Finding solutions to produce green hydrogen at a low cost can resemble the Holy Grail for the hydrogen industry. Currently, there is a big rush where researches are trying to find ways to reduce production costs of hydrogen and generate it on a scale. Major industrial companies are trying to figure out how to add hydrogen to their emission reduction strategies. But one of the chief costs involved in producing hydrogen through electrolysis is expensive catalyst materials.
BioSolar which is sponsoring a research project at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) claims that half of the electrolyzer costs come from two precious metals- platinum and iridium- it tries to cut it down by replacing them with the earth-abundant materials. Some companies are trying to find ways to replace precious metals with silica.
Recently, a collaborative research study has been conducted with a joint collaboration from various institutions, including Oregon State University College of Engineering and Cornell University.
The scientists have studied the electrochemical catalytic process to clearly understand the evolving structure of the electrocatalysts during the electrochemical operations. Lacking such knowledge is problematic for the oxygen evolution reaction (OER), and a significant cause of inefficiency in the fuel and material electrosynthesis
Professor Zhenxing Feng from the School of Chemical, Biological, and Environmental Engineering, Oregon State University led the research study. H2 Bulletin asked Professor Feng some questions to explain his findings in layman terms for a broader hydrogen community.
H2 Bulletin: In a nutshell, can you explain your research study?
Professor Zhenxing Feng: Our study is focused on the understanding of the structural and compositional evolution of a highly efficient electrocatalyst in water electrolysis for hydrogen generation. The catalyst in our work is strontium iridate that has shown ~1000 times higher activity than a current commercial catalyst, iridium oxide, used in the water-splitting reaction. Our study reveals, as the first time at the atomic scale, how the catalyst facilitates the reaction by adjusting itself, which can later be used to rationally design catalysts in electrolyzer for hydrogen production.
H2 Bulletin: Can you please elaborate on the key findings, and what are the takeaways?
Professor Zhenxing Feng: The large-scale production of hydrogen relies on the development of highly efficient electrocatalysts in electrolyzer for electrochemically splitting the water. Instead of using trial-and-error methods, our collaborative team utilized advanced characterizations to find out the physical origin of the record-high catalyst, strontium iridate, in reaction. By revealing the structure and composition evolution of the catalyst, we concluded the key factors that influence the catalyst performance, and then formulated the design strategy in a rationale way that can guide researchers in academia and industries for the improvement of catalysts and subsequently electrolyzers.
H2 Bulletin: We already know the electrochemical process for making hydrogen from water. But what makes your results different from the existing knowledge and technology?
Professor Zhenxing Feng: The current electrochemical process of water for hydrogen production is low efficiency. If the reaction efficiency can be improved, the production cost can be much reduced. Researchers recently found that strontium iridate exhibited record-high activity that is 1000 times better than iridium oxides in commercial electrolyzer, but doesn’t know how this high efficiency is achieved. Our work, from detailed atomic characterizations, provides clues on that, making our results informative for the community to rationally design better electrolyzers that can generate hydrogen in a cost-effective way.
H2 Bulletin: Would your results help reduce the cost of hydrogen, which is the primary concern for most stakeholders involved in the hydrogen business?
Professor Zhenxing Feng: Yes. As I explained before, the cost of hydrogen production mainly comes from the catalyst and the high energy consumption due to the device’s low efficiency. Our work can help reduce the cost of catalysts and improve the efficiency of the electrolyzer, thus reducing the cost.
The full research paper can be downloaded from here: Amorphization mechanism of SrIrO3 electrocatalyst: How oxygen redox initiates ionic diffusion and structural reorganization
The study was a collaboration of around ten researchers from different institutions including Argonne National Laboratory (US), Université Catholique de Louvain (Belgium), Cornell University (US), University of Science and Technology of China (China), University of Houston (US), and Leibniz-Institut für Kristallzüchtung (Germany). The research was also supported by the Department of Energy and NSF. Part of the advanced characterizations is performed with the collaboration of Professor Gregory Herman at the NSF-supported Northwest Nanotechnology Infrastructure site at Oregon State University.