Antonio Manaytay – Fourth Estate Contributor
Pullman, WA, United States (4E) – Making clean energy could never be more viable after the researchers at Washington State University had developed – although still at lab-scale – a new and very simple way to generate hydrogen from water.
In a study published in the journal Nano Energy, the researchers used affordable nickel and iron in developing a method to create high-quality catalysts in large amounts necessary for a chemical reaction to split water.
Clean energy economy is hindered by energy conversion and storage issues. Renewable sources such as solar and wind are not stable sources of energy as it critically needs new and efficient methods to store and save the power they generated.
The new method could solve the bottleneck: use the excess energy created by the renewable sources to split water into its two molecular components – oxygen and hydrogen. And hydrogen could be utilized to power hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.
Prior to the study, attempt to split water into oxygen and hydrogen was limited due to the high cost of doing it. Prices of materials such as platinum or ruthenium were too expensive. Also, previous methods require a high amount of energy to split water.
“We took a very simple approach that could be used easily in large-scale production,” Shaofang Fu, A WSU doctoral student who synthesized the catalyst and performed most of the testing, said.
The researchers led by professor Yuehe Lin in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering developed the simple five-minute method by utilizing cheap metals in creating porous nanofoam, which looks like a tiny sponge.
The nanofoam, according to the study, has a unique atomic structure and has many exposed surfaces. It can catalyze the needed chemical reaction with less energy required showing minimal loss of activity during the 12-hour test in the laboratory.
The study was corroborated by the 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,” Junhua Song, also a doctoral student at WSU who worked on the catalyst characterization explained.
Lin said the new method is still at lab-scale testing but it is “very promising.”
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