Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Ionic liquid improves speed and efficiency of hydrogen-producing catalyst

18.06.2012
Ongoing saga of building a better fuel cell catalyst goes holistic

The design of a nature-inspired material that can make energy-storing hydrogen gas has gone holistic. Usually, tweaking the design of this particular catalyst -- a work in progress for cheaper, better fuel cells -- results in either faster or more energy efficient production but not both. Now, researchers have found a condition that creates hydrogen faster without a loss in efficiency.

And, holistically, it requires the entire system -- the hydrogen-producing catalyst and the liquid environment in which it works -- to overcome the speed-efficiency tradeoff. The results, published online June 8 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provide insights into making better materials for energy production.

"Our work shows that the liquid medium can improve the catalyst's performance," said chemist John Roberts of the Center for Molecular Electrocatalysis at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "It's an important step in the transformation of laboratory results into useable technology."

The results also provide molecular details into how the catalytic material converts electrical energy into the chemical bonds between hydrogen atoms. This information will help the researchers build better catalysts, ones that are both fast and efficient, and made with the common metal nickel instead of expensive platinum.

A Solution Solution

The work explores a type of dissolvable nickel-based catalyst, which is a material that eggs on chemical reactions. Catalysts that dissolve are easier to study than fixed catalysts, but fixed catalysts are needed for most real-world applications, such as a car's pollution-busting catalytic converter. Studying the catalyst comes first, affixing to a surface comes later.

In their search for a better catalyst to produce hydrogen to feed into fuel cells, the team of PNNL chemists modeled this dissolvable catalyst after a protein called a hydrogenase. Such a protein helps tie two hydrogen atoms together with electrons, storing energy in their chemical bond in the process. They modeled the catalytic center after the protein's important parts and built a chemical scaffold around it.

In previous versions, the catalyst was either efficient but slow, making about a thousand hydrogen molecules per second; or inefficient yet fast -- clocking in at 100,000 molecules per second. (Efficiency is based on how much electricity the catalyst requires.) The previous work didn't get around this pesky relation between speed and efficiency in the catalysts -- it seemed they could have one but not the other.

Hoping to uncouple the two, Roberts and colleagues put the slow catalyst in a medium called an acidic ionic liquid. Ionic liquids are liquid salts and contain molecules or atoms with negative or positive charges mixed together. They are sometimes used in batteries to allow for electrical current between the positive and negative electrodes.

The researchers mixed the catalyst, the ionic liquid, and a drop of water. The catalyst, with the help of the ionic liquid and an electrical current, produced hydrogen molecules, stuffing some of the electrons coming in from the current into the hydrogen's chemical bonds, as expected.

As they continued to add more water, they expected the catalyst to speed up briefly then slow down, as the slow catalyst in their previous solvent did. But that's not what they saw.

"The catalyst lights up like a rocket when you start adding water," said Roberts.

The rate continued to increase as they added more and more water. With the largest amount of water they tested, the catalyst produced up to 53,000 hydrogen molecules per second, almost as fast as their fast and inefficient version.

Importantly, the speedy catalyst stayed just as efficient when it was cranking out hydrogen as when it produced the gas more slowly. Being able to separate the speed from the efficiency means the team might be able to improve both aspects of the catalyst.

Liquid Protein

The team also wanted to understand how the catalyst worked in its liquid salt environment. The speed of hydrogen production suggested that the catalyst moved electrons around fast. But something also had to be moving protons around fast, because protons are the positively charged hydrogen ions that electrons follow around. Just like on an assembly line, protons move through the catalyst or a protein such as hydrogenase, pick up electrons, form bonds between pairs to make hydrogen, then fall off the catalyst.

Additional tests hinted how this catalyst-ionic liquid set-up works. Roberts suspects the water and the ionic liquid collaborated to mimic parts of the natural hydrogenase protein that shuffled protons through. In these proteins, the chemical scaffold holding the catalytic center also contributes to fast proton movement. The ionic liquid-water mixture may be doing the same thing.

Next, the team will explore the hints they gathered about why the catalyst works so fast in this mixture. They will also need to attach it to a surface. Lastly, this catalyst produces hydrogen gas. To create a fuel technology that converts electrical energy to chemical bonds and back again, they also plan to examine ionic liquids that will help a catalyst take the hydrogen molecule apart.

The Center for Molecular Electrocatalysis at PNNL is one of 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers supported by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science at national laboratories, universities, and other institutions across the country to accelerate basic research related to energy.

Reference: Douglas H. Pool, Michael P. Stewart, Molly O'Hagan, Wendy J. Shaw, John A. S. Roberts, R. Morris Bullock, and Daniel L. DuBois, 2012. An Acidic Ionic Liquid/Water Solution as Both Medium and Proton Source for Electrocatalytic H2 Evolution by [Ni(P2N2)2]2+ Complexes, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A Early Edition online the week of June 8, DOI 10.1073/pnas.1120208109.(http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/06/07/1120208109)

DOE's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

Interdisciplinary teams at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory address many of America's most pressing issues in energy, the environment and national security through advances in basic and applied science. PNNL employs 4,700 staff, has an annual budget of nearly $1.1 billion, and has been managed for the U.S. Department of Energy by Ohio-based Battelle since the laboratory's inception in 1965. For more, visit the PNNL's News Center, or follow PNNL on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Mary Beckman | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.pnnl.gov

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Linear potentiometer LRW2/3 - Maximum precision with many measuring points
17.05.2017 | WayCon Positionsmesstechnik GmbH

nachricht First flat lens for immersion microscope provides alternative to centuries-old technique
17.05.2017 | Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Strathclyde-led research develops world's highest gain high-power laser amplifier

The world's highest gain high power laser amplifier - by many orders of magnitude - has been developed in research led at the University of Strathclyde.

The researchers demonstrated the feasibility of using plasma to amplify short laser pulses of picojoule-level energy up to 100 millijoules, which is a 'gain'...

Im Focus: Can the immune system be boosted against Staphylococcus aureus by delivery of messenger RNA?

Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....

Im Focus: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Camera on NASA's Lunar Orbiter survived 2014 meteoroid hit

29.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Strathclyde-led research develops world's highest gain high-power laser amplifier

29.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 3-D look at the 2015 El Niño

29.05.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>