Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Clean energy future: New cheap and efficient electrode for splitting water


UNSW Australia scientists have developed a highly efficient oxygen-producing electrode for splitting water that has the potential to be scaled up for industrial production of the clean energy fuel, hydrogen. The new technology is based on an inexpensive, specially coated foam material that lets the bubbles of oxygen escape quickly.

"Our electrode is the most efficient oxygen-producing electrode in alkaline electrolytes reported to date, to the best of our knowledge," says Associate Professor Chuan Zhao, of the UNSW School of Chemistry.

A scanning electron microscope image shows the porous structure of the nickel foam used to make UNSW Australia's inexpensive and efficient oxygen-producing electrode. The foam has holes in it about 200 micrometers across (Scale bar is 200 micrometers)

Credit: UNSW Australia

"It is inexpensive, sturdy and simple to make, and can potentially be scaled up for industrial application of water splitting."

The research, by Associate Professor Zhao and Dr Xunyu Lu, is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Inefficient and costly oxygen-producing electrodes are one of the major barriers to the widespread commercial production of hydrogen by electrolysis, where the water is split into hydrogen and oxygen using an electrical current.

Unlike other water electrolysers that use precious metals as catalysts, the new UNSW electrode is made entirely from two non-precious and abundant metals - nickel and iron.

Commercially available nickel foam, which has holes in it about 200 micrometres across, or twice the diameter of a human hair, is electroplated with a highly active nickel-iron catalyst, which reduces the amount of costly electricity needed for the water-splitting to occur.

This ultra-thin layer of a nickel-iron composite also has tiny pores in it, about 50 nanometres across.

"The three-dimensional architecture of the electrode means it has an enormous surface area on which the oxygen evolution reaction can occur," says Associate Professor Zhao.

"The larger bubbles of oxygen can escape easily through the big holes in the foam. As well, the smaller holes make the electrode surface 'wetter', so the bubbles do not stick to it, which is a common problem that makes electrodes less efficient."

Hydrogen production is a rapidly growing industry, but the majority of hydrogen is still produced using fossils fuels such as natural gas, oil and coal, because this approach is still cheaper than electrolysis of water.

Hydrogen is a great fuel for powering mobile devices or vehicles, and storing electricity generated from renewable energy, such as solar.

"I think this electrode has great potential for the industrial-scale production of hydrogen. Our next goal is to understand the science behind it and to further improve its performance. Cleaner sources of fuel like hydrogen will be particularly important for reducing carbon dioxide emissions and solving the air pollution problems from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal," says Associate Professor Zhao.


Media contacts:

Associate Professor Chuan Zhao: + 61(2) 9385 4645,
UNSW Science media officer: Deborah Smith + 61(2) 9385 7307, + 61 (0) 478 492 060, 

Deborah Smith | EurekAlert!

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht 3-D-printed structures shrink when heated
26.10.2016 | Massachusetts Institute of Technology

nachricht From ancient fossils to future cars
21.10.2016 | University of California - Riverside

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Greater Range and Longer Lifetime

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VDI presents International Bionic Award of the Schauenburg Foundation

26.10.2016 | Awards Funding

3-D-printed magnets

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>