University of Cambridge scientists have produced hydrogen from water using an inexpensive catalyst, under industrially relevant conditions.
The researchers, whose findings are published in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition, found that a simple catalyst containing cobalt – which is relatively inexpensive and abundant- can operate as an active catalyst under real-world conditions (room temperature, using pH neutral water, surrounded by atmospheric oxygen). The team are now working on a solar water splitting device, where H2 (the fuel) and O2 (the by-product) are simultaneously produced.
Lead author of the study, Dr Erwin Reisner, an EPSRC research fellow and head of the Christian Doppler Laboratory at the university said: “A H2 evolution catalyst which is active under elevated O2 levels is crucial if we are to develop an industrial water splitting process.”
Reisner told Laboratory News: “The major implications of this work will be that researchers will start to study catalysts under aerobic conditions instead of using an inert atmosphere without O2. This requirement was mainly ignored in the field of homogeneous catalysis and our finding will stimulate research in this area.”
While there is much interest in hydrogen as a renewable energy source, its current production relies on fossil fuels and CO2 is released as a by-product. As yet, hydrogen production is neither clean nor renewable and as such, a green process is required to produce sustainable H2; sunlight-driven water splitting represents such as method.
One of the biggest problems scientists must overcome before such a method is realised is finding an efficient and inexpensive catalyst that can function under real-world conditions (in water, under air and at room temperature). Currently, the most efficient catalysts are noble metals; there are expensive and until now, little progress has been made with homogenous catalyst systems that work in water and under air.
Fezile Lakadamyali and Masaru Kato, co-authors of the study, added: “We are excited about the results and we are optimistic that we will successfully assemble a sunlight-driven water system soon.”