New method efficiently generates hydrogen from water

February 1, 2018, Washington State University
WSU researchers have found a way to create large amounts of inexpensive nanofoam catalysts that can facilitate the generation of hydrogen on a large scale by splitting water molecules. Credit: Washington State University

Washington State University researchers have found a way to more efficiently generate hydrogen from water—an important key to making clean energy more viable.

Using inexpensive nickel and iron, the researchers developed a very simple, five-minute method to create large amounts of a high-quality catalyst required for the chemical reaction to split water.

They describe their method in the February issue of the journal Nano Energy.

Energy conversion and storage is a key to the economy. Because solar and wind sources produce power only intermittently, there is a critical need for ways to store and save the electricity they create. One of the most promising ideas for storing renewable is to use the excess electricity generated from renewables to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. Hydrogen has myriad uses in industry and could be used to power hydrogen fuel-cell cars.

Industries have not widely used the water splitting process, however, because of the prohibitive cost of the precious metal catalysts that are required—usually platinum or ruthenium. Many of the methods to split also require too much energy, or the required catalyst materials break down too quickly.

In their work, the researchers, led by professor Yuehe Lin in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, used two abundantly available and cheap metals to create a porous nanofoam that worked better than most catalysts that currently are used, including those made from the precious metals. The catalyst they created looks like a tiny sponge. With its unique atomic structure and many exposed surfaces throughout the material, the nanofoam can catalyze the important reaction with less energy than other catalysts. The catalyst showed very little loss in activity in a 12-hour stability test.

"We took a very simple approach that could be used easily in large-scale production," said Shaofang Fu, a WSU Ph.D. student who synthesized the catalyst and did most of the activity testing.

Yuehe Lin (left) and Shaofang Fu, a WSU Ph.D. student, in WSU Lin's materials engineering lab Credit: Washington State University

The WSU researchers collaborated on the project with researchers at Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

"The advanced materials characterization facility at the national laboratories provided the deep understanding of the composition and structures of the catalysts," said Junhua Song, another WSU Ph.D. student who worked on the characterization.

The researchers are now seeking additional support to scale up their work for large-scale testing.

"This is just lab-scale testing, but this is very promising," said Lin.

Explore further: Improved water splitting advances renewable energy conversion

More information: Shaofang Fu et al, Ultrafine and highly disordered Ni 2 Fe 1 nanofoams enabled highly efficient oxygen evolution reaction in alkaline electrolyte, Nano Energy (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.nanoen.2017.12.010

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1 / 5 (2) Feb 02, 2018
Author - where did you go to school? You do understand that the word "efficiency" as in your title "New method efficiently generates hydrogen from water" necessarily has to include economic efficiency. There is no mention of economic data or economic efficiency in the article. The article says "more efficient" way to generate hydrogen which is not a conclusion of being "efficient." needs to get some far more competent editors, as well more accurate and better trained writers.
4 / 5 (2) Feb 02, 2018
I read 'efficiency ' to mean that a high proportion of the input energy goes into splitting water molecules. My question is how are the oxygen and hydrogen separated? A mixture of the two would be a little risky.
3 / 5 (2) Feb 02, 2018
You do understand that the word "efficiency" as in your title "New method efficiently generates hydrogen from water" necessarily has to include economic efficiency.

Since the article mentions it's made from chaep materials, easy to produce in large quantities and works as a catalyst comparable with much more expensive materials - where's your problem? All the economic bases seem covered.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 02, 2018
This is a scientific paper, not an engineering design report. It doesn't consider economic efficiency in anything but the most distant sense. You might as well expect a kindergarten report card to include a forecast for the child's retirement savings.
not rated yet Feb 03, 2018
Author - where did you go to school? You do understand that the word "efficiency" as in your title "New method efficiently generates hydrogen from water" necessarily has to include economic efficiency.

Why "necessarily has to include economic efficiency"? That is nonsense. When talking about energy efficiency in physics, what is "economic" has very little if anything to do with it! Where did YOU go to school?
not rated yet Feb 03, 2018
#G, the H2 & O2 are produced at opposite electrodes, so an inverted weir would suffice. Or a semi-permeable / gas-repellent membrane if scaled up...

Snag is they only ran the rig for 12 hours. 100 hours would be much more convincing...

I'm a bit concerned about corrosion of the nickel-iron on the Oxygen side, but such worked okay in NiFe wet-cells, which were as strongly alkaline as Lead-Acid batteries are acid...

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