In the summer edition of Emory Magazine, there was an intriguing article about chemists using solar power to turn “hydrogen into clean fuel.” One of the major issues with using hydrogen as a fuel source, is that it needs to be separated from water, which requires energy. However, since the first law of thermodynamics (also known as the law of conservation of energy) states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, any energy used to separate the hydrogen gas can be used in other applications, such as fuel cells.
As with many other attempts at clean energy, the goal of the research at Emory is to imitate nature. Professor of Chemistry Craig Hill is attempting to “mimic photosynthesis with a carbon-free, molecular water oxidation catalyst (WOC).” Working with Paris Institute of Molecular Chemistry and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, this research is taking place at the Emory Bio-inspired Renewable Energy Center. Much like biomimicry looks to nature for answers to design questions, Hill’s team “mimic[s] natural processes to generate clean fuel.”
Universities across the country and around the world have fantastic opportunities to teach the next generation and to develop clean energy sources. However, as Oberlin Professor David Orr warns, education that takes place in isolation (i.e. inside the classroom) cannot sufficiently prepare students for a sustainable future.