A year ago, chemical engineering student, Arslan Abbas walked into a University of Nevada, Reno laboratory to “check it out.” Ever since then, Abbas has been conducting research on solar energy under the supervision of associate chemical engineering professor, Ravi Subramanian. “It’s cool, and it’s important,” Abbas said. “Keep in mind that Nevada has the biggest potential for not only solar, but all sorts of renewable energy, geothermal, wind even. It’s a big issue and I’d like to be a part of the solution.” Abbas is studying how fomic acid, a relatively abundant and clean acid, can be used to replace fossil fuels.
By inserting fomic acid into a fuel cell, which catches energy from the sun, the fomic acid breaks down and releases a proton and an electron. Abbas then places a blue titanium dioxide strip into the fomic acid, which allows the electron to be captured and used to produce a current. Abbas has been studying how coating the titanium dioxide strip with platinum and ruthenium can increase the current. “Fossil fuels only make everything last for so long,” Abbas said. “Once that’s gone, it’s either mankind takes a 200-year step back, or we find another way.”
UNR chemical engineering student, Steven DelaCruz, is doing research on solar energy as well, but his involves water. By using sunlight as a catalyst to break water down into hydrogen gas and oxygen, DelaCruz hopes to be able to capture the hydrogen gas to use it as a fuel in fuel cells. “Hydrogen gas is a clean fuel compared to other types of fuels, like fossil fuels,” DelaCruz said. DelaCruz is attempting to find a material that will absorb light, and then use it to split water. Pictured above, DelaCruz preps a reactor in order to test how well his material, pyrochlore structured bismuth titanate, works. The reactor is used to expose the material to light, hold and mix the material with the water, and then separate the hydrogen gas into a column where it can be measured. DelaCruz said the goal is to eventually power cars with hydrogen gas, a much cleaner fuel then what is currently used in cars.