Pow­er­ing the world without car­bon

Down to Earth - - THE FORTNIGHT -

cell that can con­vert re­new­able elec­tric­ity into am­mo­nia without caus­ing car­bon emis­sions could be the sus­tain­able an­swer to meet­ing en­ergy needs around the world. A typ­i­cal fuel cell uses the en­ergy stored in chem­i­cal bonds to make elec­tric­ity, but the one Dou­glas Mac­Far­lane—a chemist at Monash Univer­sity in sub­ur­ban Mel­bourne—is work­ing on, op­er­ates in re­verse. Ni­tro­gen, wa­ter and elec­tric­ity is sup­plied to the fuel cell while it silently ex­hales gaseous am­mo­nia, without the heat, pressure, and car­bon emis­sions usu­ally re­quired to make the chem­i­cal. It ef­fec­tively bot­tles sun­shine and wind, and turns them into a com­mod­ity that can be shipped eas­ily and con­verted back into elec­tric­ity or hy­dro­gen gas to power fuel cell ve­hi­cles.

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