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Scientists develop multi-purpose 'wonder' material

20 March 2013

Scientists claim to have developed a nanomaterial that can generate hydrogen, produce clean water and even create energy at very low cost.

Prof Darren Sun holding the patented Titanium dioxide nanofibre in a test tube and the hydrogen reactor in the background

Science fiction? Well, apparently not as the researchers claim it can also desalinate water, be used as a flexible water filtration membrane, help recover energy from desalination waste brine, be made into flexible solar cells and also double the lifespan of lithium ion batteries. With its superior bacteria-killing capabilities, it can also be used to develop a new type of antibacterial bandage.
 
Scientists at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore, led by Associate Professor Darren Sun have succeeded in developing this single nanomaterial that can do all the above and at very low cost compared with existing technologies.
 
Five years in development, it is formed by turning titanium dioxide crystals into nanofibres, which can then be easily fabricated into flexible filter membranes which include a combination of carbon, copper, zinc or tin, depending on the specific end product needed.
 
Titanium dioxide is a cheap and abundant material, which has been scientifically proven to have the ability to accelerate a chemical reaction (photocatalytic) and is also able to bond easily with water (hydrophilic).
 
“While there is no single silver bullet to solving two of the world’s biggest challenges - cheap renewable energy and an abundant supply of clean water - our single multi-use membrane comes close, with its titanium dioxide nanoparticles being a key catalyst in discovering such solutions,” Professor Sun said. “With our unique nanomaterial, we hope to be able to help convert today’s waste into tomorrow’s resources, such as clean water and energy.”
 
The multi-use titanium dioxide can:
- concurrently produce both hydrogen and clean water when exposed to sunlight
- be made into a low-cost flexible filtration membrane that is anti-fouling
- desalinate water as a high flux forward osmosis membrane
- recover energy from waste desalination brine and wastewater
- be made into a low-cost flexible solar cell to generate electricity
- double battery life when used as anode in lithium ion battery
- kill harmful microbes, leading to new antibacterial bandages


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