New catalyst could help bring hydrogen fuel economy closer

catalyst-cobalt-Jin-Wisconsin-hydrogen-fuel-solar-climate-change-EDIWeekly

Hydrogen, according to many, including now a University of Wisconsin chemistry professor, could be the ideal fuel. Whether used for making electricity in a fuel cell or burned to make heat, its only by-product is water. There is no carbon dioxide.

In order to produce usable hydrogen, water must be separated into its constituent oxygen and hydrogen. The water-splitting devices that do this run on electricity and usually use very expensive oxidation-resistant metals like platinum, palladium and even gold as the catalyst for the process. Professor Song Jin said that “the whole game” is coming up with inexpensive catalyst alternatives to the noble metals, and he believes he has found one.

Writing in an online journal Nature Materials, Jin and his researchers claim that they have used the “Earth-abundant” elements phosphorus and sulfur along with cobalt, described as 1,000 times cheaper than platinum, to make hydrogen. 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 says that the best results are still achieved with platinum, but if “a bit of performance” can be sacrificed and cost is a concern, the cobalt catalyst would be a good alternative.

It may also become a necessity because of the relative scarcity of platinum. Speaking of the climate change implications of hydrogen as a fuel, Jin noted that a “significant portion” of the fossil fuels we now use would have to be replaced in order to make a difference. To make enough renewable fuel to have an impact on the “climate crisis” of global warming, we will need “square miles” of devices to produce that much hydrogen. There might not be enough platinum to do that, he said.

The scalable and sustainable production of hydrogen fuel through water splitting demands efficient and robust Earth-abundant catalysts for the hydrogen evolution reaction (HER). Building on promising metal compounds with high HER catalytic activity, such as pyrite structure cobalt disulphide (CoS2), and substituting non-metal elements to tune the hydrogen adsorption free energy could lead to further improvements in catalytic activity.

Though the usual method of splitting water uses electricity, it can also be done using sunlight, said Jin. His team has demonstrated a proof-of-concept device that uses the cobalt catalyst and solar energy to generate hydrogen.

The photo above shows the photoelectrolysis cell using solar energy to split hydrogen and oxygen with the catalyst cobalt. The device is bathed in simulated sunlight.

Photo credit: David Tenenbaum

Did you miss this?

Other Popular Stories

  • $25.8 million Low Carbon Innovation Fund aims to help commercialize technologies that reduce greenhouse emissions.
  • Electricity-conducting cement could make runways, roads ice proof
  • Jobs that are at risk of automation — and jobs that are not
  • Space X Falcon Heavy launch live! 'Great rocket launch or the best fireworks display,' says Elon Musk. Watch the launch at 3pm today live on EDI Weekly
  • Ontario Faces Uncertain Future with Carbon Tax
  • Surveillance systems company receives $75M federal investment
  • BMW unveils i3, the electric car of the future
  • The New ispace Lunar Lander — Commercial space travel to the far side of the moon
  • Pipeline companies support new government regulations
  • Oil prices, production in Canada not likely to reach former levels again: CIBC
  • Canada-US trade as it should be, but diversification desirable: report
  • Calgary company a leader in waterless fracking
  • Manufacturers group says government policies reflect its input
  • British cheer awarding of train contract to Bombardier
  • Five defence industry technologies — right out of science fiction — that are real today
  • Pipelines, railways equally safe for transporting crude oil: report
  • Automation-proof jobs, and jobs that will eventually be automated
  • Engineers Develop a Way to Recycle Single Wear PPE Facemasks into Road Materials
  • January manufacturing sales best ever: Statistics Canada
  • Ontario and Saskatchewan criticizes the Federal Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan in a joint official statement
Scroll to Top