Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Discovery of a highly efficient catalyst eases way to hydrogen economy

15.09.2015

Hydrogen could be the ideal fuel: Whether used to make electricity in a fuel cell or burned to make heat, the only byproduct is water; there is no climate-altering carbon dioxide. Like gasoline, hydrogen could also be used to store energy.

Hydrogen is usually produced by separating water with electrical power. And although the water supply is essentially limitless, a major roadblock to a future "hydrogen economy" is the need for platinum or other expensive noble metals in the water-splitting devices.


Bathed in simulated sunlight, this photoelectrolysis cell in the lab of Song Jin, a professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, splits water into hydrogen and oxygen using a catalyst made of the abundant elements cobalt, phosphorus and sulfur.

Credit: David Tenenbaum/University of Wisconsin-Madison

Noble metals resist oxidation and include many of the precious metals, such as platinum, palladium, iridium and gold.

"In the hydrogen evolution reaction, the whole game is coming up with inexpensive alternatives to platinum and the other noble metals," says Song Jin, a professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In the online edition of Nature Materials that appears today, Jin's research team reports a hydrogen-making catalyst containing phosphorus and sulfur -- both common elements -- and cobalt, a metal that is 1,000 times cheaper than platinum.

Catalysts reduce the energy needed to start a chemical reaction. The new catalyst is almost as efficient as platinum and likely shows the highest catalytic performance among the non-noble metal catalysts reported so far, Jin reports.

The advance emerges from a long line of research in Jin's lab that has focused on the use of iron pyrite (fool's gold) and other inexpensive, abundant materials for energy transformation. Jin and his students Miguel Cabán-Acevedo and Michael Stone discovered the new high-performance catalyst by replacing iron to make cobalt pyrite, and then added phosphorus.

Although electricity is the usual energy source for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, "there is a lot of interest in using sunlight to split water directly," Jin says.

The new catalyst can also work with the energy from sunlight, Jin says. "We have demonstrated a proof-of-concept device for using this cobalt catalyst and solar energy to drive hydrogen generation, which also has the best reported efficiency for systems that rely only on inexpensive catalysts and materials to convert directly from sunlight to hydrogen."

Many researchers are looking to find a cheaper replacement for platinum, Jin says. "Because this new catalyst is so much better and so close to the performance of platinum, we immediately asked WARF (the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation) to file a provisional patent, which they did in just two weeks."

Many questions remain about a catalyst that has only been tested in the lab, Jin says. "One needs to consider the cost of the catalyst compared to the whole system. There's always a tradeoff: If you want to build the best electrolyzer, you still want to use platinum. If you are able to sacrifice a bit of performance and are more concerned about the cost and scalability, you may use this new cobalt catalyst."

Strategies to replace a significant portion of fossil fuels with renewable solar energy must be carried out on a huge scale if they are to affect the climate crisis, Jin says. "If you want to make a dent in the global warming problem, you have to think big. Whether we imagine making hydrogen from electricity, or directly from sunlight, we need square miles of devices to evolve that much hydrogen. And there might not be enough platinum to do that."

###

The collaborative team included Professor J.R. Schmidt, a theoretical chemist at UW-Madison, and electrical engineering Professor Jr-Hau He and his students from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. The U.S. Department of Energy provided major funding for the study.

David Tenenbaum
608-265-8549
djtenenb@wisc.edu

Media Contact

Song Jin
jin@chem.wisc.edu
608-262-1562

 @UWMadScience

http://www.wisc.edu 

Song Jin | EurekAlert!

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht The body's street sweepers
18.12.2017 | Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

nachricht Life on the edge prepares plants for climate change
18.12.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Entwicklungsbiologie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Error-free into the Quantum Computer Age

A study carried out by an international team of researchers and published in the journal Physical Review X shows that ion-trap technologies available today are suitable for building large-scale quantum computers. The scientists introduce trapped-ion quantum error correction protocols that detect and correct processing errors.

In order to reach their full potential, today’s quantum computer prototypes have to meet specific criteria: First, they have to be made bigger, which means...

Im Focus: Search for planets with Carmenes successful

German and Spanish researchers plan, build and use modern spectrograph

Since 2016, German and Spanish researchers, among them scientists from the University of Göttingen, have been hunting for exoplanets with the “Carmenes”...

Im Focus: First-of-its-kind chemical oscillator offers new level of molecular control

DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.

Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit...

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

The body's street sweepers

18.12.2017 | Life Sciences

Fast flowing heat in layered material heterostructures

18.12.2017 | Materials Sciences

Life on the edge prepares plants for climate change

18.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>