New low-cost catalyst to make production of clean hydrogen from water viable, say researchers

Industry Insights Technology

An abundant supply of clean energy is available to be extracted. It is the hydrogen we can obtain from water using renewable energy. Scientists are striving to develop cost-effective methods to obtain clean hydrogen from water to substitute fossil fuels, in the quest to combat climate change.

Hydrogen can power vehicles while emitting only water. Hydrogen is also a key chemical for many industrial processes, most notably in ammonia production and steel making. It is highly desirable to use cleaner hydrogen in those industries.

In a bid for this, a multi-institutional team led by the Argonne National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy has developed a low-cost catalyst for a process that gives clean hydrogen from water.

“Electrolysis that produces oxygen and hydrogen from water has been around for more than a century,” stated a senior chemist at Argonne.

Proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzers are a new generation of technology for this process. They can disintegrate water into oxygen and hydrogen with higher efficiency at near room temperature. The process requires less energy, hence it is the best choice to obtain clean hydrogen by using wind and solar, which are abundantly available renewable sources.

In terms of function, the electrolyzer works with separate catalysts for each of its electrodes. The anode catalyst yields oxygen, while the cathode catalyst forms hydrogen. A challenge is that the anode catalyst utilizes iridium, which is priced at around US$ 5,000 per ounce. The high cost and lack of supply of iridium pose a major challenge for the vast adoption of PEM electrolyzers.

On the other hand, the key ingredient in the new catalyst is cobalt, which is significantly cheaper than iridium. Researchers are striving to create a low-cost anode catalyst in a PEM electrolyzer that produces hydrogen in high volume while using minimal energy

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