Researchers find new, inexpensive catalyst to speed up production of oxygen from water

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Research on electrochemical reaction is currently at the center of multiple approaches that disintegrates water molecules to produce alternative fuels for transportation. This reaction, however, has to be triggered by a catalyst material and the current version requires use of sparse and costly elements such as iridium that limits the potential of such fuel production.

In a new development, researchers at MIT and other institutions have developed a completely new type of catalyst substance called metal hydroxide-organic framework, which is composed of inexpensive and abundantly available components. The family of material enables engineers to tune the catalysts’ structure and composition accurately to the needs of a particular chemical process, and then make it match or exceed the performance of conventional comparatively expensive catalysts.

The findings of the study are published in the journal Nature Materials.

In fact, for electrochemical production of chemicals, fuels, and material, oxygen evolution is one of the common reactions. These processes include the generation of hydrogen as a by product of oxygen evolution, which can be directly used as a fuel or can undergo chemical reactions to generate other transportation fuels, for application in the production of ammonia, for use as a fertilizer or chemical raw material, and for reduction of carbon dioxide in order to curb emissions.

Nonetheless, any of these reactions are sluggish without help. For example, for a reaction with slow kinetics, it requires giving up energy or voltage to promote the reaction rate. The extra input energy that is required leads to low overall efficiency. This is why catalysts are used.

However, so far, catalysts all rely on costly materials or late transition metals that are scarcely available, for example iridium oxide.

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