Researchers using a protein or enzyme really called a hydrogenase plus a nickel-based catalyst were able to create hydrogen gas 10 times faster than proteins found in natural microbes and 100 times faster than the previous synthetic catalyst record holder. The scientists used nickel which is a much cheaper metal than the norm which is platinum for creating the reaction.
According to PNNL, “Electrical energy is nothing more than electrons. These same electrons are what tie atoms together when they are chemically bound to each other in molecules such as hydrogen gas. Stuffing electrons into chemical bonds is one way to store electrical energy, which is particularly important for renewable, sustainable energy sources like solar or wind power.
“Converting the chemical bonds back into flowing electricity when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing allows the use of the stored energy, such as in a fuel cell that runs on hydrogen … Based on the hydrogenase’s proton relay, the experimental catalyst contained regions that dangled off the main structure and attracted protons, called ‘pendant amines.’ A pendant amine moves a proton into position on the edge of the catalyst, while a nickel atom in the middle of the catalyst offers a hydrogen atom with an extra electron (that’s a proton and two electrons for those counting) … With that plan in mind, the team built potential catalysts and tested them. On their first try, they put a bunch of pendant amines around the nickel center, thinking more would be better.
“Testing their catalyst, they found it didn’t work very fast. An analysis of how the catalyst was moving protons and electrons around suggested too many pendant amines got in the way of the perfect reaction. An overabundance of protons made for a sticky catalyst, which pinched it and slowed the hydrogen-gas-forming reaction down.
Like good gardeners, the team trimmed a few pendant amines off their catalyst, leaving only enough to make the protons stand out, ready to accept a negatively charged hydrogen atom.”
The trimming of the catalyst is what did the trick for the researchers. They found that using water (H2O) that that reaction times surprisingly increased to about 100,000 molecules per second which was 10 times faster than natural proteins in microbes could produce hydrogen gas. With additional modification to this process the researchers have high hopes for creating a method and materials for creating large quantities of hydrogen gas cleanly and cost effectively.