New catalyst based on carbon nanotubes may rival cost-prohibitive platinum for reactions that split water into hydrogen and oxygen
Rutgers researchers have developed a technology that could overcome a major cost barrier to make clean-burning
hydrogen gas – one that could replace expensive and environmentally harmful fossil fuels.
A new technology based on carbon nanotubes promises commercially viable hydrogen production from water.
The new technology is a novel catalyst that performs almost as well as cost-prohibitive platinum for so-called electrolysis reactions, which use electric currents to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The Rutgers technology is also far more efficient than less-expensive catalysts investigated to-date.
“Hydrogen has long been expected to play a vital role in our future energy landscapes by mitigating, if not completely eliminating, our reliance on fossil fuels,” said Tewodros (Teddy) Asefa, associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology in the School of Arts and Sciences. “We have developed a sustainable chemical catalyst that, we hope with the right industry partner, can bring this vision to life.”
Asefa is also an associate professor of chemical and biochemical engineering in the School of Engineering.
He and his colleagues based their new catalyst on carbon nanotubes – one-atom-thick sheets of carbon rolled into tubes 10,000 times thinner than a human hair.
Finding ways to make electrolysis reactions commercially viable is important because processes that make hydrogen today start with methane – itself a fossil fuel. The need to consume fossil fuel therefore negates current claims that hydrogen is a “green” fuel.
Electrolysis, however, could produce hydrogen using electricity generated by renewable sources, such as solar, wind and hydro energy, or by carbon-neutral sources, such as nuclear energy. And even if fossil fuels were used for electrolysis, the higher efficiency and better emissions controls of large power plants could give hydrogen fuel cells an advantage over less efficient and more polluting gasoline and diesel engines in millions of vehicles and other applications.
In a recent scientific paper published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition, Asefa and his colleagues reported that their technology, called “noble metal-free nitrogen-rich carbon nanotubes,” efficiently catalyze the hydrogen evolution reaction with activities close to that of platinum. They also function well in acidic, neutral or basic conditions, allowing them to be coupled with the best available oxygen-evolving catalysts that also play crucial roles in the water-splitting reaction.
The researchers have filed for a patent on the catalyst, which is available for licensing or research collaborations through the Rutgers Office of Technology Commercialization. The National Science Foundation funded the research.
Asefa, an expert in inorganic and materials chemistry, joined the Rutgers faculty in 2009 after four years as an assistant professor at Syracuse University. Originally from Ethiopia, he is a resident of Montgomery Township, N.J. In addition to catalysis and nanocatalysis, his research interests include novel inorganic nanomaterials and nanomaterials for biological, medical biosensing and solar cell applications.
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey
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Milan Stetina says
I don’t know world energy consumption (of course Google know it but I not check it), but BohrWasRight is definitely wrong. Almost all energy (let say 90%) is produced by burning carbon or hydrocarbon with atmospheric oxygen. It is done more then 200 years this way and nothing happened. The only result is rising concentration of carbon-dioxine in atmosphere from 250ppm to 380ppm (e.g. about 0.013% rising), but it is not sure whole increase is due to burning of fossil fuels.
Just for fun: If we were to arbitrarily pick 10% as a test case, as the amount of current world energy consumption would be migrated to hydrogen, and that one atom of oxygen was released for every two of hydrogen, would Oxygen be the next big hairy atmospheric polutant?
One might reply that when the hydrogen is burned, it uses atmospheric oxygen so the thing is a wash BUT in order to avoid localized imbalances, you’d have to transport oxygen and release it, or transport both the oxygen and hydrogen and burn/react them together. Other options, would include distributing the hydrogen production so that the O2 release is distributed or replacing existing of the current O2 production (Air Liquide / Air Products / et al).