5.5 million people died prematurely because of air pollution back in 2013 – and half of those people lived in India or China. Air pollution continues to plague people around the world today, but now researchers from KU Leuven and the University of Antwerp have found a way to transform that dirty air into energy. They designed an air purifying device able to fit in a person’s hand that only needs light to work.


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The groundbreaking device houses two small chambers divided by a membrane. In one chamber air is purified; in the other hydrogen gas is generated. Nanomaterials in the device act as catalysts to both break down pollution and produce the gas. Scientist Sammy Verbruggen of both institutions, who’s lead author on a study published recently about the device in ChemSusChem, said the hydrogen gas can be stored and used as fuel in the future.

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According to KU Leuven, the processes underlying the device are akin to the workings of solar panels: “The difference here is that electricity is not generated directly, but rather that air is purified while the generated power is stored as hydrogen gas.”

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The higher the concentration of pollutants in the air, the stronger the electrical currents, according to the researchers, which means cities like Los Angeles, Beijing, and Delhi could really benefit from the technology. Verbruggen emphasized to Mic their device is just first proof of the concept, but could open up options in the future.

Verbruggen told Mic, “There’s still a lot of work to do to make this applicable to daily life. It’s not like we discovered the holy grail yet. But this is a new field of opportunities.” The scientists are working to scale up their device and improve their materials to draw on sunlight more efficiently to set off the reactions.

Via Mic and KU Leuven

Images © UAntwerpen and KU Leuven and via Pixabay