New catalyst material produces cheap hydrogen

QUT chemistry researchers have discovered cheaper and more efficient materials for producing hydrogen for the storage of renewable energy that could replace current water-splitting catalysts.

Why it matters

The potential for the chemical storage of renewable energy in the form of hydrogen is being investigated around the world. Hydrogen offers a way to store clean energy at the scale required to make the roll-out of large-scale solar and wind farms and the export of green energy viable. The Australian Government is interested in developing a hydrogen export industry to export our abundant renewable energy.

Research overview

Current methods of producing hydrogen use carbon sources which emit carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that mitigates the benefits of using renewable energy from the sun and wind.

Electrochemical water splitting driven by electricity sourced from renewable energy technology has been identified as one of the most sustainable methods of producing high-purity hydrogen.
Traditionally, catalysts for splitting water involve expensive precious metals such as iridium oxide, ruthenium oxide and platinum. In addition, stability has been an issue, especially for the oxygen evolution part of the process.
QUT scientists have developed a new composite material that enables water to be split electrochemically  into hydrogen and oxygen using cheap and readily available elements as catalysts.  The material uses two earth-abundant cheaper alternatives – cobalt and nickel oxide with only a fraction of gold nanoparticles – to create a stable bi-functional catalyst to split water and produce hydrogen without emissions. From an industry point of view, it makes a lot of sense to use one catalyst material instead of two different catalysts to produce hydrogen from water.
The stored hydrogen can be used in fuel cells, which are already being used in many vehicles. Fuel cells use hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity – essentially the opposite of water splitting.
By increasing the availability of cheaply ‘made’ hydrogen, this research makes it possible to:

  • feed fuel cell-generated electricity back into the grid when required during peak demand
  • power our transportation system with the only emission being water.

QUT project team

More information

  • Publication: Gold Doping in a Layered Co-Ni Hydroxide System via Galvanic Replacement for Overall Electrochemical, Advanced Functional Materials