Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Synthetic molecule first electricity-making catalyst to use iron to split hydrogen gas

18.02.2013
Fast and efficient biologically inspired catalyst could someday make fuel cells cheaper

To make fuel cells more economical, engineers want a fast and efficient iron-based molecule that splits hydrogen gas to make electricity.

Online Feb. 17 at Nature Chemistry, researchers report such a catalyst. It is the first iron-based catalyst that converts hydrogen directly to electricity. The result moves chemists and engineers one step closer to widely affordable fuel cells.

"A drawback with today's fuel cells is that the platinum they use is more than a thousand times more expensive than iron," said chemist R. Morris Bullock, who leads the research at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

His team at the Center for Molecular Electrocatalysis has been developing catalysts that use cheaper metals such as nickel and iron. The one they report here can split hydrogen as fast as two molecules per second with an efficiency approaching those of commercial catalysts. The center is one of 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers established by the DOE Office of Science across the nation in 2009 to accelerate basic research in energy.

Fuel cells generate electricity out of a chemical fuel, usually hydrogen. The bond within a hydrogen molecule stores electricity, where two electrons connect two hydrogen atoms like a barbell.

Fuel cells use a platinum catalyst -- essentially a chunk of metal -- to crack a hydrogen molecule open like an egg: The electron whites run out and form a current that is electricity. Because platinum's chemical nature gives it the ability to do this, chemists can't simply replace the expensive metal with the cheaper iron or nickel. However, a molecule that exists in nature called a hydrogenase (high-dra-jin-ace) uses iron to split hydrogen.

Bullock and his PNNL colleagues, chemists Tianbiao "Leo" Liu and Dan DuBois, have taken inspiration for their iron-wielding catalyst from a hydrogenase. First Liu created several potential molecules for the team to test. Then, with the best-working molecule up to that point, they determined and tweaked the shape and the internal electronic forces to make additional improvements.

One of the tricks they needed the catalyst to do was to split hydrogen atoms into all of their parts. If a hydrogen atom is an egg, the positively charged proton that serves as the nucleus of the atom would be the yolk. And the electron, which orbits around the proton in a cloud, would be the white. The catalyst moves both the proton-yolks and electron-whites around in a controlled series of steps, sending the protons in one direction and the electrons to an electrode, where the electricity can be used to power things.

To do this, they need to split hydrogen molecules unevenly in an early step of the process. One hydrogen molecule is made up of two protons and two electrons, but the team needed the catalyst to tug away one proton first and send it away, where it is caught by a kind of molecule called a proton acceptor. In a real fuel cell, the acceptor would be oxygen.

Once the first proton with its electron-wooing force is gone, the electrode easily plucks off the first electron. Then another proton and electron are similarly removed, with both of the electrons being shuttled off to the electrode.

The team determined the shape and size of the catalyst and also tested different proton acceptors. With the iron in the middle, arms hanging like pendants around the edges draw out the protons. The best acceptors stole these drawn-off protons away quickly.

With their design down, the team measured how fast the catalyst split molecular hydrogen. It peaked at about two molecules per second, thousands of times faster than the closest, non-electricity making iron-based competitor. In addition, they determined its overpotential, which is a measure of how efficient the catalyst is. Coming in at 160 to 220 millivolts, the catalyst revealed itself to be similar in efficiency to most commercially available catalysts.

Now the team is figuring out the slow steps so they can make them faster, as well as determining the best conditions under which this catalyst performs.

This work was supported by the Department of Energy, Office of Science.

Reference: Tianbiao Liu, Daniel L. DuBois and R. Morris Bullock. An iron complex with pendent amines as a molecular electrocatalyst for oxidation of hydrogen, Nature Chemistry, Month Day, 2013, doi:10.1038/NCHEM.1571.

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 4,500 staff, has an annual budget of nearly $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.

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 the Office of Science website at science.energy.gov.

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

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Rice study decodes genetic circuitry for bacterial spore formation
24.05.2016 | Rice University

nachricht How Neural Circuits Implement Natural Vision
24.05.2016 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Atomic precision: technologies for the next-but-one generation of microchips

In the Beyond EUV project, the Fraunhofer Institutes for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen and for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering IOF in Jena are developing key technologies for the manufacture of a new generation of microchips using EUV radiation at a wavelength of 6.7 nm. The resulting structures are barely thicker than single atoms, and they make it possible to produce extremely integrated circuits for such items as wearables or mind-controlled prosthetic limbs.

In 1965 Gordon Moore formulated the law that came to be named after him, which states that the complexity of integrated circuits doubles every one to two...

Im Focus: Researchers demonstrate size quantization of Dirac fermions in graphene

Characterization of high-quality material reveals important details relevant to next generation nanoelectronic devices

Quantum mechanics is the field of physics governing the behavior of things on atomic scales, where things work very differently from our everyday world.

Im Focus: Graphene: A quantum of current

When current comes in discrete packages: Viennese scientists unravel the quantum properties of the carbon material graphene

In 2010 the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded for the discovery of the exceptional material graphene, which consists of a single layer of carbon atoms...

Im Focus: Transparent - Flexible - Printable: Key technologies for tomorrow’s displays

The trend-forward world of display technology relies on innovative materials and novel approaches to steadily advance the visual experience, for example through higher pixel densities, better contrast, larger formats or user-friendler design. Fraunhofer ISC’s newly developed materials for optics and electronics now broaden the application potential of next generation displays. Learn about lower cost-effective wet-chemical printing procedures and the new materials at the Fraunhofer ISC booth # 1021 in North Hall D during the SID International Symposium on Information Display held from 22 to 27 May 2016 at San Francisco’s Moscone Center.

Economical processing

Im Focus: Trojan horses for hospital bugs

Staphylococcus aureus usually is a formidable bacterial pathogen. Sometimes, however, weakened forms are found in the blood of patients. Researchers of the University of Würzburg have now identified one mutation responsible for that phenomenon.

Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium that is frequently found on the human skin and in the nose where it usually behaves inconspicuously. However, once inside...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Networking 4.0: International Laser Technology Congress AKL’16 Shows New Ways of Cooperations

24.05.2016 | Event News

Challenges of rural labor markets

20.05.2016 | Event News

International expert meeting “Health Business Connect” in France

19.05.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rutgers scientists help create world's largest coral gene database

24.05.2016 | Earth Sciences

New technique controls autonomous vehicles on a dirt track

24.05.2016 | Information Technology

Programmable materials find strength in molecular repetition

24.05.2016 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>