More Efficient Production of Hydrogen is Possible says Stanford

Hydrogen energy

The scheme of hydrogen fuel cell. (Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy)

A more efficient production of hydrogen by electrolysis seems to be a step closer thanks to a discovery by researchers at Stanford University.

They developed electrodes from nickel and iron: low cost materials which are available in large quantities.

Nowadays precious and scarce precious metals such as platinum and iridium are mainly used for electrolysis. Because of the relatively low yield and the high material costs, the production of hydrogen by electrolysis is expensive.

One kilogram of hydrogen costs over 13 USD (10 euros). For this reason, most of the hydrogen is made ​​with the help of natural gas: a cheaper, but energy-intensive process in which there is no question of profit for the climate, unless the released carbon dioxide can be stored.

American researchers have developed nanotube electrodes of nickel metal and nickel oxide. They succeeded in splitting the water at room temperature and with a low voltage of 1.5 volts. Their findings were published last week in Nature Communications.

An important publication according to Delft University. This low voltage is nice. But the real gain is that with a cheap catalyst results are achieved that come close to platinum.

More research needed

The question is now whether the technology works on a large scale and how sustainable the catalysts are. These are still open questions. After a few hours the efficiency decreases. The electrodes are not really stable because there is an agglomeration of Nano particles during the process which reduces its effectiveness. But this is definitely not a show stopper. There is simply more research needed.

American researchers say they still not know why it works so well. Based on recent experiments they expect that a lifetime of several months should be possible.

Our study shows that nanotechnology enables new constitutions of fuel production, says investigator Hongjie Dai from the Stanford University.

About electrolysis

During electrolysis, an electric flow splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen serves as a temporary storage of energy and can later be used in fuel cells that drive electric cars. Hydrogen production and storage are considered to be a necessary intermediate step to store renewable energy surplus.


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