A new technique for cleansing contaminated water and potentially purifying hydrogen for use in fuel cells has been identified by scientists at the US Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, after the discovery of an innovative type of porous material.

The discovery of porous semiconducting aerogels, by Argonne materials scientists Peter Chupas and Mercouri Kanatzidis together with colleagues at Northwestern and Michigan State universities, may signal the future developments and improvements for a hydrogen-fueled future.

The researchers submerged a fraction of a gram of the aerogel in a solution of mercury-contaminated water and found that the gel removed more than 99.99 percent of the heavy metal. This has led to the belief that the gels can be used not only for this kind of environmental clean-up but also to remove impurities from hydrogen gas that could damage the catalysts in potential hydrogen fuel cells.

Chupas said, $quot;While there's been a big push for hydrogen storage and a big push to make fuel cells, there has not been nearly as big a push to find out where the clean hydrogen to feed all that will come from.$quot;
The aerogels, which are fashioned from chalcogenides are expected to be able to separate out the impurities from hydrogen gas much as they did the mercury from the water, by acting as a kind of sieve or selectively permeable membrane.

The research team had not intended to create the aerogels, but their discovery proved fortunate, while previous experiments into molecular filtration had used oxides rather than chalcogenides as their chemical constituents.