A Chemical Multi-Tool
Tom Lombardo posted on March 24, 2013 | | 3567 views

I'd like Nanotechnology for $100, Alex. 

The answer is: This substance kills bacteria, filters water, generates electricity, and increases battery life.

What is Multi-use Titanium Dioxide (TiO2)?

Image: Nanyang Technological University

Associate Professor Darren Sun and his colleagues at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have developed a nanomaterial that has numerous useful properties, including the ability to desalinate water, generate energy from sunlight, increase the life of lithium ion batteries, kill harmful bacteria, and convert wastewater into pure water and hydrogen.

Dr. Sun was originally searching for an agent that would prevent water filters from becoming clogged with bacteria. He mixed TiO2 with iron to accomplish that, and while performing experiments, his team found a few side-effects: when mixed with wastewater and exposed to sunlight, the substance produced hydrogen, oxygen, and potable water.

Hydrogen is a great way to store energy – that’s the basic idea behind fuel cell technology – but in the past it’s been difficult to produce. A fuel cell is a hydrogen-powered battery. Generating hydrogen for fuel cells is often performed by water electrolysis, passing an electric current through pure water to split the molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. Often the electric current is generated by photovoltaic cells. While this method is very clean, it’s not particularly efficient. This patented version of TiO2 simultaneously eliminates the need for the PV cells and the need for pure water, allowing the sunlight to directly convert wastewater into to hydrogen and oxygen, and producing drinkable water as a byproduct.

If your application doesn't call for fuel cells and is better suited for lithium-ion batteries, this titanium dioxide nanomaterial can also be mixed with carbon and added to the anode of a Li-ion battery. Experimental results show that the material can double the life of Li-ion batteries.

Besides energy storage, this “miracle substance” can also generate electricity from sunlight. Professor Sun’s team mixed other materials with TiO2 and produced a flexible thin film photovoltaic cell.

Calling all Entrepreneurs! The team has patented the substance and is looking for commercial partners to bring the product to market. (I suggest you call it Panacea. If you do, please send royalty checks to Tom Lombardo, c/o ENGINEERING.com!) 

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