Umeå University researchers develop new method to produce hydrogen more affordably

Researchers at Umeå University have achieved a significant breakthrough in the production of hydrogen, a clean and CO2-free fuel. This development promises to make hydrogen more affordable, contributing to the transition towards a sustainable society. The team, led by Eduardo Gracia from the Department of Physics at Umeå University, has devised an innovative method to enhance the production of hydrogen gas from water and electricity. Their study, published in Communications Engineering, presents this remarkable advancement.

Hydrogen gas holds great potential as an energy source capable of replacing fossil fuels. The process of water electrolysis, which involves splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, is crucial for hydrogen production. To facilitate this reaction, an electrocatalyst is required. Presently, the most efficient technology for water electrolysis is proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolysis.

With their groundbreaking research, Umeå University researchers have made a significant contribution to the field, opening up new possibilities for the widespread adoption of hydrogen as a sustainable fuel source.

Metal dissolution: An issue that must be tackled

Nevertheless, one notable drawback of PEM water electrolysis for hydrogen production lies in its reliance on noble metals like platinum, ruthenium, and iridium. While these metals exhibit excellent catalytic properties, they are not only costly but also have limited availability. Additionally, over time, ruthenium and iridium tend to degrade, resulting in decreased efficiency.

Associate Professor Eduardo Gracia emphasizes the significance of addressing this challenge: “Metal dissolution, which leads to the breakdown of noble metals, poses a critical hindrance to efficient hydrogen production. Overcoming this obstacle is crucial for maximizing the potential of PEM technology.”

Finding a solution to the issue of metal dissolution is vital in advancing the PEM water electrolysis process and making hydrogen production more economically viable and sustainable.

Stabilizing noble metals

The resolution to the degradation issue of strong electrocatalysts lies in the concept of encapsulating the expensive and highly active metals within a stable and inactive framework. This breakthrough has been achieved by the Umeå University research team, led by Eduardo Gracia, who have developed a novel scaffold—a supportive structure capable of preserving the stability of noble metals even in challenging conditions.

The scaffold itself comprises a combination of tin, antimony, molybdenum, and tungsten oxides (Sn-Sb-Mo-W). This composition has demonstrated remarkable strength in safeguarding not only the noble metals but also other integral components of the system against degradation during the hydrogen production process.

By significantly extending the lifespan of noble metals, the findings of the Umeå University researchers hold the potential to enhance the affordability and efficiency of PEM technology for large-scale, renewable hydrogen production. This achievement represents a crucial milestone in our journey towards realizing a sustainable society.

Source: Umea University

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