Groundbreaking Affordable Catalyst for Extracting Clean Fuel from Water

by Manuel Costa
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A team spearheaded by the Argonne National Laboratory has developed a cost-effective, cobalt-based catalyst, which significantly enhances the efficiency of extracting hydrogen from water. This development marks a substantial stride towards achieving the U.S Department of Energy’s (DOE) target to decrease the cost of producing green hydrogen substantially.

This new catalyst offers a cost-effective solution for the production of environmentally sustainable hydrogen from water.

A bountiful source of clean energy resides right under our noses – hydrogen from water (H2O) using renewable energy. Scientists are actively seeking economical approaches to derive clean hydrogen from water with the intention to replace fossil fuels and combat global warming.

Hydrogen, besides producing nothing but water when used to power vehicles, has critical applications in various industrial processes. It is particularly crucial in steel and ammonia production. The incorporation of cleaner hydrogen in these industries could bring substantial benefits.

The team that pioneered this low-cost catalyst includes researchers from DOE’s Sandia National Laboratories, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Giner Inc., and is led by the Argonne National Laboratory.

The process of producing hydrogen and oxygen from water through electrolysis is not new, as noted by Di-Jia Liu, senior chemist at Argonne, who also has an appointment at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago. Proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzers, a newer technology, can split water into hydrogen and oxygen more efficiently and at near room temperature. Their lower energy requirements make them ideal for generating clean hydrogen using intermittent renewable sources such as solar and wind.

In a PEM electrolyzer, separate catalysts are used for each electrode (cathode and anode). The cathode catalyst produces hydrogen, while the anode catalyst forms oxygen. The current anode catalyst uses iridium, which has a high market price of approximately $5,000 per ounce. The scarcity and high cost of iridium are substantial barriers to the widespread adoption of PEM electrolyzers.

Cobalt, the main component in the newly developed catalyst, is significantly cheaper than iridium. Liu explained that their aim was to develop a low-cost anode catalyst that generates hydrogen at a high throughput while consuming minimal energy. By utilizing the cobalt-based catalyst, they managed to overcome the primary cost barrier to producing clean hydrogen in electrolyzers.

Giner Inc., renowned for its work on the commercialization of electrolyzers and fuel cells, assessed the new catalyst under industrial conditions. The catalyst’s performance and durability surpassed those of competitors.

To further enhance the catalyst’s performance, understanding the reaction mechanism at the atomic level under electrolyzer operating conditions is critical. Using X-ray analyses, electron microscopy, and computational modeling, the team was able to uncover essential structural changes that occur under operating conditions and gain important insights into the catalyst’s durability.

This research accomplishment is a leap towards the DOE’s Hydrogen Energy Earthshot initiative. The ambitious objective of this initiative is to decrease the cost of green hydrogen production to one dollar per kilogram within a decade. This could transform the nation’s economy with potential applications spanning the electric grid, manufacturing, transportation, and residential and commercial heating.

Liu noted that their results pave a promising way forward to substitute expensive precious metal catalysts with significantly cheaper and more abundant elements.

The research was supported by the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office, and Argonne Laboratory Directed Research and Development funding.

Their findings were published on 11 May 2023, in Science under the title “La- and Mn-doped cobalt spinel oxygen evolution catalyst for proton exchange membrane electrolysis.”

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Cobalt-based catalyst

What is the new development in extracting hydrogen from water?

The Argonne National Laboratory has developed a low-cost, cobalt-based catalyst that significantly improves the efficiency of extracting hydrogen from water. This is a considerable step towards reducing the costs associated with the production of green hydrogen.

How does the new cobalt-based catalyst work?

The cobalt-based catalyst is used as an anode catalyst in a Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) electrolyzer. This new generation of technology can split water into hydrogen and oxygen more efficiently and at near room temperature. The main advantage of using cobalt instead of the previously used iridium is the significantly lower cost, which helps to overcome a major barrier to the widespread adoption of PEM electrolyzers.

What are the potential applications of this technology?

The technology offers a cost-effective method for generating clean, sustainable hydrogen. Hydrogen can be used as a potent power source for vehicles and is crucial in several industrial processes, particularly in the production of steel and ammonia. It could significantly reshape the nation’s economy, with potential applications spanning the electric grid, manufacturing, transportation, and residential and commercial heating.

Who are the other contributors to this research?

Apart from Argonne National Laboratory, other contributors to the research include the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Sandia National Laboratories and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, as well as Giner Inc.

How does this research align with the DOE’s Hydrogen Energy Earthshot initiative?

The research is a significant step forward in the DOE’s Hydrogen Energy Earthshot initiative, which aims to decrease the cost of green hydrogen production to one dollar per kilogram within a decade. By developing a cost-effective catalyst for hydrogen extraction, the research supports the achievement of this goal.

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7 comments

Thomas M. July 20, 2023 - 8:11 pm

Why aren’t we already using this everywhere? if it’s as good as it sounds, it should be standard right? i mean, it’s not like iridium is easy to come by…

Reply
Sara1995 July 20, 2023 - 9:08 pm

Can’t wait to see how this impacts the renewable energy sector. bout time we move away from fossil fuels. this could be a game changer.

Reply
Louise C July 20, 2023 - 10:32 pm

This is great news! Cheaper green hydrogen could revolutionise our energy production, and help fight climate change. Go science!

Reply
HarryRed July 20, 2023 - 11:41 pm

More power to them, if this works as described, could be a real game changer. we need to win the war against fossil fuels and fast!

Reply
Jessica Green July 21, 2023 - 12:14 am

whoa this is really cool! cheaper catalyst, cleaner fuel! Let’s hope we can get this to market quick.

Reply
Ben Dover July 21, 2023 - 12:49 am

Hope this leads to cheaper green energy and helps us fight climate change… its high time we got serious about this!

Reply
Raj Patel July 21, 2023 - 4:03 am

Always admired the work done by Argonne National Laboratory. Pioneering work in clean energy. Kudos to the team!

Reply

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