A revolutionary technique for producing hydrogen by releasing oxygen from cerium oxide has been developed by researchers in Italy.

The researchers, from three different institutions in Trieste, used various technologies to obtain the results from the cerium oxide, a pale yellow-white powder used in ceramics and polishing glass. These included scanning tunnelling microscopy which allows images to be obtained of a material’s surface with atomic resolution and numerical modelling used to describe electronic and atomic structure using parallel computing.

Cerium oxide is used as a catalyst which favours many fundamental reactions that have profound implications for energy storage and environmental issues such as the purification of polluted gases and the production of hydrogen.

\\$quot;Ceria-based materials are oxygen buffers, materials that allow one to efficiently store or release oxygen, thus favouring a high catalytic activity and inducing a set of chemical reactions which would otherwise require higher pressures and temperatures,\\$quot; said Friedrich Esch from the TASC INFM-CNR laboratory. \\$quot;The production of more efficient catalysts is therefore of paramount importance for saving energy, increasing the safety of industrial processes and reducing environmental impact.\\$quot;

Stefano Fabris of the National Simulation Centre added that most of the recent research has focused on the energy production from alternative sources, on the reduction of the environmental impact, and on the energy storage. However, to pursue these objectives, new and more efficient catalysts are needed.

Most industrial processes currently involve heterogeneous catalysts - devices that are in a different state to one of the reactants. The present study could inspire the design of new efficient catalysts for producing a large variety of goods, for example, plastic materials, fuels, fertilizers and drugs.