Low-cost catalyst from U of T Engineering boosts hydrogen production from water

December 12, 2018

A future powered by carbon-free fuel depends on our ability to harness and store energy from renewable but intermittent sources, such as solar and wind. Now, a new catalyst developed at University of Toronto Engineering gives a boost to a number of clean energy technologies that depend on producing hydrogen from water.

In addition to being a key ingredient in everything from fuel to fertilizers, hydrogen has great potential as an energy storage medium. The idea would be to use renewable electricity to produce hydrogen from water, then later reverse the process in an electrochemical fuel cell, resulting in clean power on demand.

"Hydrogen is a hugely important industrial feedstock, but unfortunately today it is derived overwhelmingly from fossil fuels, resulting in a large carbon footprint," says Professor Ted Sargent, senior author on a paper in Nature Energy that describes the new catalyst. "Electrolysis - water splitting to produce renewable hydrogen and oxygen - is a compelling technology, but it needs further improvements in efficiency, cost, and longevity. This work offers a fresh strategy to pursue these critically important aims."

Sargent's lab is among several research groups around the world racing to create catalysts that lower the amount of electricity needed to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Currently, the best-performing catalysts rely on platinum, a high-cost material, and operate under acidic conditions.

"Our new catalyst is made from copper, nickel and chromium, which are all more abundant and less costly than platinum," says Cao-Thang Dinh, a co-lead author on the paper along with his fellow postdoctoral researchers Pelayo Garcia De Arquer and Ankit Jain. "But what's most exciting is that it performs well under pH-neutral conditions, which opens up a number of possibilities."

Seawater is the most abundant source of water on earth, Dinh points out. But using seawater with traditional catalysts under acidic conditions would require the salt to be removed first, an energy-intensive process. Operating at neutral pH avoids the high cost of desalination.

It could also enable the use of microorganisms to make chemicals such as methanol and ethanol. "There are bacteria that can combine hydrogen and CO2 to make hydrocarbon fuels," says Garcia De Arquer. "They could grow in the same water and take up the hydrogen as it's being made, but they cannot survive under acidic conditions."

Using renewable energy to convert waste CO2 into fuels or other value-added products is the goal of the NRG COSIA Carbon XPrize. A team from Sargent's lab is among the five finalists in the international competition, vying for the US $7.5-million grand prize.
-end-


University of Toronto Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering

Related Hydrogen Articles from Brightsurf:

Solar hydrogen: let's consider the stability of photoelectrodes
As part of an international collaboration, a team at the HZB has examined the corrosion processes of high-quality BiVO4 photoelectrodes using different state-of-the-art characterisation methods.

Hydrogen vehicles might soon become the global norm
Roughly one billion cars and trucks zoom about the world's roadways.

Hydrogen economy with mass production of high-purity hydrogen from ammonia
The Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) has made an announcement about the technology to extract high-purity hydrogen from ammonia and generate electric power in conjunction with a fuel cell developed by a team led by Young Suk Jo and Chang Won Yoon from the Center for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Research.

Superconductivity: It's hydrogen's fault
Last summer, it was discovered that there are promising superconductors in a special class of materials, the so-called nickelates.

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.

Read More: Hydrogen News and Hydrogen Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.