Two-electron reduction of oxygen to produce hydrogen peroxide is a much researched topic. Most of the work has been done in the production of hydrogen peroxide in basic media, in order to address the needs of the pulp and paper industry. However, peroxides under alkaline conditions show poor stabilities and are not useful in disinfection applications. There is a need to design electrocatalysts that are stable and provide good current and energy efficiencies to produce hydrogen peroxide under acidic conditions.

The innovation focuses on the in situ generation of hydrogen peroxide using an electrochemical cell having a gas diffusion electrode as the cathode (electrode connected to the negative pole of the power supply) and a platinized titanium anode. The cathode and anode compartments are separated by a readily available cation-exchange membrane (Nafion® 117). The anode compartment is fed with deionized water. Generation of oxygen is the anode reaction.

Protons from the anode compartment are transferred across the cation-exchange membrane to the cathode compartment by electrostatic attraction towards the negatively charged electrode. The cathode compartment is fed with oxygen. Here, hydrogen peroxide is generated by the reduction of oxygen. Water may also be generated in the cathode. A small amount of water is also transported across the membrane along with hydrated protons transported across the membrane. Generally, each proton is hydrated with 3–5 molecules.

The process is unique because hydrogen peroxide is formed as a high-purity aqueous solution. Since there are no hazardous chemicals or liquids used in the process, the disinfection product can be applied directly to water, before entering a water filtration unit to disinfect the incoming water and to prevent the build up of heterotrophic bacteria, for example, in carbon based filters.

The competitive advantages of this process are:

  1. No consumable chemicals are needed in the process. The only raw materials needed are water and oxygen or air.
  2. The product is pure and can therefore be used in disinfection applications directly or after proper dilution with water.
  3. Oxygen generated in the anode compartment is used in the electrochemical reduction process; in addition, external oxygen is used to establish a high flow rate in the cathode compartment to remove the desired product efficiently. Exiting oxygen can be recycled after separation of liquid hydrogen peroxide product, if so desired.
  4. The process can be designed for peroxide generation under microgravity conditions.
  5. High concentrations of the order of 6–7 wt% can be generated by this method. This method at the time of this reporting is superior to what other researchers have reported.
  6. The cell design allows for stacking of cells to increase the hydrogen peroxide production.
  7. The catalyst mix containing a diquaternary ammonium compound enabled not only higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide but also higher current efficiency, improved energy efficiency, and catalyst stability.
  8. The activity of the catalyst is maintained even after repeated periods of system shutdown.
  9. The catalyst system can be extended for fuel-cell cathodes with suitable modifications.

This work was done by Charles L.K. Tennakoon, Waheguru Singh, Kelvin C. Anderson, and Thomas Kinney of Lynntech, Inc. for Johnson Space Center.

In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to:

Lynntech, Inc.
Technology Transfer Office
1302 East Collins Blvd.
Richardson, Texas 75081
Phone No.: (979) 693-0017
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Refer to MSC-23874-1, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the October, 2010 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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