A golden discovery

LIMS researchers are deciphering the interaction between metal-based systems and water in order to find alternative "green" methods to convert H2O into H2 and O2.  H2 gas is touted as the fuel of the future.

Hydrogen gas (H2) has been described as a green fuel for the future with the potential to power anything from cars to space shuttles. The only products from the combustion of H2 are a large amount of energy and water (H2O). It sounds almost too good to be true, and at the moment, it is: production of H2 requires more energy than is gained from its use and is also incredibly expensive.

Metal-based chemistry may have the answer by discovering alternative ways to convert H2O into H2 and O2, providing a "green" method of H2 production. Before this can be realized a detailed understanding of the interaction between metal-based systems and water must be undertaken. Many top chemists have taken up the challenge.

The Dutton lab, in collaboration with Dr David Wilson, Dr Peter Barnard and Dr Conor Hogan (Chemistry and Physics), has discovered a completely novel family of gold compounds that allowed for the isolation of a key intermediate in the metal based decomposition of water, an Au-OH complex. 

The lab work was performed by APA scholar Robert Corbo who simply added a drop of water to the new compound and was able to form the Au-OH bond – a very challenging and rare class of material. Previously, the synthetic methods used to produce Au-OH were onerous and relied on expensive reagents. In contrast, our "just add water" method simplifies the process, which is highly significant as eventually water must be used as the "fuel" for the ultimate goal of using metals to convert H2O into H2.

Water reactionThe discovery was reported in the prestigious journal The Journal of The American Chemical Society. The new Au compounds also display toxicity against cancer cells competitive with the widely used platinum based drug, cisplatin. The group is now exploring anti-cancer applications in conjunction with Dr Mark Hulett (Biochemistry and Genetics).

Dr Jason Dutton is Lecturer and Deputy Head in the Department of Chemistry and Physics, and leader of the Molecular Design theme at the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science (LIMS).

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