy generated during the actual splitting we could build electromagnetic rockets powered by hydrogen and use the oxygen to preserve our astronauts

  • bob brothers

    Splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen is technically practical – it’s done quite often in industry today – but it requires a large energy input, in the form of electricity. Much research is being done (examples above) on getting more H2 using less energy.

    Fuel cells (again commercially available today) generate electricity from the energy liberated when hydrogen and oxygen recombine to form water.

  • BobBrink

    Definitely on to something there. Now I’m just wondering what benefit there might be to observing the behavior of these atoms/molecules utilizing the recently described quantum microscope — an incredible new device that literally allows scientists to gaze into the quantum realm.

  • Munish moudgil

    Is there any possible method to make an efficient photosynthesis process which is man made?

  • Munish moudgil

    I have no lab………..

  • Ryan kissel

    hi Ajay! Im Ryan Kissel you seem like an individual I would get along with. shoot me an email so we can start collaborating to create the future!

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