University of New South Wales, Sydney chemists have invented a new, cheap catalyst for splitting water with an electrical current to efficiently produce clean hydrogen fuel, supposed to run future cars and bring the world relief from Arab politics over oil extraction.
The technology is based on the creation of ultrathin slices of porous metal-organic complex materials coated onto a foam electrode, which the researchers have unexpectedly found to have been highly conductive of electricity.
“Splitting water usually requires two different catalysts, but our catalyst can drive both of the reactions required to separate water into its two constituents, oxygen and hydrogen,” said study author Chuan Zhao.
It can be adapted to produce ultrathin nanosheet arrays of a variety of materials, called metal-organic frameworks, which are most efficient compared to other water-splitting electro-catalysts reported to date, he noted.
Hydrogen is eco-friendly as it is renewable energy and generates zero emissions, and is much easier to store than other energy sources, like solar or wind energy. Since it was found costly to split water using precious metals like platinum, ruthenium and iridium, UNSW scientists hit upon the new non-precious metals like nickel, iron and copper to produce hydrogen.
Metal-organic frameworks have potential for a large range of applications, including fuel storage, drug delivery, and carbon capture. The UNSW team’s demonstration that they can also be highly conductive introduces a host of new applications for this class of material beyond electro-catalysis.
“With nanoengineering, we made a unique metal-organic framework structure that solves the big problems of conductivity, and access to active sites,” said Zhao.
The research by Zhao, Sheng Chen and Jingjing Duan is published in the journal Nature Communications.