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Houston Startup Founder Reports on Effectiveness of Clean Energy Tech


A team at Rice University has found an inexpensive and scalable way to produce clean-burning hydrogen fuel.

In a study published this month in the journal Science, researchers at the Rices Laboratory for Nanophotonics, in collaboration with Syzygy Plasmonics Inc. and Princeton University’s Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, used light-activated fuels to turn ammonia into a carbon-free fuel. It explains in detail how to convert to . catalyst.

A new catalyst separates liquid ammonia into hydrogen and nitrogen gas. Traditional catalysts require heat for their chemical transformations, but new catalysts can be accelerated using just sunlight or LED lights.

Additionally, the team showed that copper-iron antenna reactors can be used for these light-driven chemical reactions, known as plasmonic photocatalysis. Thermally-based or thermally catalyzed reactions require platinum and related noble (and expensive) metals such as palladium, rhodium, and ruthenium.

Transition metals like iron are typically poor thermal catalysts, said Naomi Halas, a co-author of the Rice report, in a statement. This study shows that they can be efficient plasmonic photocatalysts. We also show that photocatalysis can be efficiently performed using an inexpensive LED photon source.

Harras, Rice’s Stanley C. Moore Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was joined on the project by Peter Nordlander, Rice Weiss Chair and Professor of Physics and Astronomy, and Rice Alumni and Adjunct Professor of Chemistry, Hossein Robajaj . Emily Carter, Gerhard R. Andringer Professor of Energy and Environment, represented Princeton University.

These results are very motivating,” Carter added.

Founded in 2018 by Halas and Nordlander, Houston-based Syzygy has licensed the technology used in the research and has begun scale-up testing of the catalyst in its commercial LED-powered reactor. According to Rice, tests at Syzygy showed that the catalyst maintained efficiency under his LED lighting on a scale 500 times larger than his tests in Rice’s lab setting.

Nordlander said in a statement that the discovery paves the way for sustainable, low-cost hydrogen that can be produced locally rather than in large centralized plants.

Earlier this month, Syzygy closed a $76 million Series C round to continue technology development ahead of future deployments/

Houston is home to many other organizations and researchers leading the growth of the hydrogen economy.

Earlier this year, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced his decision to position the city as a hub for hydrogen innovation as one of the EPA’s Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs. Organizations in Texas, southwest Louisiana, and the surrounding Gulf He Coast region (known as HyVelocity Hub) also announced this month that they will apply for regional funding.

And according to a recent report from The Center for Houston’s Future, Bayou City is poised to “lead the world’s impactful, innovative clean hydrogen hub.”




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