Innovative Cheap Catalyst for Hydrogen Evolution

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Hydrogen could be used as clean fuel for cars. Photo by Revolve Eco-Rally

Hydrogen could be used as clean fuel for cars. Photo by Revolve Eco-Rally

Is a viable hydrogen engine on its way?

Researchers have developed a new catalyst which could be used to produce hydrogen from water, to be used as clean fuel.

The catalyst is based on tungsten disulfide (WS2), which is made of cheap and earth abundant elements, thus making the potential for hydrogen-powered economy cars and other uses of cheap plentiful fuel more viable.

Hydrogen as a Fuel: Potential and Problems

Hydrogen (H2) is a simple gaseous molecule which has a great potential as clean fuel. The main obstacle to hydrogen’s use on a larger industrial scale is the cost to produce it.

We can produce H2 by splitting the water (H2O), according to the reaction:

H2O → H2 + ½ O2

This reaction, however, does not happen spontaneously; some energy has to be given to the system for the reaction to take place.

Electrolysis can be used to produce hydrogen. Photo by Nevit Dilmen

Electrolysis can be used to produce hydrogen. Photo by Nevit Dilmen

The Use of an Electrocatalysts

One of the most effective ways to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen is with an electrolysis process; that is giving energy to the system in the form of electricity. The reaction which generates hydrogen is shown below; normally is referred to as the Hydrogen Evolution Reaction (HER).

2H+ + 2e → H2

Platinum (Pt) is the metal which is most effective in favoring this reaction (electrocatalyst). Despite its efficiency, however, problems are associated with its use; its high cost and relative low availability are the main concerns. For these reasons, alternative materials for HER electrocatalysts have been widely investigated.

Novel Results: WS2-based Material

Researchers at Rutgers University (New Jersey, US), in cooperation with the University of Pennsylvania (US), Tohoku University (Japan) and the National University of Singapore published interesting results in this field in Nature Materials on the 7th of July 2013.

The researchers involved in this work developed an electrocatalyst based on tungsten disulfide (WS2).

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