Researchers in Singapore have developed a new nanomaterial known as Multi-use Titanium Dioxide (TiO2), that can produce energy, generate hydrogen and even produce clean water. Impressed? No? Well then take this; the remarkable material can also be formed into flexible solar cells and it can double the lifespan of lithium-ion batteries. Still not impressed? With bacteria-killing properties, it can also be used in new antibacterial bandages.
The new material, is being developed by scientists at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU), led by Associate Professor Darren Sun, is made by turning titanium dioxide crystals into nanofibers, which can then be formed into flexible filter membranes. The special material at the center of it all is titanium dioxide, which is a cheap and abundant material and has been scientifically proven to have the ability to accelerate a chemical reaction (photocatalytic) and is also able to bond easily with water (hydrophilic).
Because it can bond with water, the material can potentially serve as a high-flux forward osmosis membrane and desalinate water. But that’s just one of its many remarkable features. In addition to producing clean water, the material can also produce hydrogen when exposed to sunlight, according to the researchers. And it can also be formed into an inexpensive, flexible solar cell that can be used to generate electricity.
“With such a discovery, it is possible to concurrently treat waste water and yet have a much cheaper option of storing solar energy in the form of hydrogen so that it can be available any time, day or night, regardless of whether the sun is shining or not, which makes it truly a source of clean fuel,” said Prof Sun. “As of now, we are achieving a very high efficiency of about three times more than if we had used platinum, but at a much lower cost, allowing for cheap hydrogen production. In addition, we can concurrently produce clean water for close-to-zero energy cost, which may change our current water reclamation system over the world for future livable cities.”
“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,” said lead researcher Darren Sun. “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.”
Prof Sun and his team of 20, which includes 6 undergraduates, 10 PhD students and 4 researchers, are now working to further develop the material while concurrently spinning off a start-up company to commercialise the product. They are also looking to collaborate with commercial partners to speed up the commercialization process.