Researchers energised by a catalyst that triples the efficacy of hydrogen production

Green hydrogen energy relies on a reaction called electrolysis, which is the splitting of water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. Electrolysis can be a corrosive process and currently most hydrogen fuel cells are filled with expensive metals like platinum to ensure their longevity.

New candidates for better electrolysers are emerging all the time. The most recent frontrunner is a hydrogen fuel cell that sets record durability – on a fifth of the typical amount of platinum.

The new hydrogen fuel cell, described in a paper in Nature Catalysis, relies on a catalyst made from an alloy of platinum and iron to work. The metals are broken up into tiny nanoparticles, a thousand times smaller than most bacteria.

The catalyst still performs at 97% of its activity after over 100,000 cycles. Similar top-performing catalysts of its ilk have previously only managed to stay at 83% after 30,000 cycles.

Density-voltage graph on one side, electron microscope image of catalyst on other side
(Left) The new hybrid catalyst maintains the platinum catalytic activity at 97% after 100,000 cycles of accelerated stress test; (Right) The new electrocatalyst contains atomically dispersed platinum, iron single atoms and platinum-iron nanoparticles. Credit: HKUST

“Hydrogen fuel cells are an energy conversion device essential for our aspiration of achieving a carbon neutral world,” says senior author Professor Minhua Shao, a researcher in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

“There is a need to expand its use amidst our fight against climate change.  We are delighted to see our research findings bringing this goal a step closer.”

Shao says that the team next plans to refine its catalyst, and figure out how to make it compatible with vehicles and other devices that run on hydrogen fuel cells.

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