The U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has developed a technique to produce hydrogen from acidic water. What the researchers there have done is create a molecule that is structurally and chemically similar to the industrial catalyst molybdenite.
The new molecule will replace platinum as the catalyst of choice for creating hydrogen from acidic water for a fraction of the cost.
According to the Berkeley Lab, “Christopher Chang and Jeffrey Long, chemists who hold joint appointments with Berkeley Lab and the University of California (UC) Berkeley, led a research team that synthesized a molecule to mimic the triangle-shaped molybdenum disulfide units along the edges of molybdenite crystals, which is where almost all of the catalytic activity takes place.
“Since the bulk of molybdenite crystalline material is relatively inert from a catalytic standpoint, molecular analogs of the catalytically active edge sites could be used to make new materials that are much more efficient and cost-effective catalysts … Recent studies have shown that in its nanoparticle form, molybdenite also holds promise for catalyzing the electrochemical and photochemical generation of hydrogen from water. Hydrogen could play a key role in future renewable energy technologies if a relatively cheap, efficient and carbon-neutral means of producing it can be developed.”
Right now, platinum is selling for more than $2,000 an ounce, which is the most expensive element in most fuel cells. Molybdenite, on the other hand, is not as rare and is selling for 1/70th the price of platinum, which will greatly reduce the cost of fuel cells in general.
Bringing down the cost of fuel cells is imperative if the hydrogen car industry is to take off. Besides using fuel cells in cars, manufacturers use fuel cells in reverse to produce hydrogen from water. So, on both the creation and consumption ends, low cost fuel cells mean a faster path to market for H2 cars and fueling stations which is the goal many people (like myself) have.