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  • Allison Stalker

Solar Rays Could Replace Petroleum

Updated: Aug 29

Yen-Ting Kuo, a doctoral candidate in chemistry at Kansas State University, is working on methods and materials that could replace petroleum fuels with ones made from the sun. Kuo, originally from Taiwan, has worked for many years attempting to better use the sunlight to generate energy through chemical reaction processes.

“People tend to think of chemistry as test-tube experiments and not really creating practical things. That’s just not true,” Kuo said. “A big focus now is on ‘green chemistry.’ This means wanting to have the same quality of life that we have right now, but using chemistry to replace some things with materials that are more eco-friendly, such as biodegradable products or clean fuel.”

Kuo is doing this through the use of photocatalysts, which are metal-oxide catalysts that react with light. When exposed to sunlight, the catalysts cause a chemical reaction, but are not destroyed during the reaction. This property makes them important to the creation of new fuels, like solar gasoline.

The problem among many researchers is creating a photocatalyst that can use the sunlight to create a chemical reaction and produce hydrogen in an efficient manner. This is necessary for the commercial production of solar gasoline, which is made by channeling sunlight into a tank of water that contains photocatalysts. The ensuing reaction causes the water to split into hydrogen and oxygen. The resulting hydrogen is combined with carbon monoxide to form a synthetic gas. This gas is used to create fossil fuels that eventually power cars.

Kuo has been working on solving the inefficiency problems by creating new photocatalysts in his lab. Kuo is able to analyze the material once it is made to determine ways to structurally improve the photocatalyst. He is also attempting to increase the surface area of the photocatalysts, which will produce better reactions.

Kuo is working under the advisement of Ken Klabunde, a distinguished chemistry professor at Kansas State University. Klabunde has created inorganic materials and nanotechnology that filter water and air, control odor, bacteria and viruses, and detoxify hazardous chemical spills.

This month, Kuo will be defending his dissertation, “Novel photocatalytic water splitting with the N-doped ln203/TiO2 D10-D0 configuration composite oxide semiconductors”. He will then begin postdoctoral work at the University of Michigan.

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