Researchers at Stanford University have discovered a way to produce hydrogen using an AAA battery to split water. The device uses electrodes composed of nickel and iron, which are both abundant and cheap.
According to Stanford, “Now scientists at Stanford University have developed a low-cost, emissions-free device that uses an ordinary AAA battery to produce hydrogen by water electrolysis. The battery sends an electric current through two electrodes that split liquid water into hydrogen and oxygen gas. Unlike other water splitters that use precious-metal catalysts, the electrodes in the Stanford device are made of inexpensive and abundant nickel and iron …
“…The discovery was made by Stanford graduate student Ming Gong, co-lead author of the study. ‘Ming discovered a nickel-metal/nickel-oxide structure that turns out to be more active than pure nickel metal or pure nickel oxide alone,’ Dai said. ‘This novel structure favors hydrogen electrocatalysis, but we still don’t fully understand the science behind it.’”
It’s true that sometimes happy accidents in science aren’t fully understood at first. Scottish biologist Alexander Fleming in 1928 discovered penicillin by happy accident. If this nickel and iron device can be scaled up to industrial levels, producing cheap and abundant hydrogen, then this will go down in history as a turning point in the emerging global hydrogen economy.