Common mining waste produces hydrogen at QUT

Powdered feldspar. Image courtesy of Dr Hong Peng (University of Queensland).

Researchers from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) have found a use for a mining by-product in hydrogen fuel and lithium-ion batteries.

The waste material is called fledspar, and as it makes up about 60 per cent of the Earth’s crust, it is a very common by-product of mining.

Professor Ziqi Sun from the QUT School of Chemistry and Physics and QUT Centre for Materials Science said mining companies sometimes pay around $30 per tonne to dispose of feldspar.

To reduce this waste, Sun found the aluminosilicate rock minerals could be combined with reactive metals such as rare platinum, iridium, ruthenium, or possibly cheaper options such as cobalt, nickel and iron.

The water-splitting reaction between the feldspar and the metals produces hydrogen which can then be used in a number of clean energy technologies.

“Water splitting involves two chemical reactions—one with the hydrogen atom and one with the oxygen atom—to cause them to separate,” Sun said.

“This new nanocoated material triggered the oxygen evolution reaction, which controls the overall efficiency of the whole water splitting process,” he said.

Using the lower-cost metals like cobalt, nickel and iron has the potential to cheapen the overall cost of lithium-ion batteries.

Additionally, the use of cobalt-coated feldspar could see the end product be even more efficient than the use of platinum metals.

Professor Ziqi Sun (QUT).

Sun said he saw the findings as very useful in the hands of major manufacturing companies.

“This research could potentially add to Australia’s renewable energy value chain by repurposing mining waste and adding new technologies to traditional industries,” Sun said.

“Companies like Tesla could potentially use this technology for energy production, advanced energy storage solutions like new battery technologies and renewable fuel.”

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