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Curtin research identifies cheaper catalyst for producing hydrogen

Researchers from Curtin University have identified a cheaper and more efficient electrocatalyst to make green hydrogen from water — a promising discovery that could open new avenues for large-scale clean energy production.

Splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen is usually accelerated using precious metal catalysts like platinum. Recent research, however, shows that adding nickel and cobalt to cheaper catalysts enhances their performance, lowering the energy required to split water and increasing hydrogen yield.

Curtin School of Molecular and Life Sciences Lead researcher Dr Guohua Jia said the discovery could make sustainable green fuel generation more cost-effective and efficient in the future.

“Our research essentially saw us take two-dimensional iron-sulfur nanocrystals, which don’t usually work as catalysts for the electricity-driven reaction that gets hydrogen from water, and add small amounts of nickel and cobalt ions,” Jia said. 

“When we did this it completely transformed the poor-performing iron-sulfur into a viable and efficient catalyst.

“Using these more abundant materials is cheaper and more efficient than the current benchmark material, ruthenium oxide, which is derived from ruthenium element and is expensive.”

New combinations

Jia said the findings broaden the existing “palette” of possible particle combinations, but also introduce a new, efficient catalyst that may be useful in other applications.

“It also opens new avenues for future research in the energy sector, putting Australia at the forefront of renewable and clean energy research and applications,” he said.

The next step would be to expand the team’s work on a larger scale to test its commercial viability, Jia said.

“Only 21% of energy is produced from renewables in the national energy market, which clearly indicates more efforts are required from Australia to make a transition from fossil fuels to clean energy,” he said.

“But this shift is only possible when the knowledge from the research sector gets translated into real-world solutions and applications in the energy sector.”

The study was a collaboration between researchers Dr Guohua Jia and Dr Franca Jones from Curtin’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences, and Professor Zongping Shao from WA School of Mines: Minerals, Energy and Chemical Engineering.