Princeton University researchers conducted tests to find a new promising and cheaper hydrogen fuel catalyst.
A research team led by a Princeton University professor of biological and chemical engineering, Bruce E. Koel, have reportedly been studying a platinum catalyst alternative for producing hydrogen fuel. Their study findings, which were published in a paper in the journal Nature Communications, reveal that a chemical compound based on hafnium worked about 60% as effectively as platinum-related materials. The bonus: the material is about one-fifth the cost of platinum.
Platinum is currently the most effective catalyst for generating hydrogen gas.
In order to create hydrogen fuel, there are serval processes to its production. That being said, one of the most vital of these processes requires a catalyst. A catalyst is used in reactions to create hydrogen gas, which serves as the fuel for the fuel cell.
Most commonly, electricity is used to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen in the presence of a catalyst. The more efficient the catalyst is, the less energy is required to split the water.
At the moment, platinum group metals are the best catalysts for both reactions. The researchers do not believe that this is likely to change because platinum is nearly perfect as the electrochemical reactions that result with platinum group metals is fast and efficient. Moreover, the metals can withstand the harsh acidic conditions presently required for these reactions to occur.
That being said, platinum is a precious and rare metal that is very costly (and not clean) to obtain. For this reason, scientists all over the world are searching for a platinum catalyst alternative that offers a more practical, renewable, and low-cost option.
“You can’t really imagine replacing the transportation infrastructure with fuel cells based on platinum,” Koel said, reports Phys.org. “It’s too rare and too expensive to use at that scale.”
The researchers plan to test zirconium as the next platinum catalyst alternative.
Hafnium may be much cheaper than platinum, but the fact remains that the hafnium-based film the researchers tested is only about two-thirds as effective as platinum. Next, they have plans to test zirconium, which is an even cheaper material.
Koel and his fellow research partner Xiaofang Yang, principal scientist at HiT Nano Inc. and visiting collaborator at Princeton, believe that these materials are likely to be valuable in systems that deploy a catalyst to electrochemically split water to generate hydrogen to be utilized as fuel.
“The future renewable economy heavily depends on how we can efficiently split water to generate hydrogen. This step is pretty important,” said Yang.
In spite of their optimism and research findings, Koel and Yang have emphasized that their discovery is not going to lead to an instant platinum catalyst alternative and new affordable technologies for hydrogen. At the moment, their explorations are merely opening up the possibilities of cheaper materials that may one day replace platinum.