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[MatSQ Column] #007. The Future of New and Renewable Energy Depends on “Catalysts”

Viewed : 66 times,  2021-02-22 02:28:59

New and renewable energy emerges more and more as primary energy resources globally, replacing fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. In 2020, the South Korean government announced the Green New Deal as its large-scale national project, expanding new and renewable energy–related tasks and job creation to achieve its fulfillment. This article delves into the definition of new and renewable energy in conjunction with the current issues and the future.



What is new and renewable energy?

The term “new and renewable energy” is a combination of “new energy” and “renewable energy.” Therefore, new and renewable energy refers to energy involving both energy concepts.

'New energy' utilizes electricity and heat from the conversion of fossil fuels or hydrogen–oxygen reactions and involves hydrogen energy, fuel cells, energy from coal liquefaction/gasification. However, new energy produced by natural gas is nonrenewable. On the other hand, 'renewable energy' harnesses replenishable energy resources, such as sunlight, solar thermal energy, wind energy, and geothermal energy, for energy production.

As seen in Figure 1 below, although the weight of new and renewable energy, such as sunlight and wind energy, increases further by 2030, the world’s dependence on fossil fuels would remain significant. The reason is that the production efficiency of new and renewable energy is lower than that of any other energy source. Therefore, 'catalytic' technology must be developed to ensure the efficient production and practical use of new and renewable energy in the future.


Figure 1 – Energy supply by source / U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)



Catalysts and new and renewable energy

A catalyst is any substance that promotes chemical reactions without itself being changed. This substance increases the chemical reaction rate and improves overall productivity. About 100 years ago, German chemist Fritz Haber made a decisive contribution to resolve global food insecurity by developing a catalyst for synthesizing large quantities of ammonia, a fertilizer compound. During the 20th century, the mass production of synthetic resins, packaging materials, and more using catalysts dramatically transformed our daily lives.

Now, more interest in catalysts is moving on to the new and renewable energy field. Currently, single-atom catalysts (SACs) are widely used, as shown in Figure 2 below. However, the rarity of platinum (Pt), ruthenium (Ru), palladium (Pd), and others results in enormous process costs. Therefore, even if the use of high-end noble metals can be reduced or replaced, new catalysts whose effects are equivalent to or than those metals must be developed.


Figure 2 – Significant metal catalysts in the new and renewable energy industry / Original Images: Wikimedia Commons



Development prospect of catalyst for new and renewable energy

The development of high-performance catalysts used for advances in new and renewable energy must meet the following conditions: efficiency, economic feasibility, and stability. As such, diverse methods can be explored, including seeking materials that can maintain performance and durability when combined with affordable metals, such as iron, aluminum, copper, and nickel, or increasing the surface area through fine particle synthesis.


However, existing methods still pose unresolved challenges before discovering new catalysts. Thus, catalyst development and the convergence technologies linked to the Fourth Industrial Revolution are projected to be further spotlighted in the future for innovative development in the new and renewable energy field. In particular, more research will be conducted on the usage of artificial intelligence (AI) that can learn big data in chemistry and new materials and design new catalysts for new and renewable energy.


Figure 3 – Convergence of new and renewable energy and AI




Byung Chul Yeo

Assistant Professor of the Department of Energy Resources Engineering, Pukyong National University


Comments - 2021-03-02 14:41:42 19
I have read 'New and Renewable Energy' depends on catalyst article. It's interesting and make me more curious about your work. Is it possible to arrange Webinar or Workshop for our M.Sc. and Ph.D. scholars to know your work in detail. Hoping for your favorable response. - 2021-03-03 01:02:52 20
Thank you for this interesting article, Dr. Byung Chul.