Washington State University (WSU) researchers have created a porous nanofoam that could serve as a means for efficiently generating hydrogen from water.
Considered to be an important key to making clean energy more viable, the simple, five-minute method can create large amounts of a high-quality catalyst required for the chemical reaction to split water.
Energy conversion and storage is paramount to the clean energy economy, and hydrogen seems to be a worthwhile solution as it has myriads of uses in industry. It also helps power hydrogen fuel-cell cars.
However, industries haven’t been very keen in using the water splitting process, due to the prohibitive cost of platinum or ruthenium – the precious metal catalysts used in the hydrogen conversion process. Many of the methods to split water also require too much energy, or the required catalyst materials break down too quickly.
Now WSU researchers led by professor Yuehe Lin have made use of two abundantly available and cheap metals – nickel and iron – to create a porous nanofoam that worked better than most catalysts that currently are used, including those made from the precious metals.
The catalyst 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.
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 catalyst characterization.
Image credits and content: Washington State University