Improved Way for Creating Hydrogen Developed

A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have recently developed a new catalyst material, based on cobalt phosphate rather than expensive metals like platinum, which can be used for hydrolysis in water. Electrolysis breaks water into hydrogen and oxygen and is currently used in many industrial processes where hydrogen is needed. The researchers are hoping that the discovery could lead to homes that capture solar energy to make hydrogen for power.




Daniel G. Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy at MIT, has developed a simple method to split water molecules and produce oxygen gas, a discovery that paves the way for large-scale use of solar power. Photo / Donna Coveney
Daniel G. Nocera developed a
simple method to split water molecules
and produce oxygen gas, a discovery
that paves the way for large-scale use
of solar power (Credit:MIT/Donna Coveney)

The major problem with hydrolysis is its lack of efficiency due to the fact that power is needed to produce the electrical current that breaks the hydrogen and oxygen out of the water. In addition, the electrodes used in the process tend to be made from very expensive and precious metals like platinum. 

The goal is for the new catalyst material to work in a closed-loop system that can make hydrogen with power gathered from solar energy or other electrical sources. The closed-loop concept would have hydrogen and water running though a fuel cell and the water would be recaptured and reused.  

 With Daniel Nocera's and Matthew Kanan's new catalyst, homeowners could use their solar panels during the day to power their home, while also using the energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen for storage. At night, the stored hydrogen and oxygen could be recombined using a fuel cell to generate power while the solar panels are inactive (Credit: MIT)
With Daniel Nocera’s and Matthew Kanan’s
new catalyst, homeowners could use
their solar panels during the day to power
their home, while also using the energy
to split water into hydrogen and oxygen
for storage. At night, the
stored hydrogen and oxygen could
be recombined using a fuel cel l to generate
power while thesolar panels
are inactive (Credit: MIT)

Within ten years the researchers hope that the technology will be able to yield a cost-effective system that combines clean energy generation with storage. The new catalyst material can operate in plain water at normal atmospheric pressure. 

John Turner from the National Renewable Energy Laboratories (NREL) says “The initial results look promising but it doesn’t answer all the things you need in a catalyst.” – More research is still needed to bring hydrogen to the consumer market as a cost effective way of producing power. 

TFOT recently covered the First Hydrogen Powered Manned Flight demonstrated using a modified glider built by Boeing as well as Windhunter concept which makes Hydrogen from Wind. 

More about the new catalyst can be found on MIT’s website (and video).