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A team of UdG scientists obtain oxygen from water by using iron catalysts


Nature Chemistry just published an important scientific discovery by the researchers of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Girona. Their main contribution is the use of iron –a rich, cheap and nontoxic metal–, as a catalyst to generate oxygen from water. This work provides the opportunity to develop a new technology to make artificial photosynthesis possible, one of the most fascinating fields in sustainable energy.

Replacing oil with safe, non-polluting, renewable energies is one of the most crucial steps to reduce the effect of global warming and, therefore, to ensure the future of our society. One of the dreams of modern science is to mimic plants, as they capture sunlight and transform it into chemical energy through photosynthesis.

Of all the processes together in photosynthesis, converting water into oxygen is the most difficult thing to do. Technologically speaking, this reaction is also the biggest problem for developing artificial photosynthesis. To achieve this, a catalyst is needed. However, so far, the only efficient catalysts are based on highly toxic metals, which are expensive and not very abundant, such as iridium or ruthenium. Therefore, they are not suitable for its use on a large scale.

Iron, an extremely efficient catalyst
The researchers of the Bioinorganic and Supramolecular Chemistry group (QBIS) at the Department of Chemistry (University of Girona) showed that simple iron systems can generate oxygen from water. Moreover, they do so extremely efficiently. The finding is important because iron is an abundant, inexpensive and nontoxic metal. Therefore, this work provides the opportunity to develop a new technology to make artificial photosynthesis possible, one of the aims in the field of sustainable energy. Currently, UdG researchers are studying how to use these chemical systems that can capture sunlight.

The team of chemists who are developing this research consists of Dr. Julio Lloret, Dr. Miquel Costas and Dr. Laura Gomez, as well as PhD students Zoel Codolà and Isaac García-Bosch. This group of scientists have also had the support of the engineer Juan José Pla.

Published on Nature Chemistry
The article, entitled “Efficient water oxidation catalysts based on readily available iron coordination complexes”, was recently published on the online version of the journal Nature Chemistry, which belongs to the prestigious editing group Nature. The article will also appear in the next issue of the magazine. This project is funded by the EU, the Ministry of Education and Science and the Generalitat of Catalonia, through ICREA Academy.


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