Researchers investigate promising hydrogen fuel catalyst to understand its feasibility

Researchers investigate promising hydrogen fuel catalyst to understand its feasibility

December 28, 2018 0 By Angie Bergenson
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University of Akron researchers have developed an alternative to synthesizing catalysts exclusively with platinum.

Today, the most effective hydrogen fuel catalyst is platinum. The rare and expensive metal is the most efficient and stable way of producing hydrogen fuel cells. Researchers at the University of Akron believe that they have found a more cost-effective way to generate this clean and renewable energy using both nickel and platinum.

The researchers developed a new method of synthesizing catalysts that form octahedral-shaped nanoparticles.

The combination of metals – nickel and platinum – form octahedral (eight-sided) shaped nanoparticles. While the scientists have identified this catalyst to be one of the most efficient alternatives to the pure platinum hydrogen fuel catalyst, they have not entirely understood why it grows in this eight-sided shape.

To gain a greater understanding of the nanoparticles growth process, which resulted from their new method of synthesizing catalysts, the University of Akron researchers partnered with multiple institutions. One of these was Brookhaven and its NSLS-II.

“Understanding how the faceted catalyst is formed plays a key role in establishing its structure-property correlation and designing a better catalyst,” said Zhenmeng Peng, principal investigator of the catalysis lab at the University of Akron, reported Phys.org.

“The growth process case for the platinum-nickel system is quite sophisticated, so we collaborated with several experienced groups to address the challenges. The cutting-edge techniques at Brookhaven National Lab were of great help to study this research topic.”

Via their study, the researchers revealed the chemical characterization of the hydrogen fuel catalyst’s growth pathway in real time.

They accomplished this feat by utilizing the ultrabright x-rays at NSLS-II and the advanced capabilities of NSLS-II’s In situ and Operando Soft X-ray Spectroscopy (IOS) beamline.

The research technique is called ambient-pressure X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (AP-XPS), according to Iradwikanari Waluyo, lead scientist of IOS and a co-corresponding author of the research paper published in the journal Nature Communications.

Waluyo said that the technique allows the researchers to study the chemical state and surface composition of the platinum and nickel metals in the nanoparticles throughout the growth reaction.

Using this technique, the researchers direct x-rays at a sample, causing electrons to be released. By analyzing these electrons, they were able to differentiate the chemical elements in the sample and their chemical and oxidation states, noted Waluyo.

Hydrogen fuel catalyst - ResearchersThe next step of the hydrogen fuel catalyst research is to study catalytic properties of the faceted nanoparticles. Through this analysis, the researchers hope to understand the structure-property correlation.