Nav: Home

It's something in the water: LLNL scientists extract hydrogen as potential fuel source

July 31, 2017

Lawrence Livermore scientists have developed a technique that helps extract hydrogen from water efficiently and cheaply.

Hydrogen can be used as a clean fuel in fuel cells, which produce power with water and heat as the only byproducts. As a zero-emission fuel, the hydrogen can be recombined with oxygen to produce electric power on demand, such as onboard a fuel-cell vehicle.

The Livermore team and collaborators at Rice University and San Diego State University turned to electricity to produce clean hydrogen fuel by splitting water molecules, which are made of oxygen and hydrogen atoms. The researchers discovered a new class of cheap and efficient catalyst to facilitate the water splitting process. The research appears in the July 31 edition of Nature Energy.

"Hydrogen gas has immense potential as a source of sustainable fuel, because it generates no carbon emissions," said Lawrence Livermore lead author Brandon Wood. "It can be produced from multiple sources, but the holy grail is to make it from water." Wood also is a principal investigator in the Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's (EERE) HydroGEN Advanced Water Splitting Materials Consortium, an Energy Materials Network node focused on hydrogen production from water.

Extracting hydrogen from water using electricity is a fairly straightforward process, but it is inefficient and usually takes a lot of energy. The efficiency can be improved using catalysts, which are often made of expensive precious metals, such as platinum.

The Lawrence Livermore team sought to come up with a cheaper way to efficiently split the water molecules.

To solve the problem, Wood and lead author Yuanyue Liu -- a Livermore summer intern with Wood -- turned to a class of catalysts based on transition-metal dichalcogenides (MX2), which have generated a great deal of interest for water splitting. The issue with the MX2 materials that currently are used (based on molybdenum and tungsten) is that only the exposed edges of the catalysts are active. Instead, Wood, Liu and colleagues used quantum-mechanical calculations to reveal underlying electronic factors that would make the entire surfaces of the MX2 materials active for catalysis. These "descriptors" were then used to computationally screen MX2 candidates that could make better water-splitting catalysts.

Researchers from Rice University experimentally validated the calculations by synthesizing and testing two of the proposed materials, tantalum disulfide and niobium disulfide. Beyond confirming that the materials' surfaces were active towards water splitting, they discovered that the materials had an unusual ability to optimize their shape as they evolved hydrogen gas. This allowed the materials to achieve even better performance.

"The self-optimizing behavior and surface activity mean high performance can be achieved with only minimal catalyst loading," Wood said. "It's a huge advantage for scalable processing, since there's no need to turn to expensive techniques like nanostructuring. Our work opens the door to using this type of catalyst, and our theoretical descriptor should make it easy to assess water-splitting activity in similar classes of layered materials."
-end-
Other Livermore researchers include Morris Wang and Tadashi Ogitsu. LLNL's work was funded by EERE's Fuel Cell Technologies Office.

Founded in 1952, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory provides solutions to our nation's most important national security challenges through innovative science, engineering and technology. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is managed by Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.

DOE/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Related Hydrogen Articles:

Hydrogen energy at the root of life
A team of international researchers in Germany, France and Japan is making progress on answering the question of the origin of life.
Hydrogen alarm for remote hydrogen leak detection
Tomsk Polytechnic University jointly with the University of Chemistry and Technology of Prague proposed new sensors based on widely available optical fiber to ensure accurate detection of hydrogen molecules in the air.
Preparing for the hydrogen economy
In a world first, University of Sydney researchers have found evidence of how hydrogen causes embrittlement of steels.
Hydrogen boride nanosheets: A promising material for hydrogen carrier
Researchers at Tokyo Institute of Technology, University of Tsukuba, and colleagues in Japan report a promising hydrogen carrier in the form of hydrogen boride nanosheets.
World's fastest hydrogen sensor could pave the way for clean hydrogen energy
Hydrogen is a clean and renewable energy carrier that can power vehicles, with water as the only emission.
Chemical hydrogen storage system
Hydrogen is a highly attractive, but also highly explosive energy carrier, which requires safe, lightweight and cheap storage as well as transportation systems.
Observing hydrogen's effects in metal
Microscopy technique could help researchers design safer reactor vessels or hydrogen storage tanks.
The 'Batman' in hydrogen fuel cells
In a study published in Nature on Jan. 31, researchers at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) report advances in the development of hydrogen fuel cells that could increase its application in vehicles, especially in extreme temperatures like cold winters.
Paving the way for more efficient hydrogen cars
Hydrogen-powered vehicles emit only water vapor from their tailpipes, offering a cleaner alternative to fossil-fuel-based transportation.
New catalyst produces cheap hydrogen
QUT chemistry researchers have discovered cheaper and more efficient materials for producing hydrogen for the storage of renewable energy that could replace current water-splitting catalysts.
More Hydrogen News and Hydrogen Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.