A plentiful supply of clean energy is lurking in plain sight. Hydrogen can power vehicles while emitting nothing but water; it is also an important chemical for many industrial processes, most notably in steel-making and ammonia production.
As part of the quest to combat climate change, scientists are seeking low-cost methods for producing hydrogen from water to replace fossil fuels. To be truly clean, this process needs to be done using renewable energy.
A multi-institutional team led by Argonne National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy lab affiliated with the University of Chicago, has developed a low-cost catalyst for a process that yields clean hydrogen from water.
“Our results establish a promising path forward in replacing catalysts made from expensive precious metals with elements that are much less expensive and more abundant,” said study author Di-Jia Liu, a senior chemist at Argonne who holds a joint appointment in the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago.
Removing the bottleneck
The process to split water into hydrogen and oxygen is called electrolysis, and it has been around for more than a century.
In earlier days, the technique for this process used a lot of energy. But a new generation of technology for this process, known as proton exchange membrane electrolyzers, can run with higher efficiency at near room temperature. The reduced energy demand makes them an ideal choice for producing clean hydrogen by using renewable but intermittent sources, such as solar and wind.