UW-Madison Researchers ID Hydrogen-Electric Process for Sustainable Chemical Manufacturing

Aug. 28, 2023
Technology could be used in the chemical industry to produce chemicals with significantly less carbon.

A process that combines hydrogen and electricity to create pharmaceuticals holds promise as a more sustainable approach for chemical production, says a University of Wisconsin–Madison research team.

The researchers have adapted hydrogen fuel cell technologies commonly used in electric vehicles and electronics to make pharmaceuticals.

They created a system employing a specific organic compound called a quinone to pull electrons from hydrogen. A notable aspect of this process is its effectiveness even in the absence of water, the researchers note. While conventional fuel cells rely on water for optimal functioning, the presence of water can disrupt the stages involved with the steps to manufacture pharmaceutical ingredients.

The technology could be used in the chemical industry to produce chemicals with significantly less carbon, says Shannon Stahl, a professor in the UW–Madison Department of Chemistry who led much of the research.

Hydrogen gas can be generated from renewable electricity, and it creates very little waste, Stahl says.

The team is working on improving the process, so it can be used for industrial-scale production. 

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