Future clean energy could come from bismuth

Researchers are also using bismuth-based compounds in photovoltaics. It's a heavy, brittle metal that could one day power electronic devices.

Bismuth, a heavy, brittle metal, could power the clean energy of the future. It is commonly known as the main ingredient in Pepto Bismol and, after being melted and then slowly cooled, forms colorful geometric crystals. Some scientists, such as Robert Hoye, a professor in the department of materials at Imperial College London, are using bismuth-based compounds in photovoltaics, but the goal is to see if it can one day power electronic devices. Bismuth has unique electronic properties, and the researchers believe it could be harnessed in place of batteries in billions of products, such as home sensors or health monitors.

Bismuth's capabilities

Bismuth is the heaviest of the so-called "heavy metals" and the only one that is not toxic. It has light-absorbing abilities and, unlike other metals, is benign and does not harm people or the environment. If, for example, it ends up in a landfill, it would not release toxic metals into the soil and water. Today's electronics, on the other hand, contain metals such as lead, cadmium and tellurium that not only involve a disposal procedure that is not easy, but also harm the environment. Talking to Professor Robert Hoye about bismuth's capabilities for the energy of the future was Verge Science, which brought raw metal to MakerSpace on Staten Island for experimentation.

The bismuth was heated in a small pot until it melted and then the surface slag was removed. Once cooled, crystals with colorful, iridescent hues were formed. Researchers believe that this material, combined with others, may have some interesting properties useful in electronics. Scientists are trying to understand how the electrons are arranged around its nucleus.

Another research by Italian physicist Giulia Galli instead studied how bismuth vanadate could make hydrogen the fuel of the future because it simplifies its extraction. The compound has the advantage of absorbing many types of light, but the way it is used, it doesn't release enough electrons into the water. Galli explained that by changing the arrangement of bismuth, vanadium and oxygen atoms, through a simple chemical treatment, it was discovered that the electrons set in motion by sunlight arrive in water more easily, allowing to release a greater amount of hydrogen.

On bismuth and its capabilities are various researches aimed at identifying all its possible uses in the field of energy of the future. In the field of sustainability, an international team has created a fabric capable of absorbing carbon dioxide, while in Singapore a method has been discovered to convert sweat into energy to be used to power small electronic devices.