When it comes to alternative fuels, hydrogen is a favorite for potentially powering the environmentally friendly future. But shifting processes and systems built on natural resources necessitates a lot of challenging adaptations. Hydrogen storage is one and a potential place where advanced ceramics may come in handy and another is hydrogen generation.
Steam reforming methane currently generates most of the hydrogen produced in the United States, according to the DOE’s Alternative Fuels Data Center website. But hydrogen is also “locked up in enormous quantities in water,” says the site. Getting the hydrogen out is the tricky part.
Eileen has reported before on research into some slick water splitting chemistry to generate hydrogen, and many other researchers are also working toward better ways to break water into its constituent parts.
A group of researchers from Stanford is among that troupe, and they are leading a new charge—their simple water splitter needs only a AAA battery and skips the precious metal catalysts present in other splitters, making a cheaper device that is promising for making a hydrogen future all the more possible.
Water splitters themselves are nothing new, but coming up with a solution that is adequately low cost and industrially scalable has been a challenge in the field. The catalysts are nickel oxide and nickel heterojunction-like structures that are attached to mildly oxidized carbon nanotubes, according to the paper. “This novel structure favors hydrogen electrocatalysis, but we still don’t fully understand the science behind it,” Dai says.
They do know that the catalysts allow water to be split at a lower voltage, allowing the use of simple battery to power the device. The device “achieves ~20 mA cm-2 at a voltage of 1.5 V,” according to the paper’s abstract.
The availability, and thus lower cost, of the catalysts and the energy savings also mean that the technique is looking promising for industrial scaling.