Popeye would approve: Spinach could hold key to renewable fuel cell catalysts

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بوب يبحث عن علبة سبانخ في صورة ثابتة من فيلم <em> Popeye </em> Unknown, c.  1945. Scientists at American University believe that green leaves have the potential to help operate fuel cells in the future. ”/><figcaption class=
Zoom in / Popeye searches for a can of spinach in an unknown static image Bob Film, c. 1945. Scientists at American University believe that green leaves have the potential to help operate fuel cells in the future.

Paramount Pictures / Courtesy of Getty Image

When it comes to making proficiency fuel cellsIt’s all about the catalyst. A good catalyst will lead to faster and more efficient chemical reactions, thus increasing energy production. Today’s fuel cells typically rely on platinum-based catalysts. But scientists at American University We think spinach– It is considered a “superfood” because it is full of nutrients – it would make a super catalyst rich in renewable carbon, based on the proof-of-principle experiments shown in A recent paper Published in ACS Omega magazine. Bob would certainly agree.

Spinach has a surprisingly long history in science. The idea of ​​exploitation Photosynthesis And electrochemical properties have been around for about 40 years now. Spinach is abundant, cheap, easy to grow, and rich in iron and nitrogen. Many (many!) Years ago, as an emerging science writer, I attended a conference where physicist Elias Greenbaum (then with Oak Ridge National Laboratories) speaks about his work Spinach related research. Specifically, he was interested in the protein-based “reaction centers” in spinach leaves that are the primary mechanism of photosynthesis – the chemical process by which plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbohydrates.

There are two types of reaction centers. One type, known as photosystem 1 (PS1), converts carbon dioxide into sugar; The other, the Photovoltaic System 2 (PS2), divides the water to produce oxygen. There is a great deal of scientific interest in the PS1, which functions as a small photosensitive battery, absorbing energy from sunlight and emitting electrons with nearly 100% efficiency. PS1s are able to generate light-induced electrical flux in fractions of a second.

True, it’s not an enormous amount of energy, but it’s enough to power small molecular machines one day. Greenbaum’s work He promised to build an artificial retina by, for example, replacing damaged retinal cells with light-sensitive PS1 devices to restore vision in those with a degenerative eye condition. Since PS1s can be modified to behave like diodes, passing current in one direction but not the other, they can be used. Build logic gates For a primitive computer processor if one could conduct it over molecule-sized wires made of carbon nanotubes.

Greenbaum is just one of many researchers interested in spinach. For example, In 2012Scientists at Vanderbilt University PS1s combined By using silicon to obtain current levels approximately 1,000 times higher than what was achieved when depositing protein centers on metals, along with a modest increase in voltage. Ultimately, the goal was to build “biological hybrid” solar cells that could compete with standard silicon solar cells in terms of voltage and current levels.

Spinach also has other interesting properties that go beyond reaction centers. For example, A. Paper 2014 Chinese researchers have reported experiments to collect activated carbon from spinach for capacitor electrodes, while Only last DecemberAnother group of Chinese scientists examined the possibility of making nanocomposites based on spinach to act as photocatalysts.

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